Feminism | Posted by Michelle O on 11/20/2009

Weddings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

weddingssss yayyyy

weddingssss yayyyy

The occasions that constrain us the most to exhibit normative femininity are occasions of great ceremony and often solemnity e.g. weddings and funerals. –Sandra Lee Bartky

Hi there, my name is Michelle. I’m a second-year undergrad at McGill university, majoring in Women’s Studies and Anthropology: which is just a fancy, elitist way to introduce that I am interested in analyzing human culture and the ways that gender plays out into our daily life.

Today, I bring you this exciting blog on… marriage! Wait, no, come back! I’ll do my best to make this old topic exciting.

Those who know me well are familiar with my ambivalence towards marriage. I generally don’t like the idea of it for myself. For those of us who aren’t particularly religious, and who don’t particularly like the symbolic value of marriage as a property transfer of women from father to husband, marriage just isn’t that sexy. That said, I understand and respect the value that marriage has for many people, and there are definitely things that I adore about weddings.

I had the pleasure of seeing my aunt and uncle marry this weekend—after a “courtship” of about 20 years —and it was a wonderful experience on many levels. It’s nice to have a forum where two people can express and celebrate the significance of their relationship; it’s nice to have the family all together in one place; it’s nice to  eat, drink, and dance together. These are things that I love about weddings.

The thing that makes me uncomfortable at weddings is how quickly they can turn into a forum for sexist banter, and rigid gender indoctrination. This was the first wedding that I attended with my partner/boyfriend/best friend, Jeff. We have been together for over two and a half years, and my family is getting the sneaking suspicion that we are “serious” about things. I wasn’t sure what to expect because (a) this is the first time I would be bringing a partner along to a wedding and (b) I hadn’t been to a wedding since I was 15, when I wasn’t nearly as blessed with feminist perception! I’m dedicating this post to my cousins, aged 9, 11, and 15, who shared a dinner table with me at the wedding. I want to dismantle some of the gender stereotypes thrown around them during the course of the evening.

1. Ye old double standard: Girls are to be “protected” from boys/men; boys are expected to peruse girls

I can’t count the amount of people who came up to Jeff during the course of the evening to playfully, jokingly threaten him about my well-being. I.e. “If I see a single tear drop…” and “You’re learning a lesson here tonight, boy!”

It’s been my uncle’s joke since time immemorial that he would “come after” any cad that laid hands on me. Now the torch has been passed down to my female cousin, who was interrogated at the dinner table by cousins, and uncles on whether she had ever “kissed a boy.” When my cousin responded, tongue and cheek, that she had kissed a boy (her brother), the next few minutes were dedicated to who this boy was, and what harm must be inflicted on him! Oh, heterosexism. But that’s another post…

Now, this is not to say that my male cousins were not interrogated about their potential heterosexual encounters (and they were always assumed heterosexual). Oh yes, the boys were interrogated, but in a different way. My 9 year old male cousin was asked whether he had a girlfriend at school. No, my 9-year old male cousin responded. The next question: “Why not?”

Were 5, but were a couple, no big deal.

We're 5, but we're a couple, no big deal.

So, just to summarize: that my 9-year old male cousin did not have a girlfriend was questionable. That my 11-year old female cousin might have a boyfriend was horrifying. Right.

Now, to set the record straight: women (including myself) are not asexual objects that must be coerced and acted upon by men. Women (yes, even young girls!) have their own sexual volition and are active agents within their own lives. Further, to assert that men (even when they are boys) always want sex, are always chasing girls etc., and that women (even when they are girls) are asexual, always trying to evade boys, is to position coercion/ sexual assault (and legitimize it) as the only way that sexual interaction happens! Not cool. It also puts women in the not-so-fun place that when they do become sexually active they must deal with internalized messages of giving in or losing something integral about themselves (e.x: “ her cherry is picked,” or “she is ruined.”) Not cool, and definitely not true. A girl’s “value” does not rests in some symbolic “purity.” She has way more interesting and important stuff going for her.

On the same line of thought: men don’t need to exhibit aggressive, girl-chasing prowess in order to be valuable individuals. Such a narrow obligatory male sexual culture seems a little contrived and limiting to me. Men are not just dumb slaves to their penises. From my observations of the other sex, it appears that they do have more diverse interests than boobies! Surprise.

2. Eating meat is manly. Vegetarianism is womanly. Being feminine is the (second) worse thing a man can be. Women will try and indoctrinate men to vegetarianism (a.k.a. being a woman) and it is men’s responsibility to resist.

I believe that my sister and I were of the few (if not the only) people in attendance that were vegetarian. This meant that my delicious meal involved a lovely roasted eggplant, lentils, onion, melted cheese, oh yeah, and a healthy dose of misogyny. My cousin has always heckled me about being veggie—it’s a playful banter that goes on between the two of us—but because Jeff was present, it was a different type of heckling.

