Gender Equality and Marriage

With many placing blame on the rape victim in the Steubenville rape case I have thought about how women are viewed in our society and what traditional views guide the way women are perceived in various circumstances. I have also questioned how important women’s rights and gender equality are to me. What I realized is that, despite some baby steps toward progress, women are still unequal to men, both financially and socially.

By accepting Jesse’s proposal last November, I acknowledged that I was ready to get married and spend the rest of my life with him. Until recently, I had not given much thought to marriage in the context of gender equality. I now realize that this topic should be discussed by all couples who are considering getting married.

Same glasses

We believe in equality–even in eye wear!

A good friend of mine is a bridesmaid for one of her closest friends whose wedding is this summer. My friend has confided in me about her concerns about her friend. She has told me that her friend’s fiance is very controlling. This friend has to ask her fiance for permission to do practically anything. This couple already shares a bank account and this friend has, in so many words, told my friend that they probably will not see one another very much once she gets married.

I share this story because it is, in my opinion, an all too familiar case of a woman who is limiting her potential in order to be with a man. I will acknowledge that, in her view of reality, her relationship probably seems logical and she may not even feel like she is being controlled. (And, if she does, maybe she thinks that is how all relationships between a man and a woman are supposed to be.)

I get frustrated by stories like this one because I do not think any woman should ever be fine with belonging to a man, especially if it has gotten to the point where the man controls every aspect of the woman’s life. In these kinds of relationships, a woman is allowing the man to squelch her self-worth. Additionally, she is most likely being viewed as an object or as fulfilling a certain role instead of being respected as a person first, then a woman second.

In preparing for both a wedding and a marriage I have realized that there are several traditions that objectify instead of celebrate women. Some of these traditions that come to mind include a man asking a father for the daughter’s hand in marriage, the engagement ring, a woman changing her last name, and who pays for what at a wedding. These traditions have been disseminated by many feminist bloggers, including Meg Keene and Alexi Vrabel.

Asking for a woman’s hand in marriage

In her post “On Weddings and Gender Equality,” Alexi discusses her frustration in how women on a certain TV show “were talking about how they would have never said ‘yes’ to their current husbands had they not asked Daddy first.” Culturally, it is assumed that the guy has to ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage. For the longest time I agreed with what society dictated. I always thought that it was important for my future husband to ask my father if he could ask me for my hand in marriage. Because my dad passed away in early 2011 Jesse never had the chance to ask for my dad’s permission. However, I realize now that I would not have wanted him to. I agree with Alexi’s sentiment when she shares the following:

“I resent that since I’m a lady, the possibility of having to ask permission to ask me is a real thing. Like I need a system in place to make sure everything’s okay because my feminine judgment may not be up to par.”

The concept of asking permission bothers me, too. A woman’s father does not have control over his daughter’s marriage. I believe that this tradition no longer serves any purpose in our society.

The engagement ring

Don’t get me wrong. I love my engagement ring. It is so beautiful and carries sentimental value since the diamond is a family heirloom. Meg, in her article “Confronting Tradition: Weddings and Feminism,” asks “why is the tradition that you wear a ring that marks you as taken, while he wears nothing?” I have questioned this tradition many times since my engagement.

For example, during Jesse’s first year of law school he will be surrounded by new people and making new friends. I have no doubt that some of his classmates will be single, motivated, beautiful young women. While I trust Jesse I do not think it is fair that he will be perceived as single when he is most definitely not. I am not insecure but I do worry about female classmates who may, potentially, come onto Jesse because he does not have a ring on his finger.

The last name change

Numerous bloggers on A Practical Wedding have reflected on how they felt about changing their last names and what their decision was. Both Alexi and Meg discuss this topic in their blog posts that I have shared. Several weeks ago, I shared the following comment on a discussion about the changing your last name on the Broke-Ass Bride:

“I had thought about the last name change decision long before I started dating my fiancé. My last name is ‘Best’ so it’s always seemed like a no brainer to keep it after marriage. I love my last name because it’s unique and, more importantly, because it is a direct connection to my dad. Ultimately, I see it as a way of maintaining my own social identity. Choosing not to take my husband’s last name does not make us any less united as a couple.”

