In 1978, Ms. Magazine published a cover with the question: “Is There Love After Liberation?” The popular second-wave feminist publication called to the fears of feminists at the time, many of whom worried there was no way to be both true to their morals and a heterosexual relationship.
Forty years later, women in fourth-wave feminism might still have these concerns, yet their liberation is one that promotes a more intersectional, inclusive definition of feminism. It’s a movement where gender stereotypes are questioned; where feminine, masculine and androgynous women can be active in the fight; and where men are encouraged to be expressive, emotive feminists, too. Women pursue modern romantic relationships where feminism means equal expectations for both partners.
Weddings — and marriage as an institution — are still rooted in patriarchal traditions that women long before Ms. Magazine have been fighting against. While the conceptual and legal foundations of marriage may not be inherently feminist, there are still ways to promote feminism at your wedding if you choose to have one.
Just like the word “feminism” means different things to different feminists, there’s no one way of having a feminist wedding. A feminist wedding is going to uplift both members of the marriage, recognizing the union of two equal partners. It’s going to celebrate a modern partnership with practices that both members are comfortable with, even if it means moving away from old (and often antifeminist) traditions. Most importantly, a feminist wedding has elements, activities, and celebrations that are inclusive and uplifting.
Making your wedding feminist starts long before your wedding day. It’s often expected that the responsibility of wedding planning should fall on the bride. While you may enjoy planning, it’s unfair to have to plan such a special occasion by yourself. If you want to make sure gender equality’s in as much of your wedding as possible, everyone who’s involved with the wedding should be aware of and support that goal — especially your partner. Before making any arrangements, set up expectations for organizing your wedding. Separate responsibility based on what you’d each like to coordinate, and try to make each part of the process as feminist as can be.
For many modern brides, dowries are a thing of the past. Women are an integral part of the workforce and many are fortunate to be financially independent. Still, the expectation that the bride’s father (or parents) will foot the bill of the wedding remains. Instead of keeping with a tradition rooted in sexism and dependence, try alternatives that work for everyone’s financial situation. If both sets of parents are able and willing to contribute, split costs where you can. If you and your partner have the ability, paying for the wedding yourselves gives you total control over the finances of the occasion. While you may not be able to splurge on some aspects, you’ll have more freedom and responsibility if you pay on your own.
When you’re celebrating a momentous occasion in your life, you’ll want to have your best friends right beside you. Don’t be afraid to challenge the conventional notions of what a bridal party looks like. Instead of separating friends based on gender, there are more inclusive ways to have your friends participate. Have a bridal party that’s made up of multiple genders, and choose a “person of honor” or “best person” instead of limiting who can be in those roles. If you’re going for a specific theme or look with your wedding, feel free to enforce it with your party — as long as you encourage flexibility and comfort with their outfits.
Wedding dresses don’t have to be the big, white gowns you imagine when you think of what a Western bride wears. If you want to wear white, go for it! If you want a big dress, that’s great too. But don’t think that because you’re getting married, you have to fit a certain image of what you think a “bride” looks like. You’re the one getting married! You don’t need a veil or a lacey white dress to make you a bride; wearing what makes you feel happy is exactly what you’re supposed to wear. It’s not worth breaking the bank — or your confidence — to try and fit a look you don’t absolutely love.
Many fathers walk their daughters down the aisle when they’re getting married, symbolizing the idea that they’re giving them “away” to their future husband. While it’s sweet to be able to walk down the aisle next to your dad, the practice reinforces the tradition of male ownership. You don’t need to be properly passed from one man to another person because you’re not owned by either. If you’re hoping to include your dad in your wedding, have a conversation to consider the alternatives. You can have both parents, a best friend or even your partner walk with you or meet you halfway. There’s also power in walking alone; you can have someone walk you to the ceremony but then walk down the aisle by yourself.
Depending on your wedding, you may have a specific expected wording for your vows. Before you’re already saying “I do,” review that language in your vows to make sure you’re comfortable with everything that’s said. Your vows may not be laden with details about “honor” and “obeying,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll love every phrase. If you want to move away from a particular tradition, write your own wedding vows! This makes your ceremony even more personal and ensures you’ll say exactly what you want to.
Throwing your bouquet — if you even decide to have one — reinforces the idea that all single women are awaiting marriage. Not all women want to be married, and even if they do, the practice of throwing the bouquet could easily upset them. If you want to do something gender-specific, try an uplifting activity like a dance or group photo. If you do want to throw your bouquet, make sure everyone’s included — and don’t be afraid to make the cause different than tradition. Perhaps the person who catches your bouquet gets a special job at the wedding party or a special day with you!
There are too many sitcom and movie bits to count about the best man’s speech at a wedding. Conventionally, men are the ones to hold power over the microphone at the wedding party — but women and people of other genders should be heard, too! Instead of defaulting to the best man’s speech (if you’ve chosen to have a best man), provide opportunities for other members of the wedding party to speak up. If you want to share some words about your partner or the party, don’t hesitate. You can even do a joint thank-you speech with your partner if you’re a little nervous to speak alone. If you’re feeling really bold, have open mic speeches and let anyone who feels compelled to speak get a few words in.
Taking your partner’s last name is a controversial wedding tradition, especially for a feminist. Most men never even think about changing their name because they’re not the ones expected to. Women, on the other hand, are traditionally expected to give up their last name when they get married. While some believe taking the last name is an important symbol of the union, others argue that it takes away part of the bride’s identity. It’s important to choose whatever feels right to you, without letting the opinions of friends and family decide for you. Know that there are options beyond taking your husband’s last name or sticking to your own. You can take his name and add it to your last name with a hyphen, you can both take each others’ names or you can make up a whole new name for you both to take together.
Marriage and weddings are rooted in traditions that don’t always coincide with feminist action. But just because something’s always been done one way doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. When planning and celebrating your feminist wedding, make sure you’re putting what you want first and foremost — because there’s always room for new traditions.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.