Feminism / Love / Sex & Love / Society & Culture

Feminist Wives: My Struggle With Wedding Planning

For a large part of my life, I held wavering opinions on the institution of marriage. My parents are divorced, and yes, I’m sure this country’s looming divorce statistics had a hand in my hesitation. However, what was more important to me was the sociological and ideological background of marriage. How did marriage fit into my personal politics? And, further, how about a wedding?

There are those who would argue that marriage is inherently an anti-feminist institution, and while I do understand that perspective, I also adhere to the belief that a long, happy relationship is certainly a possibility (although perhaps not the norm). Marriage is not a prerequisite for long-term monogamy, I know, but there is a reason that our LGBT* friends have been fighting for their right to marry: it comes with its own set of perks in the form of legal, financial and familial benefits that are difficult to ignore. And through many conversations on marriage with friends and significant others I’ve realized my own feeling on the matter: in the fast-moving world we live in—where so much of what we experience is merely temporary—it’s so meaningful to say “this relationship is permanent, this person is family.”

So where does this leave me, a person who despises the history of marriage but wants to demonstrate the way that I feel about my partner symbolically and legally?

I think the key is to eschew tradition in favor of what works best for us, ideologically speaking. I’m currently engaged to my very own male feminist, and the fact that he is someone who shares my ideology and respects the problems I have with marriage and weddings is the only reason I can marry him in the first place… not to mention it makes it a whole lot easier to explain my “nontraditional” preferences. Here are a few examples:

1. The name change. There is already an excellent article on LunaLuna about the ideological problems behind women changing their name when they get married, so I won’t go into it here at length. I have wanted to keep my last name since I was a child. In addition to the issue of inequality, I always found it strange that once women were married, their symbolic ties to their own family were severed (in the form of the last name). This of course harkens back to the days when wives were traded to men by their families for livestock or money; in this case the ties really were severed as the woman became, essentially, the property of her new husband.

Obviously this is going to be problematic for anyone considering the socio-cultural implications of the traditions of marriage. I had considered hyphenation, but even that idea bothered me—why is the onus on the woman to alter her personal identity to indicate her marriage status?

Progressive couples have gotten around this in a number of ways: sometimes neither partner changes their name, sometimes they combine to form a new name (a very cool thing that some of my college friends did when they wed). Tom and I have decided to both hyphenate our last names, making us the “Eberhardt-Smith” family (and we found out after deciding this that Beyonce and Jay-Z did the same thing, which I think makes us a little bit cooler, maybe?). This works because not only are we making equal changes, we’re also acknowledging the combination of our families—I’m not becoming a Smith, we’re both joining the other’s family.

2. The proposal. When I was younger I had this idea that I would propose to the man, just to turn the tables and be unconventional. It didn’t turn out that way, but the idea of marriage proposals is still a tricky one for me. I hear about so many women waiting for their partners to propose (i.e. the much-discussed 300 sandwiches lady) and I wonder why more don’t take the initiative to do it themselves. It’s 2013, ladies! Our men can be stay-at-home-dads while we are executives, but we can’t get down on one knee and profess our everlasting love? I’m calling for a national overhaul of marriage proposals! Why should men alone bear the brunt of planning and executing a proposal (and all the possibilities of rejection) while women anxiously await proof that they are “wife material”?

Then, of course, there’s the ring. The first thing that many people ask you when you’re newly engaged is “let me see the ring!” The idea that a man must demonstrate his love in the form of jewelry that costs weeks to months of his salary or risk being judged by his fiancée’s entire group of family and friends is, to me, ridiculous. Not to mention the sort of “I own this” implication that comes along with “putting a ring on it.”

I had always told Tom that I didn’t need an engagement ring, and I meant it. He ended up proposing to me in the kitchen while we made Christmas cookies, using the ring that had originally been his mother’s from his father (before she got a fancier one later in life). To me, that was perfect. The ring as well as the proposal was low-key, not flashy, and had sentimental and symbolic value. We talk about getting him an engagement ring as well, but we haven’t, yet. It’s still a possibility.