There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to take her husband’s last name. Just like any of these traditions, I think women need to think more critically about changing their last name instead of just doing it because that’s what society tells them to do.

Who pays for the wedding?

Once again, tradition dictates the financial responsibilities for a wedding.

Meg says that, “The tradition that the bride’s parents pay for the wedding, while the groom’s parents skate by relatively unscathed, has troubling roots in, say, dowries, and getting rid of that female kid that can’t earn any money.”

My mother is widowed and retired so I do not think it is reasonable to ask her to cover what the bride’s family is expected to pay for. Making the bride’s parent’s pay for the wedding just because they are the bride’s parents does not seem fair to me, especially since a marriage requires equal commitment from both the husband and the wife. Bride or groom…titles should not dictate who pays for the wedding.

Just like women need to be critical consumers in the wedding market, women also need to think critically about the traditions that guide weddings and what these traditions suggest about the value and place of women in a marriage. What’s important is that a couple decides what marriage means to them.  “When we decide to get married,” Meg says, “we decide to reclaim and remake the institution of marriage, and shape it into something that works for us.” I could not agree more.

What wedding/marriage traditions exist that I have not included in my post? What traditions bother you?

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10 Comments on “Gender Equality and Marriage”

  1. The last name change is the biggest tradition that I have issue with! I was just having this discussion with some male classmates yesterday who couldn’t believe I wanted to hyphenate my last name to maintain my professional identity. It’s so frustrating that no matter how much education I earn, I will always be seen as someone who needs to go along with traditions which are not always practical!

    • Christina says:

      Men and women alike neglect to consider the social repercussions various wedding traditions have on how women are perceived. Your anecdote about your male classmates proves this point. It seems like they thoughtlessly defended this tradition instead of considering the practicality of it (as you pointed out).

  2. Nicole Gennarelli says:

    I like the point you make about how women wear engagement rings, but men wear nothing. That’s always been something that bothers me. I completely agree with your stance. Although, I have complete trust in my boyfriend that he wouldn’t be unfaithful, you can’t control the actions of others. Whenever I get engaged down the road, I look forward to wearing my engagement ring, but I think it’s a stupid tradition that the male doesn’t have to wear something, as well. If women are going to be seen as “taken” by wearing a ring, people should know that the man is off the market as well.

  3. Christina says:

    I agree with you completely on everything. The thing that bothers me the most is how the brides parents would need to pay for the wedding. Like you said you are getting married and want to be committed to each other, so why not split the cost on the day that means so much to both of you. One thing that you did not mention was I know at some weddings the bride’s side of friends and family is separated from the grooms. I went to a wedding last year and they did that and I was not a fan of it at all. I was friends with many of the people on the bride’s side and they felt that we should be sitting separately until later in the night. Other than that, there are not any other wedding traditions that bother me that I could think of.

  4. jstarc14 says:

    I really enjoy your blog! You are so right about everything and brought up some very valid points. I am a true believer in that women should have equal rights in all aspects of life. Our society definitely tries to make us believe that we are all “equal,” but in all reality we are not. Not only when it comes to marriage, but in the work place, the home, etc. I loved the quote you posted by Alexi:

    “I resent that since I’m a lady, the possibility of having to ask permission to ask me is a real thing. Like I need a system in place to make sure everything’s okay because my feminine judgment may not be up to par.”

    This really caught my attention. We say we want our significant other to ask for our hand in marriage out of “respect,” but once we reach adulthood, shouldn’t the woman be the one the man must respect and ask? Why should a man ask his significant other’s father for her hand before he asks he for her own. I also believe that it is silly a woman is expected to take the male’s last name, to carry on the legacy or what not. What about my legacy, my family, my ancestors? Aren’t they important? I am the only female grandchild on my mother’s side of the family. I know that my cousins will carry on the name, but what if I want to do that also. My grandfather passed away when I was 13 and ever since I have wanted to keep my last name, Starcher. It is silly that I have to be concerned if my future husband will be okay with taking my last name instead of his.

    Again I really enjoyed your blog, congratulations on getting engaged, I hope you and your fiance have a beautiful life together!

