Skeptic turned bride: The 5 feminist wedding choices I made

Guest post by Brittany L. Stalsburg
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Like many feminists, I have always regarded the institution of marriage with some skepticism. While at one point in my life I thought I would never get married, I changed my mind when I met my husband, Chuck. Being with him made me feel like I wanted to experience everything life had to offer, including marriage and whatever that entailed. I wanted to celebrate our love and our life together with the people we care about the most and honor our commitment to each other.

But marriage will always be a tradition borne out of the patriarchy. So there I was on our wedding day, a feminist dressed in ivory, clutching my father's arm while he walked me down the aisle. Making a wedding “feminist” is a tough task — nearly impossible, and I found myself having to make concessions along the way. For example, while I originally wanted to walk down the aisle alone, in a nod to my independence, giving my dad his moment and avoiding hurting his feelings was much more important to me.

Luckily, I still found some ways to incorporate feminist values into my wedding that made me feel comfortable. This is not meant to define for anyone else what a feminist wedding is, and I do not claim that the way I did things is the “correct” way to have a feminist wedding. In fact, fundamentally I think what ultimately makes a wedding feminist is when the bride and her partner have the freedom to create the type of wedding celebration that feels right for them.

We picked a progressive officiant

We had a woman Justice of the Peace conduct our ceremony who was on board with the type of wedding we wanted to have and was willing to work with us to create a ceremony that reflected our philosophies. I met with her before the wedding and told her how important feminism is to me and gave her some suggestions of language I wanted her to incorporate in her remarks, like a reading from bell hooks' book, All About Love. She also let me veto several of the traditional customs in wedding ceremonies, like when the officiant thanks the father of the bride for “giving” her away. Our officiant understood what we wanted and didn't want and became our partner in creating a customized ceremony.

We incorporated feminist readings into the ceremony

My husband I are not religious at all, so biblical readings were not an option for us. However, we both love literature, so I began looking at some feminist writers for inspiration. I ultimately settled on a poem by Maya Angelou and an excerpt from the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. Both readings emphasized values I believe are crucial to a successful marriage: equality, fairness, and respect.

Feminist wedding choices as seen on @offbeatbride #weddings #feminism
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We wrote our own vows

Writing our own promises to each other was important to us. Being able to stand up in front of our families and friends and read the vows we wrote for each other felt empowering. I felt a sense of agency that I think would have been lost had we used more traditional, generic vows. They were words that came from our own hearts and were written exclusively for us.

I vetoed the veil

When I first got engaged, I imagined I would wear a non-white, colorful dress, maybe even black! The idea of wearing virginal white bothered me. But finding a non-white dress was a lot harder than I thought, as they are still rare. I ultimately decided on an ivory dress, which felt like a compromise. But throughout the process, I knew I did not want a veil, even though my friends kept insisting I try one. The lifting of the veil can be another symbol of property transfer. I felt good in my ivory gown and veil-less head, and I'm glad that I didn't let anyone pressure me into wearing one.

I kept my last name

I've built a pretty solid career in my 30 years of life, and I also have a PhD, so my title of “Dr.” will always trump “Mrs.” My last name represents me and where I come from, and I didn't want to change it. And what I really didn't want was to be introduced, for the first time, as Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fritch, as though marriage erases my entire identity and subsumes it under my husband's. So I had the DJ just announce as the newlyweds, Brittany and Chuck, and have proudly kept my last name intact (no hyphen). While I respect and support the women in my life who have taken their husband's last name, keeping that tradition is not for me. We have decided that when we have kids, their names will be hyphenated to include both of our last names, a move that feels right for us.

Infusing our wedding with feminist values made the day even more special, because doing so reflected who we are as people and what we aspire to. Ultimately, however, what makes a marriage feminist is not your wedding itself, but a relationship built on equality that you have to build and create every day.

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Comments on Skeptic turned bride: The 5 feminist wedding choices I made

  1. A feminist wedding is definitely about having choice, regardless of what those choices are. I think what really makes a feminist wedding is that the people who are getting married are feminists. It doesn’t matter whether the ceremony itself is “traditional” or not (though cutting obviously sexist traditions such as giving the bride away helps – I love my dad but that’s one tradition with implications that really makes me uncomfortable, not just as a feminist but as a human being).

    • I agree! Im glad that I live in a country (Sweden) where its not tradition for the father to give away the bride, even thou influensens from hollywood movies have made it more common.

  2. I wore a veil. In a traditional Jewish wedding the groom puts the veil down on the bride before the ceremony. I was mildly bothered by the implications, so we agreed that before he lowered my veil, I would help him into his kittle (white robe type garment worn by Jewish grooms). That way we were each helping the other in our last moments of getting dressed for the ceremony.

