Q: I was raised by feminist parents who taught me to be a strong, independent questioner of norms. And now I’m planning a wedding and am struggling with balancing my values with all the pretty, sappy things I love about weddings. I love tulle and lace and white dresses. I love it when parents walk their daughters down the aisle. Buttt these traditions also feel sort of icky to me, and these days it feels especially important to make sure my wedding embodies my fiancé’s and my egalitarian/feminist/progressive values. How do we balance our values with tradition and with my love of sparkles and tulle? Every decision is starting to feel like a minefield…
—Does This Tulle Make Me Look Like Chattel?
A: Dear DTTMMLLC,
Welcome, my friend. Have a seat. Pull up a chiavari.
Feminism and frills are not at odds. I know what you’re saying. There are some questionable aspects to weddings—some traditions rooted in the women-as-property thing, some stereotypes about hysterical ladies and their br*dezilla rages, some gross consumerism capitalizing on impossible beauty standards. I get it!
But what you mentioned very first is exactly the point. It’s not about abandoning norms, but questioning them. Thinking about the usual stuff we do and asking, “But why?” And then, ultimately, deciding which of those answers you’re okay with. Do you want to be pretty on your wedding day because society has instilled the idea that beauty is the measure of your worth? I mean probably! But does it change that you still wanna? Nah. And a reactionary assumption that anything lacy or shiny or perceived as feminine is immediately bad is also sexist. In short, it’s a complicated reality that we live in. And it’s just not possible to make all of your decisions without any influence from society.
But also, not all of your choices have to be perfectly feminist. Notice, I’m not espousing choice feminism here. Not every choice is feminist just by virtue of being the choice of a woman. Instead, get used to the idea that you won’t get it right every time. Pick your battles. You can’t die on every hill. I feel pretty strongly about supporting small businesses, but sometimes I buy a bulk pack of socks at Target because it’s what I can afford. Not every choice is inherently feminist, but if we want to keep living and breathing and functioning in a patriarchy, not every choice can be.
And realize, too, that not every not-feminist choice is an antifeminist choice. Follow what I’m saying there? You can make a decision that doesn’t promote womankind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s setting us back.
I completely relate to hoping that your wedding reflects your values. So, what values are you reflecting? Are your parents walking you down the aisle because you’re your dad’s property, or instead because you’re honoring the way they’ve raised and cared for you? I’ll guess it’s the latter, and after all this time, that’s how most folks tend to read it. We don’t live in a bubble—our choices have meaning in a broader social context, apart from our personal intentions. But that meaning tends to change over time.
More than sussing out which traditions have long-ago roots in a patriarchal society (hint: just about all of them), embodying feminism in your wedding is about living it out right now. I’d argue that it’s less about the symbolism, and more about using your dollars to support women-owned businesses, making decisions in equality, sharing the burden of work with your partner. (Though when you want to tackle the symbolism too, we’re here for that.)
TL;DR: You can be a feminist in a fluffy white dress. Keep fighting the good fights! Just realize you can’t fight every one.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)