“She hasn’t converted you to vegetarianism has she?” Because no male in their right mind would ever become vegetarian on their own volition.

men dont eat vegetables. ever.

men don't eat vegetables. ever.

And (again to Jeff) “does she make you brush your teeth after eating meat?” Because women are coquettish control-freaks who hold their sexuality as a means of getting what they want. Let me give you another interpretation of this kind of logic: my vegetarianism is explained by my being a woman (as I am, by nature,  fickle, irrational, and overemotional). Effectively, my logical reasons for being vegetarian are erased. The one who espouses these tired truisms will never have to consider the unethical and unsustainable means by which the meat he/she eats is produced. Instead he/she can pass off my lifestyle choice as one of the incomprehensible whims of fickle women. Two birds are killed with one stone: (1) The moral dilemmas of mass-produced-meat are evaded, and (2) women are placed once more in the negative/inferior position of “irrational” and “polluting.” Yahoo!

For more information on how “eating meat is manly” and “being a woman is bad” please consult this recent Hungry Man commercial.

These stereotypes hurt. And think of what we have to gain by throwing them out the window:

• Men that can cry and not “betray” their gender, men who can express diverse sexualities, and men who can eat eggplant without an identity crisis.
• Women who have control of their own sexuality, and women who can make lifestyle choices that aren’t simply passed off as the “irrational” whims of her gender constitution.

Michelle also blogs for Athena Magazine

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  • Shean @ at 2:29 pm, November 20th, 2009

    I enjoyed this post, especially the vegetarian double standard part. I am a male queer vegan and I’m tired of people assuming that my sexuality and/or ‘lack of masculinity’ caused my lifestyle and diet change. Compassion for animals comes from my empathy towards the abused and not from my gender, my sex, or my orientation.

    I wish I could say that it was just bigoted assholes that make these assumptions but no. My loving friends are just as capable of perpetuating hurtful stereotypes as complete strangers are.

    I feel like you did an excellent job at addressing the issue, but do you have a solution?
    I usually just shrug it off and make a joke out of it, but surely there is a better way to combat stereotypes.

    Thanks for your post and your time…

  • Zafera @ at 3:36 pm, November 20th, 2009

    For number 1, I think you meant pursue, but peruse (leer at) works just as well.

  • Danielle @ at 5:22 pm, November 20th, 2009

    You hit the nail on the head! It seems that sexism nowadays can be worked into a joke and when it’s protested and exposed for what it really is, people then accuse you of having no sense of humour. I’m curious; did you respond to any of these remarks at the wedding?

  • john robert @ at 5:49 pm, November 20th, 2009

    great article. the labeling of vegetarianism as feminine and inferior is something i cannot stand. In day to day life the invalidation of things by their relation to femininity is one of the strongest bastions of gender inequality, in my opinion, because in my experience it is done by people who, while not feminist, except the basic concept of gender equality. oddly enough i have been accosted by more females about the ‘feminity’ of my vegetarianism than males (who usually just argue from the point of deliciousness). Though granted i may have fairly progressive male friends, the ingrained sexism in some females about vegetarianism continues to shock and disappoint me.
    I also think a lot of people can relate to that weird uncle who misguidedly reinforces a rape culture, because everyone knows that guy.

  • Jenna @ at 7:07 pm, November 20th, 2009

    You do realize that symbolism changes over time, right? And that weddings no longer symbolize the transfer of property?

    And you really need to stop feeling like everyone is out to make women look silly. A lot of people have good intentions and are only joking about protecting girls because it’s the nice thing to do. They don’t really think that you can’t handle yourself.

  • Katie @ at 8:23 pm, November 20th, 2009

    I think the whole “transfer of property” vibe is pretty easy to avoid in a wedding. As is any religious connotation that would make you uncomfortable. What I remember most about my wedding ceremony was the officiant speaking about how all the people there not just to celebrate our love but also as witnesses to the promises that we, as a couple, were making to each other. He called on them to support us in our partnership in good times and bad.

    Also, have you considered that some people in your family might simply be jerks? I’m not sure what questioning children about their supposed love lives and mocking other people’s food choices have to do with weddings. They seem like the usual crap that comes along with ignorant people trying to be clever at social gatherings.

    By the way, should you ever decide to make a commitment to a partner, there are some nice financial and legal perks that go along with marriage. You can always skip the wedding and do it city-hall style!

  • Zoe @ at 12:44 am, November 21st, 2009

    Well done!

