Feminist Fight for Change, Not The Wedding Bouquet

(This post first appeared 4/17/2010) Come July, I am marrying a man, I will wear white, I will Bouquet Toss Teresa_Tam_bouquet tosseven wear high heels (for at least a portion of the wedding) and I call myself a feminist.  As a bride and a feminist, my goal is to dissect the formal, patriarchal institution of weddings in order to modernize the practice and align with current women’s rights.  So, because this is a topic that I have been actively thinking on for months, it came as no surprise to me when Jessica Valenti, feminist and author of Full Frontal Feminism and the website www.Feministing.organnounced her marriage to a man and her intention to wear a bridal gown.  The overwhelming discontent and criticism from Valenti’s feminist readership, on the other hand, was a surprise.

Critics challenged the idea of Valenti’s marrying. In doing so, they questioned her dedication to equal-opportunity marriage and implied increased vanity by being featured in the NY Times Vows section. Modern feminism is about free choice, independent thinking, not caving in to peer pressure or being influenced by status quo.  If the Vows section and Tracy Clark-Flory’s story proved anything, Valenti thought about her decision in depth.  Yet reaction still shows that feminists expect other feminists to act in correlation with each other, which, one could argue, only derails all that we are trying to accomplish because we become mirror images of each other, clones, stamped impressions. By modeling this single feminist ideal, we are unable to honor our personal beliefs and ourselves.  If we have fought consistently for anything it is to be ourselves – free and whole.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, I ranted to a friend about how Sarah Palin was setting women back.  My friend, also a feminist, calmly replied, “You may not agree with Palin’s politics or person, but she is choosing to be a leader in her own political views.”  In truth, I was so blinded by my own ideas of what a woman leader should be in political choice that I couldn’t see another side to the argument.  I didn’t like it, but my friend was right: our peers’ values will never align perfectly with our own, but accepting these different worldviews is part of the inclusive feminism we are trying to preach.

Some reactions to Valenti’s marriage addressed the “equal-opportunity marriage” stance, as posted on Salon.com.  Kate Harding posted, “straight-married is a conscious exploitation of privilege unbecoming a public figure committed to social justice.” Tracy-Clark Flory explained that while she’d love to get married, she couldn’t condone marriage while it remains an exclusionary act run by the state. While boycotting can be effective, so can other, more positive, approaches. I recently met a newlywed couple who married in the Boston Garden though they had no connection to the city.  When I asked why, the groom explained that they were born and raised in states that do not allow same-sex marriage, and, even though they are a heterosexual couple, it was important they marry in a state that supported gay-marriage. I found that type of commitment refreshing and crucial to modernizing marriage. Perhaps that extra mile when planning a wedding can be the glimmer of change we want to see in the world.

Some feminists accepted Valenti’s nuptials, though these also seem to be the ones who cried “…but why the Vows section?”  Wedding culture has indeed blown itself out of proportion.  If men stereotypically like to overcompensate for…well, you know, then women fall prey to overcompensating in weddings – get that big diamond, that designer dress, a cake reaching to the heavens and walk down the isle like it’s the red carpet.    The Vows section can seem stereotypically vapid and superficial, but as feminists we should know better than to accept labeling.  One critic at least looked at the positive side stating that it seemed the Vows section was at least opening it’s doors to “gay and poor couples…”  This development of the Vows section took years, and further changes to the institution of marriage will not occur overnight; though, and call it naïve optimism, I believe controversies such as this are the sparks which result in leaps forward.

Feminists encourage women to be open with their opinions and actions, but then to judge those opinions and actions rather than constructively discuss does not further the feminist cause. Collectively we want to incentivize social change through positive dialogue and action; internal dissonance, made public, will only propagate the stereotypical catfights that we seek to overcome. We then become our own worst enemies because we setourselves back.

So for those congratulating Valenti or disowning her, perhaps she has set in motion an opportunity for change – if nothing else, she has sparked an important and previously ignored topic of how to modernize marriage.   If Valenti, this publicly vocal feminist, was able to create a wedding that was in line with her own beliefs, who are we to judge whether she betrayed her sisters and brothers or the cause?  I would like to think that a staunch feminist like Valenti wouldn’t abandon her convictions just because Cupid’s arrow is stuck in her bustle.  Perhaps our job is not to prohibit the institution of marriage, but to finally modernize it, to mold it into the equally sharedunique, spiritual and unifying experience it’s meant to be.

One Comment

  1. […] There is an easy way out of this conundrum though; the first is to just not play the game. The second option is to make it more inclusive by inviting ALL women up to celebrate their general awesomeness, not the bride’s marital status. The bouquet can then represent general good luck or perhaps whoever catches it wins a prize. To Read More: Feminist Fight for Change, Not The Wedding Bouquet […]

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