“I have been in this industry for multiple years,” she said, “and the wedding day has always been the bride’s day. And it has traditionally been all of the women from both families who participate in the planning process, and really the groom is arm candy on the day of the wedding. If the groom has traditionally had a say in the process, it has only been about the tuxedo styles.”Another way of approaching this general idea shows up in a Huffington Post piece currently making the rounds in my Facebook feed. In the guise of arguing "let's ban weddings and, while we're at it, baby showers, too," Valerie Alexander reserves her strongest criticism not for the wedding industry that pushes people to spend too much, but for women. Or, as she very intentionally puts it, "girls."
I swear, weddings are the leading cause of divorce. If some girl wasn't fulfilling her childhood fantasy of being a princess, holding court in the perfect gown with the perfect hair and perfect flowers, on a day dedicated solely to celebrating her ability to land a man, how much more effort would she put into finding the right mate, since the reward for doing so would be a lifetime together, rather than a coronation? [...]Ouch, right? And unfair to the point of borderline misogyny, as we'll discuss below the fold.
Celebrations are a huge, important part of life, but the worst mistake a girl can make is to enter into a lifetime commitment just to get a party. The husband and the baby are around long after all the guests go home, so you'd better be ready for that part of it. Here's a tip: if you're demanding an engagement ring for Christmas, chances are you aren't ready to be married (and he certainly isn't).
As much as the wedding industry tells us, ad nauseam, that indeed the perfect gown and perfect hair and perfect flowers are "every girl's dream," it's been my experience in recent years that men as much as women are invested in their weddings and are pushing for big weddings. That idea has no place in the culture, so you won't hear much about it. And it's certainly the case that the entire wedding industry conspires to keep men out of the process (see the first quote in this piece, for a reminder).
But if you think men aren't interested in the whole process, consider another big recent wedding trend: the big deal proposal. We're talking flash mob proposal after flash mob proposal, not to mention all the other forms of public proposal or YouTubed, wannabe viral (or actually viral) proposal that have been such a big thing in over the last few years. Shoot, proposal planning consultants are now a thing. The fact that the proposal, the part of the official wedding process that men have the most control over, is becoming a bigger and bigger event sure suggests that men are not the eye-rolling, detached, "whatever she wants" passengers of lore.
Consider also that, as of a few years ago, teenage boys had more positive views of marriage than teenage girls, and, while boys had long wanted to marry later than girls, that gap was closing rapidly as girls gained educational and occupational opportunities. So to the extent that girls/women do want to get married early, data suggests it's correlated with not feeling like they have better choices—even as they're overall less enthusiastic about marriage than boys. (Reasonably enough, since a host of other data shows that marriage is good for men and less so for women.)
In this context, isn't it a little hasty to pin all the blame for pressure to put a ring on it and over-the-top weddings on women? In fact, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that men often push the women they're marrying toward more neotraditional weddings. A Practical Wedding's Rachel Wilkerson writes:
I had told him before we were engaged that I didn’t have any interest in a traditional wedding, nor did I have the funds to pay for said traditional wedding, so I just wanted to go to city hall with close family and friends. He said that he was totally on board with that, but…well, there was always some kind of a “but” during these conversations. He told me repeatedly that he didn’t care about the details of our wedding, that I was free to do whatever I wanted…and yet, time and again, I’d casually mention my thoughts on something (usually something practical in favor of something WIC-sanctioned) and he’d make the face, somehow managing to look both devastated and disgusted at the same time. But when I’d ask him to tell me what was on his mind, he couldn’t tell me what he wanted or why he wanted it…he wouldn’t even admit to having an opinion.I've heard any number of stories along those lines, online and in person. I've lived a couple of them. In a culture where men are written almost entirely out of the dominant narrative on weddings, presumed not to care a bit but just indulge their crazed brides, it sure looks like, from teen years to proposal to wedding, they actually do care. Pretending men don't care and aren't involved in wedding pressures and plans is definitely unfair to women, who face a massive amount of nastiness and stereotyping of the "girls enter into a lifetime commitment just to get a party" kind Valerie Alexander engages in. Weddings as they are commonly practiced in the United States today are involved, detail-filled, expensive affairs, and that is work. It's work that lands on women, who are then blamed for excess and frustration as they try to execute things that are, often as not, desired as much or more by others as by themselves (not just grooms—friends and family can and do act as enforcers of neo-traditional wedding culture). But beyond that, if men care, it's unfair to erase them from the story and lock them out of substantive participation in their own weddings.
So let's stop letting men be written out of wedding stories. For their sake, for women's sake, and for the sake of tempering the ridiculously gendered stories we tell about getting married.