  5. Barrett Stanko says:

    I agree with you on many points regarding the concept of marriage, and how many the current traditions are steeped in age old ideas about selling of your daughter and using them as a source of trade. A lot of traditions have this subtle misogynistic twist that make me really quite uneasy. They seem for the most part to keep the idea that the women in men’s lives are supporters and almost property, so I am very happy with your discussion. I hope you have a beautiful wedding day.

  6. When my husband and I got engaged, we spent hours picking apart traditions, and making our wedding gender neutral.

    I wore red, because it’s my favourite colour, and because the whole virginity tradition annoyed me.

    Our rings came from my grandparents, and were the same width (no dainty ladies ring, and wide men’s ring for us). When he gave me a ring, I gave him my late grandfather’s cigarette case. OK maybe he didn’t have the ring on his finger, but everytime he took out a cigarette, people wanted to know where the case came from. 🙂 Also, it had my last name (which I kept) engraved on it.

    I kept my name, which is my mother’s maiden name that I took when I turned 19. I wanted something from Mom’s side of the family, and that illustrated my Danish heritage. I’m half Danish, and half Canadian, but living in Canada, and speaking perfect English, people only saw my Dad’s heritage.

    I use Ms. even after the wedding. Why do I get a married titel, but he doesn’t?

    How did my Dad find out about us? He found out when I called him from AZ, and announced I ran off with a guy! LOL No kidding, great story! 🙂 Hubby and I ought to write a book!

    We had two weddings. A civil ceremony in AZ because his church and my church didn’t want to do things our way, and then a bigger family ceremony in Canada, which my parents paid for, but as theyexplained, as a gift to us, not out of tradition. Besides, his parents aren’t alive. so it’d be a little hard for them to pay for half.

    Because we were already technically married, we officiated our own ceremony, incorporating elements of both churches, because we were not interested in the rules and regulations pt down by our churches.

    We lived in AZ for a while, and lived in Canada for a while, and eventually chose together to stay here in Canada.

  7. […] to find out that in a real relationship where people respect each other, not only do people want a partner equal to them, but there is a radical notion in existence that says relationships don’t fall […]

  8. Tariq says:

    Fantastic post! And congratulations on the engagement! I hope you have (or had!) a wonderful wedding 🙂 I’d be keen to hear your opinion on various aspects of the traditional ceremony as well – where the groom waits at the end of the aisle, and the bride is walked down the aisle by her father, and “presented” to the groom (in addition to having to wear the white dress and veil). What are your thoughts on this? And how would you do it differently?

    • Christina says:

      Hey, Tariq! I really appreciate the thoughtful response to this post. I haven’t been on The Overwhelmed Bride for a while so it was a pleasant surprise to have some activity on this blog!

      We got married back in May, and I’ve thought about writing about the wedding experience numerous times on this site. I’ve actually been busy working on a new blogging venture over at christinasbestlife.com. I’d love if you check it out!

      Our wedding day was pretty seamless, and we erred on the side of doing things a little less traditionally. (You can see some photos from the wedding and a video of our ceremony over at Jesse-and-Christina.com.) For example, I looked into why the man always stands on the audience’s right side. Historically, this was so the man could guard his woman with his sword if the circumstances were such that she needed protecting. What kind of tradition is that?! So, I opted to stand on the right because I like the profile of the left side of my face better!

      And, if you recall from my post, my dad passed away a few years ago so my mom walked me down the aisle. We didn’t explicitly define what it meant for her to walk by my side and give my hand to Jesse. I think she’d agree with me that it wasn’t about presenting me to my groom so much as it was an opportunity for her to physically show us her support. We also had the officiant ask all three parents (my mom, the groom’s mom and dad) to stand together and consent to our union.

      Other details: I walked down to the aisle to my own song (“The Luckiest” by Ben Folds) and the guests were invited to stand (a tradition that I might have done differently, in retrospect). I wore a knee-length cream-colored dress, no veil. Our officiant came up with a creative way of introducing us as husband and wife at the end of the ceremony (since I chose not to take my husband’s last name). You can find this in the video.

      Thanks again for leaving such a thoughtful comment! You’ve definitely inspired me to revisit this blog, so thank you. 🙂 And, if you have any other questions, leave me another comment! I’m more than happy to share more insight from my experience.


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