If you are in the midst of planning your wedding day, there are a number of traditions and ceremonial practices which I imagine you have already thought about: from stag dos to first dances, guest lists to flowers, you’ve got it covered.
But, before you get too far in your planning process, have you thought about how many of these customs are incredibly gender-imbalanced? Usually, the groom gets to give a speech but the bride doesn’t, but then the bride gets a grand entry when she walks down the aisle and the groom is expected to stand solemnly at the front and wait for her (insert sexist joke here about the bride always being late…).
I want to highlight where some of these imbalances occur, and ask you to challenge them when thinking about your own wedding plans. You might not want to make any changes to the traditions, and that’s fine! It may be that your bride doesn’t feel comfortable giving a speech or your groom doesn’t fancy a grand entrance, and there’s no shame in that. It may be, however, that when you actually start thinking about it, there are all sorts of changes you want to make to your wedding in order for it to better reflect you as a couple, rather than reflecting age-old customs and attitudes.
Bridesmaids and Best Men
Now I may be miles away from getting married myself, but I already know that alongside asking certain women in my life to be my Bridesmaids, I have some very special men in my life as well. I simply couldn’t imagine my wedding without them being my Best Men (Bridesmen?).
This calls into question how the Hen Do would work – would they be invited to the usually all-female shin-dig? Well of course they would! They’d have to help organise it! It would be bizarre for me to have a Hen Do without them. I might draw the line at making them wear matching dresses with my bridesmaids though… But if they want to, I shan’t stop them!
What about the speeches? Would they get a speech, just like the Best Men do? More on that later…
If we want to delve into the nitty-gritty depths of Bridesmaids and Best Men, we could even comment on the titles themselves… The bride gets ‘maids’ and ‘matrons’, while the groom has the honour of presenting his very best man at his wedding, the cream of the crop. How about having Best Women at your wedding instead?
My sister was a Best Woman a couple of years ago. Albeit it was for the groom, not the bride, so sticking to half of the tradition but still causing some raised eyebrows. The reaction from friends and family when she announced the happy news was mixed. While many of us celebrated with her, there were some who were sceptical, and even laughed at the notion of a woman taking on the Best Man role. She did it with enthusiasm, though – everything from planning the Stag Do to giving a speech at the wedding.
Speaking of speeches – it wasn’t until my sister’s wedding last autumn (you’ll notice a running theme here – I have drawn lots of inspiration from my sister in this blog!) that I realised the bride does not usually give a speech at her own wedding. The father of the bride, certainly, but the bride herself? Apparently not.
Indeed, the honour of giving a speech is usually reserved exclusively for the males attending – the father of the bride, the groom, and the Best Man (in that order, if my Googling is still up to scratch!). At my sister’s wedding, she asked if either I or our mother wanted to give a speech. I opted to sing for them instead (and being the lyrical genius that I am, I wrote them a song, so that was basically a speech to music, right?), but my mother decided against giving a speech for fear of her being “a blubbering mess” (her words, not mine!).
Now, I dare not assume that the reason women are usually not part of the speeches segment of a wedding day is because they are all seen as being potential blubbering messes, but I can’t help but feel it may be a contributing factor. Another may be that it is assumed that women aren’t as funny as men. Speeches at weddings are meant to be funny, so clearly that’s a man’s job. A glance at any late-evening BBC comedy panel show can tell you that much.
My sister, however, proved all of that wrong. Delivering by far the funniest speech of the day (#notbiased), as well as not needing to dive for a handkerchief, she goes to show that anything can be possible.
As I said earlier, I imagine having Best Men on my side of the room and would offer them the opportunity to give a speech if they so wished. Of course, I would offer the same opportunity to my bridesmaids. I think this is the key takeaway here: offer the chance to anyone who you think would make a good speech!
Walking Down the Aisle
Who would have thought that I could even make the simple act of walking down the aisle a feminist issue? It turns out, however, there are a couple of aisle-related imbalances that I would like to explore.
The first is actually a tradition that favours the bride (for once!). It happens in all the movies, the soap operas, and in the finales of TV-shows: the groom is stood waiting at the altar and everyone turns to gaze in awe upon the bride as she is walked down the aisle on her father’s arm. Beautiful.
Now, why is it the groom is not offered this same moment of glory? If he has put in just as much effort as the bride to look the part on his special day, shouldn’t he get a chance to strut his stuff while everyone watches?
Again, drawing from my sister’s wedding, my now brother-in-law did just that. Unfortunately I was not witness to the scene, being a bridesmaid (or, should I say, best woman?) and therefore preoccupied trying to hurry my sister along to ensure she wasn’t late (damn her for sticking to at least one stereotype that day!). I have been told, however, that it was quite a sight to behold. Having blasted Chesney Hawkes’ “I am the One and Only” through the PA system, he strode down the aisle with as much pride and confidence as any man on his wedding day should have.
Another issue which sparked quite a debate in our family was the part of the ceremony where the bride is meant to be ‘given away’ to the groom by her father. There is even a prescribed format for it – “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” – which was traditionally seen as the father literally giving ownership of the bride from himself to the groom. The nature of this exchange gives the impression that the bride is an object to be owned and traded, rather than a human being who came voluntarily to the decision to wed the man standing in front of her. How you choose to interpret this is of course up to you. My sister ditched the wording, but still chose to be walked down the aisle by our father. You may choose to go as far as getting both your parents to walk you down the aisle, or neither! (You go, gurl!). Whatever you choose, it’s just important to remember that you have a choice – it is your wedding day after all.
Now here’s a question: where do all these hetero-normative traditions fit into homosexual wedding ceremonies? The answer is, they do or they don’t. It’s up to the couple getting married (duh?). You may choose to dress like two brides, two grooms, or one of each. You may choose to have best men, bridesmaids, or just a bunch of people who are not defined by their gender roles at all (heaven forbid!). You may choose to walk down the aisle with your mum, your dad, your pet dog… But the funny thing is, the same applies to any wedding. You can make it as traditional or as non-traditional as you like.
There are a myriad of other potentially anti-feminist wedding traditions I could talk about (engagement rings, the bride taking the groom’s last name, the white dress, and so many more…) but I think that this is the most important point I could make in this blog: you have a choice. You can choose to stick to traditions, or you can choose to throw them out the window. Do whatever makes you and your partner feel happy on your special day.
By Charlotte West