When I was a kid, I attended a wedding in a church whose theology was more conservative than what I was used to. I doubt I paid much attention to the service—until, in the vows, the bride pledged her obedience to the groom. I leaned over to my mom and asked whether I had to promise to obey my husband. Much to my relief, she told me no.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with weddings. It’s mostly love, but there’s always a little bit of hate. I get particularly hot under the collar with certain gendered practices: the bride promising to obey the groom (I noticed he didn’t promise to obey her!); the dad giving her away like a piece of property transferring to a new owner; the couple being introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. The Groom’s Name.”

In the past week, I’ve watched the TV show Say Yes to the Dress! twice. It has its sweet moments, but it’s mostly like watching a car wreck that you desperately want to look away from but just can’t. Or like the video of the hockey player getting his carotid artery sliced open by another player’s skate that I watched a dozen times in a row. (He survived, FYI.)

Admittedly, I’ve taken more ideas of what not to do than of what to do from weddings I’ve attended, articles I’ve read, and shows I’ve watched. And now, I’m getting married in September. Two months and two days from today, to be exact. And I’ve learned a lot in the process about how to be a feminist and plan a wedding.

Spoiler alert: I don’t actually have a clear how-to, as the title of this blog suggests. I do not have all the answers. Or maybe any of the answers.

What I do have is my experience so far planning a wedding as someone with deeply traditional sensibilities on the one hand and deeply feminist and iconoclastic values on the other. Thankfully, my fiancé, Colin, is at least as much of a feminist as I am, and although he, too, values tradition and ritual, his strong bent toward anti-institutionalism helps encourage me to think outside the box, especially when I’m wavering between following tradition for tradition’s sake and manifesting the core value it represents in my own way.

I recently showed a friend a picture of my wedding dress. I will not describe it here because Colin reads my blog, but in general terms, my dress is simple, classic, and beautiful. My friend commented that she wasn’t sure whether I would go with a standard white dress or do something completely off-the-wall in terms of color or style.

That very thought encapsulates much of my attitude towards our wedding. I do value simplicity and the way traditions connect us to our families and communities past and present; yet I’m also quirky and not always prone to following popular convention, especially when it involves performing my gender.

So being a feminist in the wedding planning process has been interesting. There have been times where it was clear that some tradition or another would not be followed because of my and Colin’s egalitarian beliefs, but there have been—and still are—other instances in which it’s not so obvious what the solution might be. Living into that tension has been both fun and difficult.

I originally intended this to be a single blog post, but I quickly discovered that I have a lot to say about all this, so it’ll have to be a series. Consider this your teaser. The woman who never fantasized about her wedding growing up is planning one now! She’s more than a little curmudgeonly about gender roles and societal expectations! Sounds exciting, right?

Maybe not. But stay tuned, whether your motivation is genuine interest or, like me watching Say Yes to the Dress!, morbid fascination.

Want to read more? Part 2 is about the anxiety-inducing focus on the bride and how to make weddings more communal and participatory.




Published by Sarah Howell-Miller

"I believe in kindness, also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when it is not necessarily prescribed." {Mary Oliver}

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