It wasn’t until I read this article by the creator of the Everyday Sexism project about her own feminist wedding that I realised that what my partner and I have planned for our own wedding also has a uniquely feminist bent.
Our relationship, engagement, wedding, and ultimately our marriage have seen us both on equal footing the entire way. Oddly though, applying the adjective “feminist” to these events never occurred to me until I read Laura Bates’ article, but that’s quite an apt way to describe them.
We were seeing each other for about a month before we decided to go the official boyfriend-girlfriend route and we entered into that arrangement with no small amount of discussion. We share a friend group and had work connections in common at the time, so agreeing to be together came with some risk of jeopardising certain areas of our lives were the relationship to fall apart. I think in many ways those early discussions set the tone for the type of relationship we would have in the future: even-handed, rational, fair, tolerant, and equal.
Whenever women ask me about our engagement they are always interested in the proposal above all else and seem to yearn for stories of him sweeping me off my feet by delivering an unnecessary number of red roses to my office or flying-in distant relatives to flash mob me at the gym. Thankfully though I didn’t have to sit through anything like that. They always seem deflated when I say we made the decision to get married together, chose the engagement ring stones and design together, discussed the price together, and chose the restaurant together. I was involved in every step of the decision-making process, which seems like the only sensical approach considering that I will wear this ring for presumably the rest of my life and getting married is also a major commitment that I should obviously have some say in.
This is where it gets a bit more complicated because we’re actually flying from Cape Town to Las Vegas in 5 days to get married far from friends and family.
We reached this decision quite organically and neither of us seem to be able to remember the exact moment we made the call to abandon the traditional route and flee West. We are going because a good friend of ours from Cape Town is a licensed marriage officer who performs secular ceremonies and will be speaking at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas from 10 – 13 July. That’s initially where the idea arose because it’s a conference we’ve both been extremely eager to attend ourselves.
There was the customary wedding send-off, which included a combined bachelor/bachelorette party involving cake, shots, crime-solving games, and our combined friend group (of men and women).
Despite not having a large wedding at home we both selected a best man and best woman each, just as special friends to share the preparations with.
After battling with the arduous decision of what to do with our last names we finally came to the conclusion to keep our surnames the way they are, which makes the most sense since we don’t want kids. To double-barrel them would have resulted in an absurd 20 character surname. We also considered playing with middle name combinations where we both take my surname as our middle names and I take his surname as my last name, but that also began to seem unnecessarily complicated. The symbolism of having the same last name quickly began to lack gravity when we realised that our lives have come together in so many real, tangible ways already.
Of course choosing not to have a big white wedding back home has some small repercussions. We had a formal pre-wedding dinner with 11 other people so that our close friends and immediate family could have the opportunity to wish us well and so we could thank them for their support. Both my partner and I said a speech. When my coworkers heard that I had said a speech at this dinner their immediate reaction was one of confusion. Since when does the bride speak? At her own wedding? The horror!
It was strange hearing myself referred to as “the bride” in reference to that dinner. In part because it wasn’t the actual wedding ceremony but also because I haven’t been thinking of myself as a bride. My wedding won’t have a white dress or a veil. I won’t be walking down an aisle to be given from one man to another. I won’t have a bouquet to throw, a garter to remove, speeches to listen to where family members offer questionable relationship advice and groomsmen jokingly express sympathy for the poor, whipped, duped groom. I haven’t had a bridezilla moment where some insignificant detail has sent me over the edge into a hormonal rage. I have not been the sole planner of every detail of our trip and ceremony nor excluded my soon-to-be-husband from having any say in it. If he wants to wear a purple shirt he should absolutely wear a purple shirt. It’s as much his day as it is mine, and the happier he is on the day the happier I will be.
We’ve worked on our vows together, agreeing on a collection of attributes that are important to us, such as respect, compassion etc, and are reworking them in our own ways so that we’re not reading the exact same script on the day of the ceremony.
Our venue is a neutral location as well. The thought of marrying in a chapel was cringe-worthy, so we’ve rented a penthouse with a gorgeous terrace for the day.
In a way, leaving the country to have our small ceremony elsewhere has alleviated the strain of having to tick all of these little check boxes. The stereotypes that abound when people hear the words “bride” and “wife” are prolific, limiting, and tend to the negative, at least in my experience. Going away and starting this new phase of our lives together in an environment where we can create our own identities as married individuals has given us the opportunity to commit to one another the way we want to. It’s a connotation-free slate and now we can carve out our own definitions without any stress of judgement.