Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here comes the bride

Before asking me to marry him, Brad did not ask "permission" from my father. We went to the Clark Building in downtown Pittsburgh with my mom and browsed around, I picked out the stones and setting I wanted, and when he'd paid all the necessary cash months later, he picked up the ring and popped the question in the most romantic of ways (a scavenger hunt). 

When we got married, surrounded by our immediate families on a dock behind PNC Park, my father did not "give" me away. In fact, my mom stood next to me and he stood next to her. 

Nope, I didn't wear white! 
None of this ever fazed me. It didn't seem weird. And after reading Gayle Rubin's "The Traffic in Women" last night, I might have figured out why. Or if not "why" (which might have just been that I'm very practical about some things and never had the big dream about the fabulous, $30,000 wedding - I actually find the wedding industry obnoxious and totally wasteful [don't cringe, Shannon!]) then at least a great reason for why it absolutely should not have. 

Rubin explains that the exchange of women in marriage by men is one of the founding principles of society - all the way back to way back when. Women, given as "gifts" from one man of one family to another man of another family, helped to create alliances, right wrongs, etc. Basically, to build networks of kin that serve as the basis for civilization. The notion that a father "gives" his daughter away in marriage, then, is not the innocuous, sweet tradition that people would claim it is. Rather it harkens back to one of the oldest bases of women's oppression by men

Brad didn't ask my dad if he could marry me b/c, well, he was young and dumb and undoubtedly didn't know much of anything about the conventions of marriage proposal beyond "get down on one knee." But the important fact is that neither Brad nor myself needed permission - from my father or anyone - to get married. We were both capable adults. 

As for the wedding ceremony, I wasn't my father's to give away in the first place. I'm an autonomous being, whether married or unmarried. The notion that a woman belongs first to her father and then to her husband initiates in me a gag reflex so strong I can barely describe it. And it probably does for most other people, too. Well, that's precisely what we're okay-ing when we okay things like giving away the bride. And don't tell me about how it's a nice tradition and convention blah blah blah. The ideology that underlies this (and so many others) tradition is detrimental to women and relationships, sexist, and just plan wrong. 

And perpetuating such a tradition, like it or not, perpetuates the ideology that objectifies women and subordinates them to men - the fact that it's hidden from view, that we don't think of it as being rooted in anything other than ceremony, is precisely why it's so effective in country that, today, prides itself on its equality. I'm all for tradition when it's equitable and reasonable. But when it isn't, I'm sorry: it's got to go. 

No comments:

Post a Comment