Wedding Traditions That Are Actually Really Sexist

April 29th 2016

In theory, weddings are supposed to inspire hope that true love exists for everyone.

While tying the knot can certainly achieve this, many aspects of weddings can feel outdated and sexist. As a feminist getting married next spring, I am particularly wary of old school traditions rooted in sexism and female oppression.

If you also strive to have a feminist ceremony some day, here are some sexist wedding traditions to avoid.

1. Having your father "give you away."

This became a tradition back when women were considered the property of their fathers, so the act of "giving away" one's daughter was literally a business transaction between the bride's father and the groom.

HerStoria writer Claire Jones wrote in a 2012 piece on the tradition:

"The legal position of married women for most of the nineteenth century was little short of that of a slave. (This was the way in which philosopher John Stuart Mill described a married woman’s lot in his 1869 book, The Subjection of Women). As soon as a woman married she disappeared as far as the law was concerned; now she was no longer a person in her own right but was merely an extension of her husband, unable to own property or even her own person (divorce was impossible for all but the most privileged women as it necessitated a special act of Parliament). A woman became essentially a chattel of her husband; her wealth and possessions were now all his."

Now that grown women are no longer viewed as property, they can choose how they want to walk down the aisle.

On the message board for the website Wedding Bee, a self-proclaimed feminist commenter wrote last year that she wanted both her parents to walk her down the aisle so they could see her off during the big moment in her life:

"I am a feminist as well and I am still planning on having my father (and mother) both walk me down the aisle. You’re allowed to be a feminist and still follow the traditions you want. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I think part of being a feminist is about making choices that you are comfortable with. I don’t see it as my parents giving me away. I see it as them being there for me and supporting me as I enter the next chapter of my life."

Writer Amanda Chatel wrote in 2014 piece for Bustle that she planned on doing the same thing as a feminist herself:

"While I like the idea of walking down the aisle alone to greet my betrothed, to meet my parents halfway, both my mom and dad will walk me down the aisle. This isn’t about giving me away, but rather the growing of our family, as we welcome Olivier to the craziness that is the Chatel way of life."

2. Wearing a white wedding dress.

Wedding dressFlickr/Timothy Marsee - flickr.com

In 1840, Queen Victoria launched the white wedding dress trend when she married her cousin Prince Albert in a white gown she designed herself. Several years later, the Godey’s Lady’s Book attested that the color white was an "an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one." In other words, white wedding dresses came to represent purity and virginity.

Historically, it made sense for women to wear white at their weddings because many women waited until marriage to have sex. Because times have changed and most people have sex before marriage now, the white dress tradition is irrelevant for those who would rather choose another color.

Several celebrities, such as Amber Tamblyn, Reese Witherspoon, and Kaley Cuoco, have strayed from tradition by marrying in non-white dresses:

3. The bouquet toss.

Tradition has it, whoever catches the bouquet is the next woman to get married. While this can be a light-hearted part of wedding receptions, it also sets women up to fight for the bouquet and appear overeager to get engaged.

"Come on, girls, scrabble desperately for this fateful bundle of foliage because it's the only chance you have to influence the future of your own relationship," The Guardian writer Laura Bates quipped in 2014. "Followed by pitying nudges for the bloke whose partner catches the flowers, as he's clearly now irrevocably caught in the harpy's iron grasp. I shall simply chuck the flowers in the air and the boys will be under clear instructions to join in. I want an undignified non-gender-specific scrum."

Jezebel writer Jolie Kerr also had a bone to pick with the tradition in a 2015 post:

"The ritual gathering up of single women to be pelted with greenery and floral wire. This is a thing we do! To our friends! It is ... not without its problems, to put it mildly."

Kerr's poll of more than 4,000 participants revealed that most people are against the bouquet toss:

Bouquet toss pollJezebel - jezebel.com

4. Carrying the bride over the threshold.

Wedding site, The Knot, states that this tradition started in Roman times. If a bride was hesitant to leave her father's home, she was dragged over the threshold to get to her groom's house. This seemed to imply that she was basically forced into marriage and away from her home.

This tradition also stood because some believed that evil spirits lurked on the threshold of the new couple's home, so carrying the bride prevented evil spirits from entering the bride's feet, which were thought to be especially vulnerable to danger.

Either way, this tradition carries a lot of negativity and ought to be retired.

5. Biting the garter off the bride's leg.

It goes without saying that it looks just a tad awkward and degrading for a groom to remove the garter from his bride's leg with his teeth.

As Bustle writer Marissa Higgins described it earlier this year:

"Basically, the bride sits on a chair while her new husband removes her garter belt and throws it into a crowd of his single male friends. Often, the groom does this with his teeth, but some people do use their hands. Now, for some couples, this is really funny and light-hearted, and that's OK! For many people, though, this tradition clearly goes back to our culture's fixation with women's sexuality."

The garter toss tradition can be particularly uncomfortable for onlookers, especially if the groom is stuffing his head inside his new wife's dress. It is a very sexually charged image, so it should come as no surprise that the tradition has an unusual history. According to wedding site Wedding Wire, the garter toss tradition goes back to the 14th century, when many believed that owning a part of the bride's wedding dress was good luck.

As Brides.com writer Caitlin Van Horn noted in a 2013 article, garters were of particular importance to male wedding guests.

"In Marriage Customs of the World, George Monger explains how 'bridal garters were prized as love tokens with magical properties,' and because of this, male wedding guests would try to pull them off and then pin to their hats for good luck. For good luck!" Van Horn wrote.

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