The Vagenda

You Can’t Have A Feminist Wedding. Trust Me, I’ve Tried

You can hold onto your surname, you can wear trousers and no make-up, but you cannot have a feminist wedding. Trust me, I’ve tried. 
When I got together with my best friend of ten years it was a big deal. We’d loved each other as friends for a long time. We felt like taking the step to be together was a big commitment in itself. We didn’t need a legal document to prove how much we loved each other or force us to stay together. On the other hand, we recognised that being married gave us certain rights and a legal status that we wanted, especially as we were about to go to live on another continent for a while. In summary, we wanted to make sure we were the only ones who could turn off each other’s life support machine.
Now, as well as not feeling like a legal contract was anything to do with love, I’ve always had a problem with marriage because it’s rooted in patriarchy and religion, both things which aren’t really for me. But hey ho, we both wanted the legal benefits, so we did it, and tried to make it as much a reflection of what we believe in as possible. So for example, because to us it was just the signing of a contract, we didn’t have any guests. I wore trousers, as I’d never really envisioned the whole princess dress thing. We cut anything superfluous out of the ceremony. However, by the end of it, I felt like the whole thing had been hijacked by big daddy patriarchy.
First things first, we had to check over the details for the wedding certificate. Name, occupation, your father’s name, your father’s occupation. Now, I haven’t really seen my father much in my life. Fine as he is, I’m from a single parent family and was raised by my mum with a supporting cast of awesome grandparents. I asked if I could put my mum’s name in the box. “No, it has to be your father.” I said he had had very little to do with my life, and my mum was much more relevant. “No, not allowed.” That’s arbitrary and sexist I thought, so I left the box blank in quiet protest.
The ceremony began. It was reeeal short. We had contemplated throwing in ‘The Final Countdown’ as entrance music, but decided in the end to save the partying for another time. Speedily therefore we got to the ‘I do take thee to be my lawful wedded husband/wife’ bit. I don’t really like the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ because they’re gendered; I’d much prefer ‘partner’, but that lovely neutral modern term wasn’t allowed. I actually laughed out loud when I got to that bit…to me he’ll always be my best friend, and that isn’t a gender specific position. I somehow managed to pull myself together and make the vows and that was that. 
But then came the final blow. The time had come to sign the wedding register. I picked up the pen. “No no no. He has to sign first.” “What the? Why?” said my now husband. “Well, because he’s the man and he’s supposed to take care of you.” That was actually the explanation given to us!!! 
After all that, I felt like the whole idea of gender equality legislation in the UK was a nonsense. How can we be equal when inequality is so deeply ingrained in one of our central institutions? In France, opposite-sex couples can have civil partnerships. We in the UK should have this right too, and if we get it I for one will be getting a divorce and starting a partnership!
- PK

14 thoughts on “You Can’t Have A Feminist Wedding. Trust Me, I’ve Tried

  1. I’ve always wondered, so thank you for writing this.

    ‘What the acutal fuck’ was my thought on reading “But then came the final blow. The time had come to sign the wedding register. I picked up the pen. “No no no. He has to sign first.” “What the? Why?” said my now husband. “Well, because he’s the man and he’s supposed to take care of you.” That was actually the explanation given to us!!!”.

    When they have to look at these records later, can they actually tell that it was the man who signed first? Do they provide special pens that secretly record the male signature going first or prevent a female from signing first? Does it really fucking matter beyond it being just another ridiculous notion favoured by the goddamn patriarchy?

    Still, I suppose it’s something that you even got to sign. If I recall correctly, when the writer Lucy Mangan got married, only her husband’s signature was required.

    I’m with you on starting a partnership, I don’t want a gendered marriage either.

  2. We had a Quaker wedding, just three weeks ago actually. I think you wouldn’t have found any sexist or patriarchal elements. My wife actually pointed out this article to me saying “perhaps she should’ve had a Quaker wedding too!”.

    Quakers have had exemptions and special legal provisions for marriages for hundreds of years. Essentially, the couple marry each other, there’s no priest or intermediary authority, no ‘giving away’ by any male relative of the bride, no best man or brides maids, just two equal friends, who declare “Friends, I take this my friend, [name], to be my wife/husband/spouse, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband/wife/ spouse, so long as we both on earth shall live”

    The legally defined allowed wording variations allow for ‘spouse’ (as in current civil partnership arrangements), or I think Quakers would have no problem with same-sex couples both being husbands or both being wives if they wanted to instead, likewise I don’t think there’s anything against opposite sex couples using ‘spouse’ – I think we were asked if we wanted to.). Britain Yearly Meeting unanimously agreed to collectively proactively campaign for fully equal same-sex marriage in Quaker meeting houses since 2007, and it will probably become law in a few weeks.

    There’s nothing in a Quaker wedding about the husband signing first. I doubt that’s even law in civil registry offices, probably just your registering officer’s opinion. Also, everyone present signs the Quaker marriage certificate (which is the primary one, plus there are standard copy certificates for legal purposes), even small children, because of the Quaker testimony for equality.

