In last weekend’s Guardian magazine, Laura Bates – a well-known feminist campaigner – attempts to defend her decision to get married and have a wedding to celebrate this marriage. Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism project which aims to call out sexism and misogynistic encounters in everyday life. Apparently this doesn’t extend to the institution of marriage and the wedding industry, both of which can be damaging in very real ways in women’s everyday lives – across the globe.
Laura takes pains to justify her decision to have a (what seems to be fairly traditional white) wedding saying ‘it was a commitment to my partner’ and ‘it felt right for me’ without also acknowledging that a) you can commit to someone outside of marriage and b) it feels right because, as a woman, you are brought up expecting to marry from Disney princesses providing your role models to the media furore surrounding celebrity weddings and the continued pressure to marry before child bearing (incidentally another expectation pressed upon women between certain ages). Understandably, it is not easy to assess your own wants and desires outside of these pressures and constraints.
The claim in this article is that this represents a feminist wedding. Yet, many aspects of this wedding chime with weddings that other women, who are not self-proclaimed feminists, are having. Laura is wearing an engagement ring because she is ‘more into jewellery than he is’; Laura is wearing a white wedding dress because: ‘the symbolism behind other aspects of weddings has changed in meaning (…), so I’m reclaiming the right to wear a white dress, too’. The only apparent deviation from the norm is her decision not to change her name but this is not a prerogative of feminists alone since published women and those in academia may also chose to keep their own surnames (not to mention different surname practices across the globe – can we really claim this as a universal ‘feminist’ gesture?).
Laura states that ‘loving someone, and saying that in front of family and friends, shouldn’t be controversial’ but that is not what she is doing- she is getting married which is entirely different and bound up in traditions, norms, customs with a long patriarchal history with global connections, not to mention an entire industry. And that should be controversial (but isn’t!). Smart, clever, funny, engaging, otherwise perfect feminist women, are blinded by the appeal of the wedding and our society’s almost overwhelming ability to indoctrinate a pro-marriage agenda.
Taking a stand against marriage isn’t just about being a ‘good feminist’, it’s about standing up against an institution that has historically oppressed women and continues to do so in many various ways (think domestic violence- the most serious and long-lasting of which is perpetrated against women within marriage; forced marriage in this country and others; legalised rape within marriage in many states; the long history of property and ownership associated with the marriage contract; and so on). If feminism is about solidarity and standing together as a movement, surely we cannot justify and defend such an institution because ‘it feels right’?
Currently working on a project about agency and weddings, this account of a wedding appears to represent the ultimate example of a claim to agency by an individual, coupled with almost complete conformity to norms. Having spoken to many women planning their first weddings, these are issues everyone deals with in a late modern, equality conscious society – wording of vows, being ‘given away’, weight loss, etc. A feminist wedding, Laura? Sorry, it looks like any other wedding to me.
On a side note, Laura’s account provides a really nice illustration of bricolage in process: she states that her (feminist) wedding is about ‘forging new paths through old traditions’ and that as a ‘modern-day feminist bride’, she aims for ‘eschewing some traditions, co-opting others and making the event, and the marriage, a patchwork of equality’ – a piecing together of tradition, norms, and individual and institutional decision making that is associated with pragmatism and bricolage (Duncan, 2011).
Boden, S. (2003) Consumerism, Romance and the Wedding Experience (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan)
Boden, S. (2001) ‘‘Superbrides’: Wedding Consumer Culture and the Construction of Bridal Identity’, Sociological Research Online, 6 (1)
Charsley, S. R. (1992) Wedding Cakes and Cultural History (London, Routledge)
Duncan, S. (2011) ‘Personal Life, Pragmatism and Bricolage’, Sociological Research Online, 16 (4)
Geller, J. (2001) Here Comes the Bride: Women, weddings and the marriage mystique. (New York, Four Walls Eight Windows)
Illouz, E (1997) Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (California, University of California Press)
Ingraham, C. (1999) White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture (London, Routledge)
Otnes, C. C. and Pleck, E. H. (2003) Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding (University of California Press, California)