    It turns out my absolute favorite photo from the day is the one of him lowering my veil. It is perfect! (my mom is in the background, our expressions are those of love, etc). There are ways to make the traditions egalitarian!

  3. I’m also a feminist that was skeptical of marriage as a whole. Definitely skeptical about weddings (which is a different cause entirely). I’ve found weddings have so many more compromises for family than my marriage ever will.

    Our officiant is a dear friend who helped us write a custom secular ceremony. No religious readings, one Carl Sagan reading. We wrote our own vows.

    I’m wearing an ivory dress as an homage to Queen Victoria wearing the then-untraditional white just because she wanted to. If she can make it a feminist choice, so can I. 🙂

    We’re eschewing the bouquet/garter tosses because, ew. No cake smash. No dollar dance.

    • I’m not up on the history of everything, so I am wondering if you could tell me what about the cake smash and dollar dance goes against feminism? Thanks!

      • The Cake Smash: I do not know if I would say that it goes against feminism exactly, since feeding cake to each other goes back to ancient Rome. It was believed that sharing the cake and feeding it to each other would build trust and create a special bond. It is also to show that the couple will care for each other.

        Cake smashing essentially symbolizes a lack of trust and the refusal to care for each other. There have been some studies–I am not sure of their credibility–that suggest that cake smashing is a good indicator of divorce, especially if the couple did not agree to it beforehand. Personally, I would be upset if my fiance did this at our wedding. He would never think to do it, since he understands that it is about trust.

        The Dollar Dance: These were (supposedly) originally just done with the bride as a way to increase her dowry. This is not fully supported by historical evidence, although in some cultures it was certainly the case. They tend to be regional or cultural. Most people who oppose the dance feel it is tacky, not necessarily sexist. Some groups of people would feel offended if a dollar dance did not happen at a wedding.

  4. I love that you used a reading from that Supreme Court decision. I am an attorney and I really want to incorporate part of the final paragraph into my ceremony.

  5. This whole article is so similar to how I’m planning my wedding. My dad will walk with me down the aisle but I won’t be ‘given away’, secular readings from Einstein and Shakespeare, Ivory dress, no veil, writing our own vows. It’s comforting to know that other feminists are making similar decisions and I don’t have to throw out all the traditions!

  6. Thank you for sharing this!

    My fiance and I are planning our wedding, and it is important to us to make sure that our wedding reflects our feminist beliefs. Instead of our officiant asking who is giving me away or who is presenting me to be married, she will ask if I have come to be married on my own free will. We incorporated a quote from “Safety Not Guaranteed” about choosing to go with a partner. Our reading is from “Les Miserable.” We are especially excited about the exchanging of our rings. I will hand him my ring so that he may put it on my finger, and he will give me his so that I can put it on his finger. (The wording is rather lovely.) My dress is black, and I have a witch hat fascinator rather than a veil.

    • Hi, curious about your Les Mis reading. Is it from the musical or the book? It’s my absolute favorite musical, and I hadn’t thought to incorporate it. If you don’t mind sharing a bit, I’d love to hear what it is!

      • The book. It is from the fourth chapter if I am remembering correctly. We are not including the entire passage, but I am pretty sure we are the only ones at our wedding who will know the difference. He is atheist, and I am Atheistic Pagan, so we do not have a concept of a religious soul. The soul mentioned in this passage–to us–is human energy. Love is the greatest of those energies.

        “The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds. Love, that is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. In the infinite, the inexhaustible is requisite.

        Love participates of the soul itself. It is of the same nature. Like it, it is the divine spark; like it, it is incorruptible, indivisible, imperishable. It is a point of fire that exists within us, which is immortal and infinite, which nothing can confine, and which nothing can extinguish. We feel it burning even to the very marrow of our bones, and we see it beaming in the very depths of heaven…

        What a grand thing it is to be loved! What a far grander thing it is to love! The heart becomes heroic, by dint of passion. It is no longer composed of anything but what is pure; it no longer rests on anything that is not elevated and great. An unworthy thought can no more germinate in it, than a nettle on a glacier. The serene and lofty soul, inaccessible to vulgar passions and emotions, dominating the clouds and the shades of this world, its follies, its lies, its hatreds, its vanities, its miseries, inhabits the blue of heaven, and no longer feels anything but profound and subterranean shocks of destiny, as the crests of mountains feel the shocks of earthquake.

        If there did not exist some one who loved, the sun would become extinct.”

        I am a Hugo fan. I like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” better that “Les Miserables,” but this is perfect for us. I have a tendency to think rather than follow my heart; however, my heart circumvented my brain when it fell in love with him.

