Getting Hitched: Feminist Style

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(Disclaimer: This post is about my feeling towards white gowns and traditional weddings. It is not my intention to judge anybody else’s decision about what they get married in and how they do it. I’ve actually been to half a dozen of traditional weddings I utterly enjoyed and adored the brides involved).

I first stopped dreaming of getting married in a long, white dress when I become (incorrectly) convinced that it would mean having to get married in church. I then learned about the white wedding dress’s virginal connotations (duh!) and began wondering how I could have ever wanted such an outfit. Finally, I read Jessica Valenti’s ‘Purity Myth’ (what an amazing book!) and decided I would probably prefer to never get married than go through it wearing a gown and a veil.

It was only about the time that I was reading the “Purity Myth” that the question of how to get married was even vaguely worth considering. That’s because I was in a relationship with the man who would eventually become the groom.

I have the incredibly good fortune of being married to the man who I believe to be my soulmate (excuse the cheesiness). He’s a self-identified male feminist, which made the wedding (and other things) that much easier. Once we got engaged little discussion was required for us to conclude that we weren’t comfortable doing the whole ‘traditional Polish wedding’ thing. For starters, we decided my dad would not ‘give me away’ at the altar (what’s more: there would be no altar, just the registrar’s desk), I wouldn’t have a white gown to symbolize my virginity (I think even my grandma would have known the dress was making a false statement) and definitely no veil to symbolize my hymen!

We worked through the plan of the ceremony together (although the full responsibility of dealing with the flowers was seceded to me – the official explanation being my husband’s color-blindness and hay fever) and decided on something that wasn’t controversial, but made the whole thing meaningful to us. We ended up getting married in a Warsaw landmark with over 300 guests present (which cost us more bureaucratic hassle than we bargained for). Poland being a very racially homogenous country meant that two of my bridesmaids – who were Chinese-American and Indian-American – caused quite a stir. More pictures were taken than the newlyweds alone would have merited. My husband and I walked each other to the registrar’s desk, me wearing a knee-length powder pink dress (made all the more special by the fact it was designed by a close friend) with nothing in my hair. Quite frankly, it was all very quaint and pretty (if I say so myself) and few would have known how over-thought the ceremony (and its symbolism) was.  

Some of my friends were worried that I’d turn the whole wedding into a feminist-statement-political happening, whatever that means. However, I had no intention of doing so – especially since a lot of the guests flew a long way to be there that day and we wanted to make sure, first and foremost, they got a great party. Nevertheless, I was forced to make a literal statement in the ceremony itself. In Poland, the bride and groom have to declare their future married surnames when they register to get married. It’s a sign of the times that both men and women have to declare whether they’re keeping their birth names or changing them. My husband and I both decided to keep our names and hyphenate our future children’s. The registrar, however, jumped to conclusions and hadn’t really read through the documents. As the official part of the ceremony was coming to an end, she was about to pronounce us husband and wife when she asked me to “confirm in front of all your guests and family that you will henceforth be known under your husband’s name.” I stared at her, thinking “o brother, here we go” and promptly proceeded to explain that I never intended to take my husband’s name and would certainly not confirm doing so in front of 300 witnesses. She blushed, said something about getting the names wrong, and hastily wrapped up. Consequently, she completely omitted the part in which she should have announced that my husband was keeping his name (not that anyone held their breath about that one) and our children will have hyphenated names.

In the end, my husband and I are very happy we arranged a ceremony that expressed our attitudes toward marriage and brought our loved ones together. Oh, and the other great thing – we have amazing pictures with me wearing a custom-made dress that does not hint at a link between my value as a wife and woman and my sexuality.

Maria M. Pawlowska is healthcare analyst with a passion for reproductive health and gender issues. Her articles on different aspects of reproductive and women’s rights have been published by The Maternal Health Task Force, RH Reality Check, HealthyPolicies, The European Pro-Choice Network, and The Good Men Project among others. Maria currently lives in London with her husband. You can reach her at: m.pawlowska@gatesscholar.org.

Photo credit DrBacchus/Flickr

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