Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tossing the Garter

My favorite question has always been "Why?"

It's downright difficult for me to simply "do as I'm told" or continue with a tradition that holds little or no meaning to me personally.
If I'm asked to vote for a certain candidate, I want to know why.
If I'm considering a switch to veganism, I want to know why.
If I'm told that I should buy a certain product, I want to know why.

So this is the boat I find myself in: I'm getting married in May and suddenly have a piqued interest in what all these wedding traditions mean.

The tradition of the father "giving away" the bride has its roots in arranged marriages when the daughter was literally property--a dollar amount--meant to bring wealth and prosperity to the family.

The name/purpose of the "best man" comes from ancient times when the groom would literally kidnap the bride away from her family and needed his best man to fight off her family.

The bride usually stands on the right and the groom usually on the left. Why? Because in the Dark Ages of stealing brides, the man would usually hold on to her with his left hand and fight off the family with his sword in his better fighting hand--his right hand.

Bridesmaids today dress alike, but in our recent past the bridesmaids and the bride all dressed the same so that the evil spirits wouldn't know which woman was the bride.

The removing of the garter is symbolic of the groom demonstrating publicly that the bride was relinquishing her virginal status. Back in the Dark Ages, it was common for the wedding guests to accompany the couple to their marriage bed and watch them get it on. This custom became rowdier and bawdier until the guests were acting a little too eager to get the bride out of her dress, so they would tear of pieces of her dress. The garter was provided as an alternative and a distraction. In Northern England it was customary for the men to rush the bride after the ceremony to get their hands on the garter. This usually resulted in the bride being knocked over and trampled on.

The tradition of tossing the bouquet started in England. Every thing the bride wore was considered good luck and people wanted it for themselves. So to escape and appease greedy guests, the bride started throwing flowers over her shoulder so that they would be distracted.

What we now call the honeymoon, used to be the time when the groom would hide his captured bride away from her family so that she would already be pregnant before they found her.

Now, I expect that most people hear these wedding traditions and think, "Huh, I didn't know that. That's funny."

However, I look at these wedding traditions and think: "Huh, I didn't know that. Why do we keep doing them?"

Probably because some people find them fun. This is what we are used to. It's just something we do. We don't often ask why, we just do it. For me, that seems like the worst reason in the world to do anything.

Traditions mean something. Whether we like it or not, traditions are rooted in an event or a belief from our history. It would be strange for a Jew to act out Muslim customs. It's a tradition of someone else. Symbols mean something. And frankly, these traditions make me a little uncomfortable.

A woman doesn't have to look very far into history to see that our value and worth as human beings has not always been very high: from slavery, to being property, to lacking a voice, a vote, or an opinion, to being sex objects and commodities. Western women haven't always enjoyed the rights that they have today. Look no further than these wedding traditions which seem to say a lot about what it mean to be a woman in the past: weddings were about loss.

Loss of family.
Loss of autonomy.
Loss of safety.
Loss of clothing.
Loss of virginity.
Loss of last name.

So for me (the asker of "why?") it's really hard to imagine acting out these traditions just because they're "fun" when they're rooted in a history of discrimination and pain.

Throughout this process, Jeremy has been really patient. Because while my question is often "why?", his is often, "why not?" We've had a lot of discussions about what values are important to us on our wedding day: family, friends, joy, good food, fun. So we've come up with several other ways we can have fun with the people we love. And I'm pretty confident that no one will walk away thinking, "Oh wait, I didn't get the opportunity to be labeled "single" in front of a bunch of people and dive for a piece of fabric. I want my money back!"

Interestingly, I've found that many people cherish these wedding traditions and get mildly offended to hear that I'm questioning them. "Oh Heather, don't take this so seriously" (Seriously? It's my wedding! It's kind of important). And I want it to mean something unique, special to us and what we hold dear. A day that is filled with re-created symbols and new traditions.

So no, I will not be "given" away by my Dad. He trusts my decisions and I've been choosing my own path for quite awhile now. I think both my parents will "support" me down the aisle.

No, we probably won't throw things in the air and tell our friends to fight for them.

We may not feed each other cake (mostly because neither of us much care for cake).

But at the end of the day, we'll be married. And despite people's expectations, the politics, and what we "should" or "shouldn't" have done, we'll be driving away for a little, much-needed vacation.

(NOTE to my dear friends: I've attended many a wedding and I will attend many more. And never will I go to a wedding, roll my eyes, and think, "Oh geez, this again. Misogyny at its finest." I won't think that because I know that for most people these things we do at weddings are just that: things we do at weddings.)


Anonymous said...

Like you said - traditions DO mean something. Good for you! Here's to creating your own happy & meaningful ones!!

Anonymous said...

Woot! Also: