It’s hard to believe wedding traditions could be tied to something so nasty as the wage gap. That sparkly diamond is supposed to make you feel like a perfect bride under all those layers of satin and waterproof makeup. How could bringing home less than your fair share from the workplace possibly play into the happy tidings of your wedding day? Sadly, it’s totally true. (This is why we also have to write advice like How to Stay Sane While Planning A Wedding.)
Don’t worry though, we’re all gonna channel our inner Elizabeth Warren and get financially empowered!
There are a lot of etiquette rules about who should pay for a wedding. These stem not just from Victorian times, but can actually be traced all the way to ancient Roman ones. Since for most of history women were limited to the home, unable to work or earn an income, her family or her husband’s were required to pay for the wedding. That’s why most wedding responsibilities are divided between the bride’s family, the groom and his family – not the bride. They had the Benjamins; she did not.
As a result, a bride’s earning potential greatly shaped these wedding traditions. When there was a surge of women entering the workforce during the industrial revolution, they were less valued as workers (an argument that can be made today given that a woman still only earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar). Because of this discrepancy, women couldn’t afford the trappings of a nice wedding. And since men continued to be the breadwinners, these fiscal traditions remained widely practiced. Changing this trend starts with awareness, and then some modernization to them (check out this article for solutions). For you fiscally savvy, no scrubs brides, who want to make sure your happy wedding planning has nothing to do with perpetuating the wage gap, here’s a breakdown of six wedding traditions that you should be aware of:
1. A Man Paying for A Date: Getting the check can be a nice gesture, but when it’s done out of obligation based on one’s gender that’s called chivalry… and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. In smarty-pants terms, chivalry is also known as benevolent sexism (a subset of ambivalent sexism). It’s the idea that women should be pampered and taken care of by men, and as thanks, women must revert to submissive gender roles (think of the suggestion that if “he buys you dinner, then you owe him sex”).
This tradition along with dating started with the industrial revolution too. With arranged marriages going out of vogue, women could go on dates without social repercussions, but they still couldn’t afford the actual date (but a man could) due to wage inequalities. Since dates are where most newlyweds start, a man paying for a date is part of bridal tradition.
2. A Man Buying the Engagement Ring: The tradition’s origin and reasons of why a man buys the engagement ring and not the woman is just like why he pays for the date – he can afford to. Romance, chivalry and mass culture then reinforced this as a social norm, a benevolent sexist one. However, consumer culture is a massive culprit. (Read about whether engagement rings are really worth it.)
Engagement rings have only been a “thing” for the last 75 to 100 years. De Beers Jewelry teamed up with N.W. Ayers Advertising in the 1930/40s to cultivate how men should buy rings. One could even infer that the whole competition over diamond size is a type of caveman gesture to prove which man is the better provider (i.e. with deeper pockets).
When a guy proposed that women should buy ‘Acceptance Rings’ (an engagement ring for a guy given in return for his proposal) in 1956, the engagement ring industry passed on it even though it would have increased their profits. The reason – diamonds, the hardest substance in the world, was too effeminate now; besides it was only the man’s job to buy it. Income inequality might have started the tradition, but it was biased gender consumer norms that solidified it as practice.
3. A Man Asking A Woman’s Parents for Permission to Marry: We’ve established that historically most women were prevented from earning income and therefore that put them under the control of those who paid her way through life. This meant that her parents, the groom and/or his family usually arranged her marriage. Negotiations were necessary so the bride’s parents made sure their daughter married well and was supported. If by chance they should also make out on the deal by gaining influence, assets (through a bride price) or power all the better. The groom’s side made sure that they received a worthy dowry, which was used to ease the groom’s burden for taking on a dependent.
Over time, this tradition relaxed a little bit. However, as a general rule of thumb its purpose is to still make sure that the groom can provide a good life for the bride. It just now has the contemporary extras of reassuring her parent’s that he loves her and will support her emotionally too. Money, as the bottom-line deal breaker for the parent’s permission sounds old school, but 67% of Americans still believe a man must be able to financially support a family before getting married (33% for women).
And if you still feel like money is not tied to parents and their permission to marry, dowries and bride prices are a huge part of certain cultures across the globe. The horrific aspect is that many times it leads to child brides and other human rights violations like honor killings. Eliminating wage issues from Western bridal traditions will hopefully have a trickle down affect to our sisters overseas who are greatly controlled by it.
4. The Bride’s Parents Paying for Most the Wedding: Since a bride’s parents “gave her away” and she couldn’t afford to pay for her own wedding, it was their responsibility to pay for it. It was a way for the groom’s future in-laws to show off that they were worthy and respectable. It was also a sign of thanks to the groom’s side for taking in the bride. The groom’s side paid for the rehearsal dinner in a similar gesture of good faith promising them that their daughter would be treated well. Considering that financially supporting her for the majority of her adult life was more of a burden, they weren’t expected to contribute as much to the wedding.
5. The Groom Paying for and Organizing the Honeymoon: As a soon-to-be husband, breadwinner and head of the household, the tradition of the groom paying for and planning the honeymoon was a symbolic gesture of future support to his wife. It was also for his in-laws benefit in a sort of “hey, look at the great vacation I planned. This means I can pay for my bride’s keep and happiness.”
6. The Groom Carrying the Bride over the Threshold: The tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold has more to do with bad luck superstition and benevolent sexism (cue strong man taking care of feeble bride, lest she trip over a one-inch door lip), than it does with money. But since we’re making it rain… Like who plans the honeymoon, carrying the bride is another symbolic gesture where the groom can prove he has the brawn, brain and Benjamins to be a husband. And to be a husband, he had to prove his financial success as a man first.