by Emma Regan
Planning to get married? Have some reservations about the traditional Irish Catholic wedding? I’d be
surprised if you didn’t. Here are my top five feminist fixes from my own wedding last year...
1. You don’t have to change your name
According to a Google Customer Survey(1), around 20% of women who got married in recent years
kept their names. The lowness of this figure surprises me. As someone wise once said, ‘Words have
meaning and names have power.’ It seems to me that your name is tied to your identity and sense of
self. Never mind the hassle of rebranding yourself on social media and at work! Why then, would
someone give up their name? Perhaps to reflect a change of identity or to become part of a new
family with a common surname. I can relate to this, and my partner and I wrestled with the idea of
(both) double-barrelling, with the inevitably tongue-twisting result Atkinson-Regan, or combining
our names to form a new supername, Regson, although I told my family we were considering
Ratkinson to freak them out! All the while in our heart of hearts, neither of us wanted to change our
names. So in the end we didn’t. This is also the easiest option because you don’t actually have to do
anything. Niggling worries about hypothetical future children? Rock, paper, scissors to the rescue!
2. You don’t have to wear white
If you identify as female, you’re going to be under massive pressure to conform to the bridal stereotype. People will ask you what you’re going to wear or more frequently, “Have you got your dress yet?” At times, the focus on your appearance may make you uncomfortable, but take solace from the fact that people will tell you that you look beautiful no matter what you wear...so why not just wear what you want? Some people dream of a big, fluffy, cream-cake gown and more power to them! Others, like me, might be turned off by the colour white as a symbol of purity. Ever since I read The Purity Myth(2), I knew I’d never have that white wedding. I felt as though I’d be advertising my non-existent virginity! Furthermore, white’s just not my colour. Instead, I planned to wear red, symbolising love and passion! I ended up with a black and pink dress. A dress is somewhat conformist, but I’ve always liked dresses because I associate them with dressing up as a child. Others don’t like dresses and so don’t wear them, an excellent choice too. Oh and if you feel like turning the tables with a sadistic but socially acceptable blow to your guests, you can dictate a dress code for them!
3. You don’t have to be given away
After all, you’re surely your own person rather than a piece of property, the deed to which is
about to be passed from your father to your future spouse. It doesn’t take much feminist theory to
identify the sexism at work in this troubling tradition, and there are literally loads of alternatives.
You could skip the grand entrance, include both parents and partners regardless of gender or the
couple could just walk in together. We did the last one hand-in-hand, to symbolise us entering into
marriage as equal partners. Of course, as a tradition that fathers may expect to be included in, its
absence could hurt feelings. I think it’s important to communicate your wishes early and explain why
the arrangement you’ve chosen is right for you and your partner. There are also other ways of
including parents or guardians in your wedding whether by having them speak or take part in a ritual
like lighting candles. At my wedding, my dad made a speech at the afters in which he reflected on his
initial disappointment at not getting to walk me down the aisle. Then he said, “I had a lump in my
throat watching her walk down the aisle with Jay. I didn’t have to give her away...it was so clear that
Emma’s all grown up and is her own woman...Now that’s what every Dad wants to see!” He got it.
4. You can speak at your own wedding
What’s more, other women can speak too until you have chorus of diverse voices celebrating your marriage. Okay, this probably isn’t something you’ve thought about...but do think about it. Traditionally, the people who speak at weddings are: the priest, the father of the bride, the groom’s father, the groom and the best man. Meanwhile, women are spoken for, silent and passive. Why not break that silence and make a speech at your own wedding? Now, I know there’s the fear of public speaking. You certainly don’t have to speak if you’re terrified of doing so! However, think about who does get invited to speak during the day and diversify. Personally, my wedding was dominated by women’s voices between myself, my mother, my sisters, my mother-in-law, my two best friends and our female celebrant. I like to speechify and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass, but of course I was nervous. Consider still speaking even if you’re nervous – it’s your chance to express yourself and pay tribute to the important people in your life.
5. You don’t have to have a religious ceremony
If you and/or your partner are religious, and your religion approves of your union, it may make
sense for you to do so. Alternatively, you may be denied the opportunity to marry at a religious
ceremony if you’re not heterosexual. Another possibility is that you aren’t religious but your parents
are and they’re expecting a religious ceremony. I imagine that this is the case for a lot of Irish
couples getting married given that the percentage of Catholics among the Irish population steadily
increases with age; 79% of 20-40 year olds are Catholic, compared to 91% of those over 65.3 If you’re
not pushed about it, you may want to go along with a religious wedding to please your family but do
fully inform yourself about what’s involved before you choose to do this. If you can’t have and/or
don’t want a religious ceremony (for lots of weighty feminist reasons which I won’t enumerate
here), there really are viable alternatives. You can get married at a civil ceremony by a registrar4 or at
a humanist ceremony by a humanist celebrant.5 My partner and I chose the humanist option
because it allows you to design a ceremony that suits you. Of course, there are also templates you
can use if you’re not interested in reinventing the wedding wheel. For my partner and me, choosing
words and music that we found meaningful was essential, as was writing our own embarrassingly
tear-jerking vows. Just to note, baring your naked soul to your partner in front of a live audience is in
fact a pretty strange thing to do, but then again you are getting married so why not just go for it?
Happy feminist wedding planning!
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.