A Slippery Slope: Wedding Tradition v. Sexism

Slate’s Gentleman Scholar recently engaged with the question: Should men ask their future in-laws for permission to marry their daughters? Is this charmingly old-fashioned or disgustingly sexist? (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/weddings/2014/06/asking_future_in_laws_for_permission_to_marry_their_daughter_a_tradition.html)

Until women ask men’s parents for permission or blessing, it *is* sexist. Until that time, the one-sided practice suggests that a woman is passing from possession of one family to another. It ignores the fact that women are just as capable of self-support and independent decision making as men. And as the age at first marriage continues to rise, it’s increasingly ridiculous to ask permission to enter into a consenting committed partnership with a full-grown adult (not to mention the fact that the idea of marriage as “partnership” is harder to swallow if one party is checking in with a third party, re: the relationship moving forward [additionally: the continued focus on the man as proposer and the woman as propose plays to the inequality of the relationship – especially since decision-making about moving forward remains a male prerogative]).

And, of course, the piece relies on the fact that we’re still dealing solely with male-female unions. What happens to the process of asking permission or blessing when there are two men or two women wedding? Something I love about the growing visibility and increasing legality of same-sex weddings is that they reveal so clearly just how gendered (and archaic) so much of American wedding culture is.

Still, the Gentleman Scholar, in weighing in on this issue, is not wrong in suggesting that if the idea of securing permission or blessing is important to you and yours, talk it out, and decide what’s best for you. Fine. And I’m not suggesting those who ask for a blessing or permission are sexists, full stop. But I hope couples deciding to continue on with this non-tradition think through just what, exactly, it represents.

Which brings me to potentially the more interesting point of the article: the idea that this part of wedding culture is “traditional.” As one man claimed about his decision to ask permission of his then-girlfriend’s father “I thought that there was something in the ritual….I embraced the tradition despite the fact that the institution of marriage has evolved.” As the article notes, however, the tradition hasn’t been a tradition, really, in years. The Slate piece references the 1948 edition of Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, which established that once a man and woman decided to wed, it was for the bride to inform her family of the decision. Many of the prescriptive texts I read for As Long As We Both Shall Love communicated the same point. Ideas of what is traditional, of what is a fundamental part of the wedding process, continue to shape decisions contemporary bride and grooms make as much as their own desires or actual traditions, established by previous generations within their families and handed down across generations. In writing about the use of blessing or permission, the Gentleman Scholar engages with the use of tradition: “We’re talking, in each case, about embracing traditional language to indicate respect for values more durable than the patriarchy from which that language emerged.” I don’t disagree with the idea that traditions evolve over time or that asking permission or blessing means something different now than it once did. But I can’t let go of the fact this alleged tradition still communicates the bride’s subordinate status. And I have to wonder what it means when, of all the possible traditions out there, this is among those that still has legs, especially when it seems simple enough to amend the tradition to this end: decide to get married; assume your parents see you both as competent adults; then – as a couple – tell each set of parents (or whomever) that you’ve decided to wed. Boom. Dilemma of sexism v. tradition/values solved.

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To “Send” or to Stamp?

Last week Slate produced a “Wedding Issue” (http://www.slate.com/topics/w/weddings.html).  A number of articles considered “traditional” or typical wedding practices and then reconsidered them as they applied to contemporary circumstances and relationships. One article suggested the practice of gift-giving to be a relic of the past, better suited for an era when brides and grooms actually began cohabitation following the wedding rather than well before. Another article (a reprint from several months ago) advocated on behalf of elopement as a way of guaranteeing the wedding focused on the bride and the groom rather than the many possible incidentals that tend to take attention away from the union being celebrated.

I love this stuff. Clearly. I wrote a book about it. But seriously, people taking stock of what is expected of them and then giving thought to what actually might work best for their real lives is something I’ve identified in wedding practices of the past seventy-plus years. It’s precisely why I find weddings to be both relevant and fascinating cultural indicators.

“Click here to RSVP” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/weddings/2013/06/online_wedding_invitations_why_you_should_use_digital_invites_like_paperless.html) weighs the pros and cons of digital invitations. I think this article is great for its sense of balance, and its ultimate conclusion that when it’s your wedding, it’s YOUR WEDDING. Do whatever you want. If the bride and groom have different views, take a look at the guest list, decide who is best suited for a print invite and who will feel fine receiving one via email, and go from there. The world of weddings is basically never all or nothing any more. If you’re worried about being “inelegant,” realize that the consumer marketplace – especially that associated with weddings – is likely to have something somewhere that will be exactly what you want. And if exactly what you want doesn’t yet exist, someone will create it for you. Side note: my two cents, if you have someone on your guests list under age 70 who’s going to judge you for sending them an email invitation, maybe reconsider your guest list.

This article spoke directly to a conversation I recently had regarding wedding invitations. Forewarning: I realize I’m entering into the danger zone of anecdotal evidence. So be it. I’m also about to reveal personal feelings about spending choices associated with a wedding. FYI. Within the last month, I’ve seen a wedding invitation that cost upwards of $2.00+ to mail. TO MAIL (it looked a little bit like the wedding shower invitation from Bridesmaids, out of which A BUTTERFLY emerged). I’ve been told about wedding invitations that cost $5.00 to address (note to self: get into the calligraphy biz ASAP). Again, $5.00. TO ADDRESS. If we’re talking about two or three hundred invitations being sent, we’re already talking about thousands of dollars. And these costs don’t include the cost of the invitations themselves, which can get very pricey. It’s budget allocation I can’t understand. When I receive a wedding invitation, I fill out the RSVP card, make note of the date and time of the wedding, and then throw away the envelope and invitation. I know I’m not alone. But what else am I to do with this precious cargo?

calligraphy

I suppose I can appreciate “stationary nerds” ala the “RSVP” author’s wife and their desire to have beautiful invitations. From my perspective, however, if you love stationary or cardstock so much, you should invest in stationary or cardstock FOR YOU. But then I wonder: is the invitation FOR the person being wed as much as it is for the guests? If a couple loves the look of an invitation so much, is this an example of the couple fulfilling a personal desire (or in the case of “RSVP,” making the kind of compromise that speaks to the nature of their relationship)? For some couples, is the invitation essential to communicating something about themselves that they’d like to share with those they care about? If we take weddings and their celebrants seriously, do we need to take equally seriously each element of the decision-making process and each decision made? Even when they are unimportant to us?