  7. I’m right there now- I agonized about the aisle, and I have decided to have my groom have a grand entrance with his posse (we wanted to avoid his parents- complicated relationship) of attendants, and me be walked half-way down the aisle in my entrance by *both* my parents (especially important to me because they raised me while divorced- so it’s not like one can represent them both) then walk the rest of the way on my own, to show my independent choice to be married. A but complicated- I would have preferred to have both of us do the same thing, but darn real life, we each have our own individual situations and relationships, so those are reflected. Which is fine, just messy, like life.

    I could use advice on readings- I also wanted to use a quote from the gay marriage decision like you did, but I’m not sure. My fiance and I are an interracial and interfaith couple, but we’re cis and straight and honestly not oppressed in any way. The gay marriage decision did make me so much happier about the institution we’re joining- that now it’s something that is fully inclusive and supportive of all loves, not just some. And as a couple on the front page of the Post had on their sign (black and white couple like us) “Not so long ago, our marriage would have been illegal”. So I wanted to include a reading from the gay marriage decision. But is that appropriating someone else’s fight? Should we just let it be, since it’s over/not about us? I thought a little bit about how marriage has evolved and changed would be nice, maybe including a Loving v. Virginia quotation as well, but I don’t want to pretend I’m somehow an oppressed minority when I’m not. I’m just over the moon for my friends and neighbors who now have full civil rights, and want to celebrate that the institution we’re participating in is now what it should/could have been all along. Anyone LGBT out there who can advise on this?

    • I’m having a similar debate for my wedding about using quotes from either Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health (Massachusetts decision) or Obergefell vs. Hodges (Supreme Court) as we are a cis-heterosexual couple (though my fiance is asexual, but that is a different area entirely). My thoughts in favor are that we are a couple who are definitely bucking the tradition of marriage, especially in the eyes of his family, as we are not getting married in a church or by a religious leader, we’ve been living together (in sin!) for 3 years, i am keeping my last name, and he is already planning to be the stay-at-home parent. I also feel that using words from either of those court decisions will help emphasize our beliefs about marriage and that we stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ friends and family – not to mention the delightful shock on many of the more traditional family members faces.

      But you are absolutely right, for cis-heterosexual-monogamous couples, that decision was not about us. And co-opting those words for our own ceremonies…i don’t know. I’m planning to ask among my LGBTQ friends to see their feelings on using those words, and if they find any problems with it. I’ve seen several people here on Offbeat Bride use Goodridge vs. Dept of Public Health, so it seems to be gaining popularity as a secular reading.

    • I hope you won’t take this the wrong way because I can tell you have the right intentions but since you wanted to hear the perspective of LGBT people here is my opinion as a lesbian (who is also getting married in a few months): don’t have a reading from any text about same gender marriage. I don’t think you’re a bad person for considering it as I can really see that you just want to be supportive but I really do feel like straight couples incorporating our struggle in their ceremonies is appropriative and very unnecasarry. What you COULD do is maybe make sure that all the language in the ceremony that is about marriage in general is inclusive, like not referring to marriage as an institute as something that is between a husband and a wife etcetera, making it clear that while YOUR marriage is between a man and a woman that is not the only way, but a reading from the marriage equality act seems very appropriative to me, it just isn’t your issue.
      Again because you really seem like a nice person, I am not offended this was brought up and you seem to have very good intentions, but just focus on the love between you and your partner and you’ll be fine 🙂

      • Thanks for the advice, Babs- that’s exactly what I was worried about. I think our ceremony should already be inclusive in general ways, as our pastor and church are LGBT affirming (United Church of Christ FTW!), and she already assured me on a few points of gender-equality in the ceremony- I think she was a little surprised I had expected anything else- like when I asked about “kiss the bride” she said she doesn’t say that anyway (she talks about marriage as a covenant, and suggests that we may seal this covenant with a kiss). I think we’ll leave it out in that case. I definitely don’t want to appropriate someone else’s fight or appear to be congratulating ourselves on being such good allies. Thanks again for helping me figure this out!

  8. Ditching the veil totally. Not doing the last name change. My bouquet is paper flowers made from my favorite book so that is not being tossed anywhere. No bridesmaids, no groomsmen. Officiant is hardcore feminist. The ceremony is pagan.

    Now the only thing left is to convince dad I don’t want to be given away without breaking his heart…

  9. This is the first time I came across your blog and I really enjoyed it. Your story is quite interesting and you seems to be a confident woman. I believe you did nothing wrong as I am going to do the same when I’ll get married, I don’t want to leave my identity behind like you. Thanks!

  10. …reading about your name changes, I just had to throw this in for a laugh. my fiancé and I have the same last name. his is in English, mine in Italian. so I keep telling people I am getting “translated.” 🙂

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