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Humans have been fine-tuning how to walk down the aisle since Ancient Rome. Proof that practice makes perfect, right? Just look at any wedding album’s sea of smiling faces. Don’t those frozen moments of joy validate that hand-me down information, religion, media, and the wedding industry have taught people how to host a successful wedding?
Unfortunately, Kodak-captured smiles are not proof of a successful wedding.
I know this because when it came to weddings I wasn’t smiling. I was failing miserably. As a bridesmaid, I found myself breaking into my own apartment in my underwear to save a bridesmaids dress and giving myself a second-degree burn while doing my hair for the ceremony. My fiascos were so ridiculous that I recorded them all in my book The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride: What No One Tells You Before You Say ‘I Do’ (Black Rose Writing, March 2018). Yearning for a successful wedding or to at least not get kicked out of more than one wedding party, I started studying how to be a bride and the history of Western wedding traditions.
That’s when I uncovered how wedding traditions were originally designed to pressure women into becoming mothers, to erase their individuality for the sake of family, to give men power over them (i.e., coverture), and to discriminate against anyone who wasn’t a white, cis heterosexual. The evidence was irrefutable and I furiously captured it all in my book. There wasn’t one tradition that didn’t relate in some way to the wage gap, sex and gender bias, power struggles and harassment, or reproductive rights. It was a shocking revelation, one that few knew (which might explain all the smiling faces), and fewer wanted to accept.
How did so many newlyweds manage to marry happily and not recognize wedding culture’s hidden sexism? Wedding influencers told newlyweds that if they buy various consumer items and services then the wedding would be successful. They did not encourage them to invest in learning about what they were actually buying into, like how the bouquet toss disses single lifestyles or the term bridesmaid defines a woman by her sexual activity.
The false perception of success in weddings perpetuated centuries of mistreatment toward women and minorities. A Harvard University article explained, “Success can breed failure by hindering learning at both the individual and the organizational level.” This happens because people become overly self-assured (overconfidence bias), mistake what led to the success (fundamental attribution errors), and then refuse to find the real source (failure-to-ask-why syndrome).
Luckily, as a beleaguered bride and bridesmaid, all I did was ask "Why?" I embarked on this feminist adventure to catalogue all the traditions in need of improvement. I asked with fearless curiosity: Why do brides need their parents’ permission to marry? Why don’t men wear engagement rings? Why can’t the groom change his last name, too? How has gendered wedding planning impeded same-sex marriage acceptance?
Finding answers and admitting to all that was “unequal” in wedding culture didn’t ruin the party. For example, the bride’s family paying for a wedding is not purely a gesture of generosity. The tradition was founded on the idea that women are economic liabilities or shouldn’t have careers outside the house (this led to the wage gap). Instead of only covering what is bad, I also focus on how to modernize and improve traditions. For example, all families can contribute toward the wedding costs or the newlyweds can fund it themselves.
My willingness to learn from failure created a personal sense of empowerment, a yearning to make the world a better place, and then a feeling of contentment because I was making a difference. This feminist awakening made my spouse and I better people and our marriage stronger because we faced and solved the problems together. And I’m happy to report, we had a truly fun and successful wedding. We’ve been married almost a decade now. I want my book to empower the next generation of fiancés to walk down the aisle as equals, because, as it turns out, facing failure together, working to overcome it together, and making improvements together is best way to ensure a happy and successful wedding and marriage.
Katrina Majkut is a feminist artist and writer. Her art can be viewed at www.katrinamajkut.com. Her blog is www.thefeministbride.com and her personal research and stories can be found in The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride.