Wedding Traditions: should modern feminist women accept them?

Wedding Traditions: should modern feminist women accept them?

Recently BBC R4 Woman’s Hour ran a feature on patriarchal wedding practises. One listener questioned why modern feminist women were still accepting traditions like the suitor asking the father of his intended for permission to marry, being walked down the aisle by her father then given away to their husband “as if they were chattel” and at the wedding breakfast why all the speeches are by the father of the bride, the groom and the best man.

Before you jump to an inaccurate conclusion, I’m not about to defend this just because I’m a man who was asked for his daughter’s hand several years ago, finally walked her down the aisle in Norfolk recently and then stood up to deliver the very final speech I will ever make in public.

I get the imbalance. It’s not my fault. 

There are an enormous amount of customs surrounding marriage from the giving and receiving of rings, stag and hen do’s, garters round the lady’s leg, throwing the bridal bouquet backwards, the bridal waltz and honeymoons – and these are just the customs in the UK. Bonding globally is a whole other wonder.

Oh and God help the man who forgets the annual date he was married. Personally I have secretary for that (only joking).

Author Rachael Lennon attempted to prove how outdated these wedding traditions were on the programme. In her recent book Wedded Wife: A Feminist History of Marriage she believes it has a “deep history of oppressing women and people who expressed gender diversity and same-sex attraction”. I say attempted as her line kept dropping out. I’m sure it wasn’t anything to do with sexist, misogynistic dinosaurs buried in the BBC engineering department.

I should express an interest at this point as I’ve been making money out of marriage from the age of seven.

In the 1960’s as a choirboy I was paid half a crown to sing at Saturday marriage ceremonies. I only got thruppence a Sunday service so this was worth turning up for. It was quite normal for there to be three marriages in an afternoon, so I could make 7/6 which, to a 10 year old in 1966, was well worth the boredom. Then I graduated to being a wedding DJ. It’s quite an art and there’s a book in me about it. But for now I’ll just say I’m quietly pleased to have launched so many couples with great music and good memories.

In defence of the father of the bride, I should tell you I was really pleased to receive the phone call from my future son-in-law asking me for my daughter’s hand in marriage. It might be tradition but he did me that honour because he knew how much my only child meant to me.

Wedding Traditions: should modern feminist women accept them?

As for my daughter, she had kept the wedding dress a secret until she left the room where she, her bridesmaids and entourage had been preparing and appeared at the top of the stairs. There was a photographer lady and a video guy capturing our reaction when we saw each other. It’s hard to put into words but we had a moment I will never forget.

Charlotte and I spent a minute together alone. We were nervous and happy at the same time. Both our lives came together in a moment no-one else witnessed. It was very special.

Walking her down the aisle with her arm in mine watched by both families was the proudest moment of my life. Standing up afterwards to toast the new bride and groom was an honour better than any medal. It was a chance for me to tell everyone how I felt.

It was a traditional wedding, albeit without religion. God was not involved and despite me being brought up that way I thought this was right for them.

I’m particularly proud of my grandson Cole who is nine. He was “head of security”, had the rings and the chance to give a short speech afterwards. He’s a little shy normally but stepped up and delivered. It was an important growing up moment.

I sacrificed a career, suffered hardship and ignominy followed by years of separation by distance from my only child and my grandchildren. But all this was put right in one moment by her smile and love for me on her wedding day. After two divorces (neither of which I instigated) my thinking is “for better or for worse” is something you accept and deal with, not run away from from unless you have no other option.

But then every relationship is unique.

So should modern feminist women accept wedding traditions? Not sure how many A&G readers agree or how many would like things to change – but that’s my defence of the way the marriage ceremony should continue to be. Am I wrong?  

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Vivien Pheasant
Vivien Pheasant
6 months ago

I didn’t want to be “given away” in 1972 and cannot bear all the belittling wedding traditions but if that is what a woman wants, why does it matter? The point is that a woman should decide how she wants to get married and hope that the future husband agrees. Mine was delighted. I have a sneaky feeling that most men hate all the ghastly fuss. Answers from men please?

P.S. Sadly both daughters insisted on the full marquee reception, horse and carriage so I didn’t escape completely.

Northern Male
6 months ago

Hi Vivien, appeciate the response.

It should be what the couple want together – although the sad reality is many men involved go along with whatever is required as long as they get to know the Saturday football scores. Shallow, that’s us.

So your sneaky feeling is quite correct.

I’m glad your man was (and doubtless remains) delighted.

Northern Male