    Quaker wedding procedures are only suitable if you believe there is an aspect of marriage bigger than yourself or bigger than the sum of your individual selves, something emergent about the communal love commitment, which you may or may not call ‘God’.

  3. Your reasons pretty much sum up why I don’t want to get married. I didn’t realise that the gender-based stuff was as bad as that in terms of the acutal wedding parts. Totally ridiculous.

    I also much prefer the term partner. I don’t see why gender has to come into the label and, not wanting to get married, it just sounds better than girlfriend/boyfriend when talking about the kind of relationship that will last the rest of our lives together.

  4. But the big stumbling block for this poster would be the phrase ‘through divine assistance’. As she says, religion isn’t for her. Not that I’m dissing your chosen method of expressing your faith – in the unlikely event I re-found my faith,I would very likely be most drawn to the Quakers. As your comment demonstrates, they certainly have a commitment to equality.

  5. Hey gang,

    A couple of clarifications…

    1. We were given a sheet with options for the ceremony. If ‘spouse’ was an option then it wasn’t one presented to us.
    2. The signing issue was actually more about the fact that my partner’s name had to go in the box above mine on the register.

  6. When I got married I had to sign the register first and I was given the copy of the marriage certificate, I was told that it was always given to the woman. Had to do the whole father name thing though which felt a bit weird, would have liked to have had both my parents recognised rather than just the one!

  7. Why is it relevant what your father (or parents) does? Surely you’re not a minor and can make your own decisions about things like this, without parental involvement, if you so choose?

  8. You’re right about French heterosexual couples being allowed access to a kind of civil partnership – it’s called the ‘PACS’. However, it’s important to note that the PACS gives couples (whether gay or straight) nowhere near as many benefits as a proper French marriage. In the UK, civil partnerships and marriages, despite not having completely equal privileges and benefits, are much much fairer than French marriage and the French PACS.

  9. It’s just part of the public-record keeping thing. Back in the day, things like copies of birth and marriage certificates were among the very few bits of information the parish / wider ‘state’ ever recorded about you, and it kind of added to the picture provided by censuses regarding people’s background etc. The insistence on it being your father’s occupation is sexist, but having that information on the marriage certificates of 100 years ago is invaluable to genealogists and historians, and presumably will be to those of a 100 years hence too!

    I always have to smile at mine and my spouse’s wedding certificate – we were both students but he was also employed part time as a lecturer at the same university when we married, so put down that as his occupation. So “lecturer” and “student” on the marriage certificate looks a tiny bit worrying!

  10. We got married in Scotland last year and had a humanist ceremony. We worked with the celebrant to create a very unique ceremony and it had none of that nonsense (we did have a couple of rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who went first with the vows!)

    We had to give details of both sets of parents – Mother and Father – for the certificate. I’m pretty sure I signed first but I can’t really remember that well.

  11. “I don’t want a gendered marriage either.”
    That pc-ness should have reduced people’s minds to this rubbish is a thing to behold. If you were “best friends” then why get married? Oh, I forgot, you wanted certain legal benefits. So, it is you, not the imaginary “patriarchy”, that wants this beautiful human institution reduced to a few legalities. Marriage, by the way, is not “rooted in …religion” either, which is why it is so universal and from all time.

  12. I signed first at my wedding in May, so I think that was just your registrars being sexist at you, rather than ingrained patriarchy.

    I tried very hard to have a feminist wedding and found there were only 2 things on the day that struck me as patriarchal – the father thing on the certificate, and my husband who decided to leave all the meeting and greeting to me and hit the dancefloor with our friends, which was really irritating as I also wanted to dance but was forced into 4 hours of conversation about my dress. Ah well.

  13. I wrote to the General Register Office to ask what the deal is with the institutionalised sexism, not to mention the other issues for children of single-parent or same-sex families. The response I got was (unsurprisingly) uninspiring:

    “The details to be entered in a marriage register book are prescribed by regulations which provide only for the details of the fathers of the bride and groom to be recorded.

    Whilst the regulations could be changed to provide for the mother’s (sic) names to be recorded, any change to the format of the marriage registers would necessitate the closure of those currently in use and the issue of new ones; not only registrars but also to the clergy of the Church of England, to ministers of other churches and chapels, registering offices of the Society of Friends and Secretaries of Synagogues, This is an exercise that would amount to some 55,000 marriage registers being replaced and would be costly to conduct in isolation.”

    So there you have it ladies, equality is just too costly. Now get back in the kitchen and doll yourself up.

  14. I’m sorry that this was your experience, but saying you can’t have a feminist wedding in the UK is baloney. Penis-shaped baloney! I got married three years ago in Scotland in a Humanist ceremony. Both me and my husband were asked to fill out the details of both parents on our forms. If we had no contact with any of them, I’m not sure what the situation would have been, but it wasn’t an issue for us. I signed our register first as well… I wasn’t required to, but I wasn’t stopped from doing so. I just sat down and got to the pen first.
    Claiming that your experience is a UK-wide problem, when a decent-sized part of your readership lives in a part of the UK where this isn’t true is illustrative of one of the reasons we often feel alienated and marginalised…