    There’s just another point about weddings that I was surprised didn’t come up – surnames. Why is it that even in this day and age, women are expected to shed their identity and take their husband’s name? Why? Love is not changed depending on whether you are Mr & Mrs Smith or Mr Smith & Ms Jones!

    On another note, the thing about men not eating vegetables made me laugh, because my dad has always been a (fish-eating) vegetarian and my mum has always eaten meat. So when I was little, I thought that all men were vegetarians, and was very surprised one day, aged 6, when one of my guy friends ate sausages at a BBQ!

    All in all, great job. :)

  • KS @ at 10:50 am, November 21st, 2009

    There are so many things about the procedure of wedding that irritate me. The virginal white dress with occasional veils (need I say more?) and the whole handing off from father to husband, pressure to have a luxurious wedding… In Anne Kingston’s “The Meaning of Wife,” she talks about all these wedding traditions, starting with the traditional and then going off to Disney wedding –yes, people like to ride in pumpkin carriages and fill the pockets of world’s famous mouse. And then the reception. Movies like the “Wedding Crashers” are made for a reason… and as funny as it was, there’s some truth in it.

  • Rebekah @ at 7:35 pm, November 21st, 2009

    On an unrelated note (although I did enjoy your post), how do you like McGill? I’m a junior and have started the college consideration process (in fact, my dad and I are going up to Canada to visit McGill this week) and it is one of my (tentative) top choices.

  • toongrrl @ at 1:07 am, November 22nd, 2009

    I love me some pasta, more than steak and salad, does that make me less of a woman, Dr. Laura?

  • Linkurile s?pt?mânii « Down the Rabbit Hole @ at 7:12 pm, November 22nd, 2009

    [...] O de la F-Bomb – Weddings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Aten?ie la partea despre vegetarieni [...]

  • DonBito @ at 5:00 pm, December 1st, 2009

    @Jenna – have you ever heard of the term “intent vs. impact”?

    It’s basically the idea that the INTENT of one’s “jokes” (read: sexist, racist, or homophobic comments) is immaterial; it’s the IMPACT of what you say that matters.

    In other words, laughing off a comment about girls needing protection doesn’t prevent the comment from a) perpetuating sexism and sexist notions about women’s autonomy, b) making women’s autonomy into something it’s okay to laugh about or, most importantly, c) becoming ingrained in the psyche of the little girl who is the butt of the joke.

    If nothing else, surely you can admit that a girl of 11 might not have the education or experience to realize that her uncle is just a moron with a lousy sense of humor – and she is certainly ill-equipped to stand up for herself against his misogyny.

  • Erin @ at 1:33 am, December 3rd, 2009

    I like the more recent tradition of a woman being walked down the aisle by both her parents; one on either side. I am a feminist, but I wouldn’t object to my father walking me down the aisle alone, since he played such a huge role in my life. However, I think of the potential for my mom to be there, too, and that just feels much more right. However, I must admit that the idea of walking down an aisle while being gawked at is just not something I feel the need to do– not because of any feminist leanings per se, moreso because I’m modest.

    Also, I wonder if it’s promising that these traditions weddings originated in– virginal white, for example, are now being somewhat forgotten. I live in a very liberal, progressive, non-traditional city but I never even associated a white wedding dress with virgin status until a few years ago when a feminist brought it to my attention. It makes perfect sense, but such a thing didn’t occur to me. I also think, where I’m from, people understand that symbolism to be irrelevant nowadays. I wonder if many brides don the white only marginally aware of its symbolism?

  • Tips for Strategic Positioning @ at 11:42 pm, January 4th, 2010

    I don?t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. Good Stuff – Nice Concept too:)

  • -Z- @ at 9:25 pm, January 18th, 2010

    This was like reading myself typing at me. I majored in Women’s Studies and Anthro, too. (And loooooved every minute of iiiiit!)

    I’ve had those same thoughts at weddings plenty of times (esp. family weddings.)

    Last summer, after I broke up with a 5 year relationship with a boyfriend, I brought my best girl friend (my heterolifemate), who is ablaze with fiery red-orange hair, a scandalous dress, and thighs that can crack walnuts to a family wedding. It was delicious and scandalous. Family members kept asking how we…knew….eachother. I was vague, gave her loving looks, fed her cake, and wiped gloss off her lips after whispering tender nothings into her ear. She’s not bi like me, and she’s my best friend, so we’ll never get into a relationship, so it was extra delightful.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re not out there to hurt your family during an event like that, so usually you just endure the discomfort. But feel free to bring some awkwardness of your own! Bringing my blazing hot girlfriend to the wedding was the most fun I’ve ever had at a wedding!!

  • Columbus DJs @ at 1:55 am, August 30th, 2010

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, and decided to tell you that I’m enjoying it! I’m a DJ in Columbus, OH and appreciate your information

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