Marriage in America has come a long way in recent decades, and yet the wedding ceremony itself is, more often than not, rigidly traditional, especially when it comes to stereotypical gender roles. So how's a feminist bride-to-be to cope with some of these old-fashioned norms? Well, the good news is, none of these practices are necessary for a beautiful wedding day or a happy union. Here, seven conservative wedding traditions that should go the way of the dodo—and a few feminist, forward-thinking alternatives:
1. Wearing a white dress
White wedding dresses may be the standard now, but that wasn't always the case. They didn't become popular in Western cultures until the mid 19th century, thanks to Queen Victoria. From that point, wearing a white dress down the aisle became a symbol of the bride's purity. While some feminists argue that the white dress no longer symbolizes virginity, the color white is still very much used as a symbol for sweetness and innocence in our modern culture.
Alternative? Wear a dress that expresses who you are. Your wedding day is all about you (and your partner), so why not wear a dress that reflects your unique personality? If you want to be a little different but still want your dress to look like a "wedding dress," then blush, silver, or light blue will work. That being said, a wedding dress can be whatever you want; you're the bride, after all! It can be bright red (as is customary in many Eastern cultures), it can be black, it can be tie-dyed. It doesn't even have to be a dress; you can wear a crop top and a maxiskirt, a fancy romper, or a T-shirt and jeans. If ever there was a day when the world should be your oyster, it's your wedding day.
2. Asking the father's permission
This antiquated tradition harks back to the time when young girls were considered the property and financial burden of their fathers and were handed off as such to their husbands. But even without those connotations, asking the dad's permission feels weird and dated. If a woman is old enough to get married, she's old enough to make her own decisions. Before you check whether her father is okay with her getting married, you should probably make sure she actually wants to marry you.
Alternative? Get the blessing of both sets of parents. Men may argue that they want to get the blessing of the bride's parents (or parental figures) out of respect, but that makes sense only if they ask their own parents as well. Otherwise, the implication is still that they're making sure the bride's parents approve of their ability to support a wife, when women can support themselves just fine on their own.
3. The bride's parents pay
Yes, this tradition basically serves as a modern-day dowry, which is completely obsolete now that women earn their own money. But even if it didn't have sexist undertones, the whole notion that the bride's parents should pay is just plain unfair. The average wedding in America costs about $26,000, which is a huge financial burden on any household. Bucking this tradition is as much about basic pragmatism as it is about feminism.
Alternative? Split it between the families or pay for it yourselves. It makes much more sense for both sets of parents to contribute as much as they can afford. But paying for it yourselves (if you can) might be even better because it gives you complete control over your big day. While that might mean scaling down a little bit, it will be worth it if you don't have to invite those horrible fourth cousins you'd hoped you would never have to see again.
4. Making the bridesmaids pay for professional hair and makeup
It's not necessarily a gendered burden for bridesmaids to buy matching dresses, since groomsmen also have to buy or rent equally expensive tuxes. But keep in mind that bridesmaids generally have to jump through way more hoops than groomsmen do (planning elaborate bridal showers versus casual bachelor parties, for example), and a lot of that could be fixed by making the wedding parties coed.
But even if you're married (excuse the pun) to the idea of single-sex wedding parties, expecting bridesmaids to pay for professional hair and makeup is really just a female tax. It's antifeminist, not to mention a little rude, since it basically says, "I love you, now fix your face."
Alternative? You pay for it, or ask a friend to do you a favor. If you really want everyone to have the same type of makeup or hair for your wedding pictures, then you should pay for it. Or, even better, ask the most cosmetics-savvy bridesmaid to do everyone's hair and/or makeup on the big day. I've been in wedding parties where one talented bridesmaid ended up doing everyone's hair, and it was not only thrifty and relaxed but also a great bonding experience that made the whole wedding more fun.
5. The "first look"
Oh, the first look. We've all seen those pictures on Facebook in which the bride sneaks up on the groom from behind, or they stand back to back while the groom tries to sneak a peek. Then he turns around and there's a look of awe and tenderness on his face (or there isn't, which is even more awkward). While this tradition seems harmless on its face, it encourages the idea that the bride is a precious romantic object whose primary assets are her physical beauty and inordinately expensive dress. You don't see first-look pictures with the bride gaping in wonder at the groom's standard black tux—let's just put it that way.
Alternative? Exchange letters before the ceremony. It often makes sense to see one another before the ceremony so you can take pictures together without having a gap between the ceremony and reception. But instead of a first look, consider the even more romantic prospect of exchanging letters before the ceremony. Especially if you're not writing your own vows (if only to nix the "honor and obey" nonsense), this is a great way for a couple to spend time together during the crazy wedding festivities and express their love privately.
6. The bouquet/garter toss
There are plenty of reasons to nix the bouquet toss. 1) Not all single women want to be married, and it's silly to pretend that they do. 2) For the ones who do want to get married, this tradition could easily make them feel bad about themselves. 3) Those bouquets are often very expensive, so you're basically just throwing money away. 4) Seriously, just be a good friend, and don't humiliate your single besties for being single.
This goes for the garter toss as well. This custom is a little less common but is equally entrenched in stereotypical gender roles, with an awkwardly voyeuristic twist. It originates from a time when the groom would tear off his wife's clothes and throw them out to his groomsmen as "proof of communion." So, basically, it's the groom showing off a conquest to his buddies. Together, the bouquet and garter toss reinforce stereotypes that men are sex-crazed animals and women are delicate flowers who are desperate to get married.
Alternative? Take off the groom's bow tie with your teeth. Many couples decide that these rituals just aren't necessary, which is fine. But if you really want to do a bouquet toss, then get the entire wedding party on the dance floor, regardless of gender or marital status. And if the groom is going to take off a piece of the bride's clothing with his teeth, then at the very least the bride should get to do the same.
Taking your husband's name—and giving it to the kids
No matter what Shakespeare says, a name is not just a name. For the vast majority of people, a name is an extremely potent symbol of one's identity, lineage, and, in some cases, culture. That's exactly why most men never even think about changing their name, and nor should they really. No one should symbolically sacrifice his or her own identity to merge with someone else's. You're getting married, not becoming pod people.
Alternative? Literally anything else. There are so many alternatives to this outdated tradition, and any of them will do. If you don't want kids, there's no reason for anyone to change their name. If you're having kids, you can still each keep your name and hyphenate the kids' last names. If you would like your entire family to have the same name, you can hyphenate everyone's names, you can pick one of your mothers' or grandmothers' maiden names, or everyone can take the wife's name (which isn't really fair but at least isn't carrying on a patriarchal tradition).
And if you're really bold, you could just come up with an entirely different last name altogether. Just make sure you can resist the urge to name your kids Luke Skywalker and Katniss Everdeen. For their sakes.