3. The wedding day. Weddings are events filled with some lovely traditions, along with some traditions that I’d love to never see again. Although there is often pressure on a young couple to adhere to traditions “for the family’s sake,” it’s important (at least to me) to feel like I’m comfortable with the choices made regarding how I present myself and our relationship to 100 of our closest family and friends.

The idea of being “given away” by my father (or sometimes both parents) is one that has always bothered me. My parents raised me to be an independent, self-sufficient woman and I’ve lived on my own for several years, so the idea that they need to “give me away” to my husband so that he can take care of me now is somewhat laughable. I’ve toyed with the idea of either walking down with Tom or walking down alone. This is a tricky one, as many parents (hopefully not mine) might take offense to the breaking of this tradition. I think it’s important to have a frank and open conversation with your family about what you want to do and why.

There are no hard and fast rules about what a “feminist” wedding looks like in comparison to a “traditional” wedding, these are just the issues I’ve personally struggled with on the road to our wedding. Some traditions, like the dress, are traditions that feel right for Tom and I, while others, like the bridal shower, will probably be skipped for other reasons. One of the great parts of women’s lib is getting to pick and choose the traditions that work for me and my partner, and understanding the history behind the “rules” we may choose to break. Love is not archaic—my wedding won’t be either.


Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiance, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.


4 thoughts on “Feminist Wives: My Struggle With Wedding Planning

  1. My feminist fiancé and I have managed this quite well so far I think.
    I’m taking his name, not because I’m the woman, but because I want to distance myself from my family name. We hoped to both change our names to something completely new, but we couldn’t decide on anything and we both like his family name.
    People like to ask how he proposed, to which I respond ‘we came to a conclusion based on reasoned discussion’. And as for the ring, I wear my favourite ring that I’ve worn since I was 16 (I used to wear it on the other hand), and I bought him a matching one.
    The wedding itself will be a little more tricky, as we are both religious and getting married in a church. But the vicar is allowing us to write our own vows. And we’ve decided to walk in together rather than have me be ‘given away’. We’re trying to get rid of as many sexist and pointless traditions as possible!

  2. Preparing a ‘proper’ wedding sounds like a right pain. It’s great that you do what you both want to do while still making room for some traditions. But it’s important to do what you want as this should be one of the great days in your life, and no one wants to have regrets, at least not too many.

    My husband and I got married at the local registry office without family or friends around. I know that not many people feel that way, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of getting married. We’ve been together for 5 years prior to our wedding and for me getting married was nothing more than tightening our bond a little more. Luckily my husband felt the same. I also didn’t change my last name, because I am and always was my own person with my own identity – and my name has always been part of that. My husband was perfectly fine with that, too.

    A long time before my husband proposed to me I told him that if the wasted hundreds of £ on an engagement ring, I’d be pretty annoyed as I’d rather spend that money on things we actually need and we would both enjoy. But to be fair, I must admit that I have never cared much for jewellery.
    Colleagues and friends were teasing me all the time about not having an engagement ring but at some point I just told them that I have no intention of squeezing money out of the man I love because we want to build a life together and not waste money on things that would appease other people only. I like that your future husband proposed with a ring, but that the symbolic and sentimental values were more important than the price tag. It’s great that this works for the two of you!

    When I was buying the actual wedding bands (I only bought them because I thought I’d have to have them…) I went to the local jeweller’s and asked them to “show me your cheapest pair of wedding bands (around £ 40 for both, made of silver). In the end we spend around £100 on everything – the rings and the registry office’s fee. After the wedding we had ice cream. It was great!

    What I wanted to say is that there is no right or wrong. Our cheapo wedding and not having to cater for anyone else’ needs was the perfect thing for us. But if you want to combine both your families’ expectations and your own, then god for you! I bet your wedding will be wonderful because you know what you want.
    Congrats and the best wishes to you and Tom.

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