Weddings are lovely. Of course they are. A great big party, a goose-bump rousing dash of formality, with the help of God in some cases, to tether contemporary coupling to thousands of years of tradition. Families converge, grannies look on with inscrutable expressions, kids look Hallmark-cute (I write as a former in-demand flower girl of Massachusetts circa 1985), bridesmaids strut their stuff (often secretly annoyed at the expense and bother and of course, the bride’s taste) and tears flow as the bride and groom walk down the aisle.
The wedding I attended on New Year’s Eve included all of these things (perhaps without bridesmaid annoyance; I couldn’t tell), though my tears weren’t flowing as I didn’t know the couple – it was that weird thing when a couple is forced to invite you because you’re going out with their cousin. Very nice of them indeed, poor dears. Especially as I partook of their food and drink all while keeping my anthropological, ever so slightly judgemental eye peeled. I saw plenty of scripts being enacted, plenty of jovial wedding cliches and traditions going ahead full-force, lots of classic apparel, particularly on the women, who were slips of things and wore stilettos, body-glove dresses, their hair in dagger-like swatches framing their faces, and mascara like pitchforks.
But as usual, my buzzy mind settled its sting on matters of gender and the occasion served to remind me of some of the things I’d do differently for my own wedding. No fault of these guys – they were doing what many British couples do. Get married in a church, with a priest, promise not to stray, and to love one another with the help of, and through, God. (I can’t tell if the earthly carnal love of a couple is meant to aid the love of God or the other way round.) In fact, this service was more egalitarian than some I’ve seen – it was “husband and wife”, not “man and wife” and they made it “to love, honour and protect” on both sides. No mention of “obey” or even of responsibilities towards childbirth.
Ok, so here are some things I’d do differently. Joan and Peter [names have been changed]: you were divine. Looked tip top, were generous to have me, and threw a fabulously foodie party on an ambitious date. It coulda been anyone’s wedding that prompted these thoughts.
1. The White Dress. The white freaking dress. It’s still white! Why? The link with virginity persists but the vast majority of British brides are not virgins. A good film on this topic is Therese Shechter’s How To Lose Your Virginity, which explores just how weirdly obsessed with female virginity the world is, particularly and increasingly the American Christian world. People LOVE a bit of virginity on a woman; and since most Brits and urban Americans are fallen, it seems to be “well, let’s be virgins for the day”. But what does virginity mean? It is not about a woman’s choice to not have sex because she hasn’t felt like it. It is about her obeying the cardinal rule: be pure for your husband. Virginity is about being a clean sheet for a man to draw on. Which is why Caterina Migliorini was able to sell hers for $780,000 via online auction to fund school fees, and Rosie Reid, a lesbian, for (a rather paltry) £10,000 to help pay tuition fees back in 2004.
Most brides wear white, evoking purity. But they also wear it extremely figure hugging, or with large swathes of flesh on show (both contradictory and uncomfortable). Though many of my white-dress bridal friends have looked fabulous, many traditional dresses are either puffy marshmallows, evoking a (virginal) princess, or lacy embroidery evoking a Tudor (virginal) maiden, or (and I confess to liking these) smart business-casual cream silk evoking…a career woman who has had as much sex as she’d chaired meetings and led webinars.
My dress would be maroon brocade, and may well feature embroidery of my new favourite icons: Medieval dogs. It would be cleavage-proud, bolstered by a balcony bra (this the specific suggestion of a man I won’t name). Instead of a veil, I’d sport a spray of gravitation-defying red net, with roses and other red flowers shot through it. Like a harlot’s bonnet, perhaps.
The dress would be fairly loose. I am pretty well done with tight, uncomfortable clothes. Medieval dogs, but no medieval corsetry. Rather, it’d all be elasticated, so that bloating, wind, over-eating or over-heating on the day would cause no discomfort. The bride yesterday, who wore a hand-made white robe, not so different from Kate Middleton’s but with even more embroidery, looked hemmed in and baking hot by 10pm and people kept treading on her train.
Bridal shoes seem to fit this format of contradiction: white on one hand, slutty on the other (eg majorly high heeled – and no judgement on prostitution intended!). Mine might be little maroon trainers, or Grecian-styled maroon sandals. In any case: flat, and made out of cloth or soft leather.
2. The speeches. The freaking speeches! The bride is STILL muzzled or silenced or just silent (ok, it’s voluntary, she likes tradition, not all women want to hold forth at their weddings, yah di yah). But really?! It’s silly enough that the woman is “given away” in church by her father or other man. We can put that down to tradition which – if properly contained and thought through – can be accommodated, particularly when combined with incense and a sweet old 16th century church. But this jolly old “way things are” thing of the father of the bride, the groom and the best man laying claim to the talking just makes the “giving away” of the bride real, bringing it out of the church and into the booze-hall. The thing that gets me is that women are said to be less assertive than men, more self-deprecating, less likely to ask for raises, to stand up and say things that might evoke criticism…well, you wonder why! Maybe they should start standing up and talking at their own weddings.
At my wedding I’d hold forth – and how. I’d thank all and sundry and tell the groom he looked beautiful and the best man he looked lovely too. I’d talk about how I first met my husband, some funny incidents along the way, the courtship, and some humorous facts about my husband.
I’d then invite my mother to talk, then my father/brother, close friends of either sex and…if the groom wanted to say a few words, well, that’d be fine too. Not sure about a best man speech though. It’s all slightly done in the tone and tradition of “ahhhhh, old Dave has been domesticated! Who’d a thought. [nudge nudge wink] And now I’m going to talk about how funny it was getting drunk with him all those times, and the time that…and when we….”
3. Taking the husband’s name. Umm. Why? If you stop and think about it, there is no reason at all. It is, plain and simple, a vestige of times and laws when the man owned his wife and she could only take out money, or a credit card, with his permission, let alone divorce him. People say it’s for the children. Yes, it’s easier for a child to have one name- otherwise you’d have an exponential accumulation of hyphens. So why is it the man’s name? There is no reason on earth- no good reason- why the best name shouldn’t win. Perhaps even the best family. The man might hate his parents and prefer his wife’s family’s name to be continued, or honoured. He might have a crap name, and her a brilliant one. She might hate hers but need to keep it for professional reasons – ok, why not give the kids his name then, if it’s better.
That’s that. Long live the wedding. They are great things on many levels. But they could be even better, or at least mine would be, if the woman was recast as more than just the gift exchanged.