Monday, January 18, 2016

Weddings

 
If you plan to get married in 2016, it is high time to get started planning. How many people will you invite? what venue will be your favorite? Is it available? There are endless questions, decisions to be made, and arrangements to be completed.  Lest you forget to take on this project, many big cities host Bridal Exhibitions in which anyone whose business is at all connected with weddings shows their wares. The local newspaper’s Sunday Magazine had a special issue dedicated to weddings. There were pages of wedding gowns and articles about different kinds of weddings. The push is on for couples to prepare for their wedding day and, in the course of that, spending serious money.

One question occurred to me that was not raised by anyone. Why make weddings into such a major and expensive production? The couple has been living together for, often, several years. They have come to know each other intimately as have the families. In many cases the couple already has a child or two. So what is this wedding frenzy all about?

We live in a world where many women and men believe that women's liberation has been accomplished. Today men and women are equal. Both contribute and both profit from their marriage. They are equal at work.

While that is clearly an exaggeration--women still earn significantly less than men for doing the same sort of job--the situation of women has changed significantly in the last fifty years. We have still to elect the first woman president and the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies is very small. Everywhere women are being sexually harassed from very early on, whether that is in colleges and universities or in the military. Significantly more women are murdered by their husbands than  husbands by their wives. The vast majority of children are still raised by their mothers. Current statistics suggest that 20% of fathers stay home to be house husbands.

Nevertheless the position of women has improved in the last hundred years. But it has not changed in all parts of our lives. In many facets of our existence attitudes and practices with respect to the role of women and men are still what they were 100 years ago. Weddings are one of those facets.

Previously, a middle class woman had only one career in front of her: being a wife and mother--working class women always went out to work. Young women did not go to college in order to prepare for their work life, or to become educated. They went to find a husband. By the time a woman reached her late 20s, she was called a "spinster" if she was not yet married. Spinsters were thought to be "dried out." They lost their sexual allure. Worse, they missed their goal in life. They were to be pitied because their lives were empty.

If that is the trajectory laid out for women's lives, her wedding day is indeed the happiest day of a woman's life because it is the day when she gets the opportunity to fulfill her  mission in this world: being a wife and mother. Since men had a much more generous set of goals and opportunities, their wedding day was not as important. Men who did not get married, were not pitied or written off as failed human beings. Some came under suspicion of being homosexual, but even that did not condemn their life to meaninglessness. Oscar Wilde spent time in jail for homosexual acts. But he was a respected and acclaimed writer anyway.

What we say and do in relation to weddings reflects an outlook that is completely out of keeping with what many people think about the relations between men and women. Whatever criticisms people may have of Hillary Clinton, I have not heard anyone say that her job is not to run the country but  to stay home and take care of Bill. No doubt there are some people think that, but even Donald Trump doesn't say that.

In some areas of our lives, equality between men and women is widely accepted. In others we think about men and women the way our great-grandparents did around the time of World War I. It is interesting to notice that what maintains these very old-fashioned outlooks is, in part, the financial interest of the wedding industry. A great deal of money is being made on weddings. Wedding connected businesses maintain the ancient ideals of the "perfect wedding." By doing so they maintain old-fashioned ideas about male and female roles which are completely inappropriate in the world in which we live or in the world we are trying to build.

Working for female political candidates, agitating for equal pay for equal jobs done by men and women, protesting against  sexual harassment  are important ways of promoting equality between men and women. But as long as we are willing to maintain ancient beliefs about women and their wedding and their role in the family, the struggle for complete equality will remain stuck.

Women of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your fancy weddings.