I have strong doubts that fewer people are getting married due to rising gender equality. It’s obvious that gender equality has impacted marriage and divorce rates in the past (no-fault divorce, women’s increased employment, etc.), but it is a diminishing part of the story of marriage trends today. We know that the gains of the feminist movement have actually stalled out over the last decade or so, but marriage rates have continued to decline (maybe somebody with fancier statistical skills can make me a graph demonstrating this point!). Also, you don’t have to look too far to see that weddings and marriage continue to be overpowered by gender roles.
There was an article going around Facebook this month contending that those who are against same-sex marriage are FOR sexism. Well, I’d have to broaden that argument – a lot of people are trapped in stereotypical marriage frameworks, not excluding those of us in favor of same-sex marriage. For example, the website Jezebel, which has been outspoken for same-sex marriage, assumes the heteronormative script that couples engage in proposals (pun intended), and that men do the proposing (while only taking issue with the spectacle and consumerism of the proposal): “If you're the person we decided we want to spend the rest of our lives with, as long as there's a little romance and maybe a splash of booze, it just doesn't fucking matter what you do.” The news Jezebel was critiquing actually perfectly represents the still very dominant expectation that men propose: a groom made headlines for spending $45,000 on a proposal. While making news because of the extravagance, lifelong romantic commitments continue to be a spectacle which centers men in the provider role and depicts women as longing to get married. A quote from this groom confirms this:
“Asked if the expense was worth it, Ogle replied that he was spending money on what was important. He said that men often didn't have control over what happened at their weddings but said he had total control over the proposal." (abcnews.go.com)
Does rising gender equality have something to do with the decline in marriage? Yes, but it certainly doesn't tell the whole story and I don’t think it accounts for current trends.
I have been spending the day intensively coding for my research project on online news coverage of celebrities and sports figures making the headlines because of involvement in domestic violence. Not surprisingly, reading about the violence and the irritating tone of the articles are starting to make me a little grumpy. So, to cheer myself up, and you too, I thought I'd spotlight this hilarious video-clip from a Portlandia episode on wedding planning. Enjoy!
I was watching the 20/20 episode "Wedding Confidential" about a week ago which was supposedly about insider tips for wedding planning; the hook was to save engaged couples money. What caught my attention the most with this exposé was the focus on grooms. Even though my research on wedding books for grooms was published in 2008, this episode continued to depict many of the findings 5 years later.
What was lauded as a creative new tool for grooms, turned out to be a website that was mostly just about consumption: The Man Registry. They promoted it as a site with advice for grooms, such as what colors are trendy. Take a look at the website: it's hard to get past the commercial ads to get to the advice. I guess that makes it the equivalent to websites for brides.
The framing was consistent with what was found in the books targeted to grooms. The increase in the grooms interest in the wedding is explained as a "Battleground for the Sexes". Whereas the voice over labels the wedding planning as the "first challenge in marital compromise", they go on to divide the tasks by gendered stereotypes: she picks her dress, they compromise on the food and venue, and the groom is in charge of entertainment and transportation. Everything else can just be doubled: the registry, the cake, etc. And, as demonstrated with Evan and Erin, the groom ultimately has veto power over a lot of the decisions ("Evan, won a lot of things"). This veto power is then repackaged as "chipping in" and as a "major contributor" because, in case you missed the quick reference, "he's paying for the it (wedding)".
Now, I am so for groom involvement in wedding planning. But, does it have to be gendered? And, what if we could envision actual compromise and collaboration through the process, rather than constructing gender differences in the tasks and dividing them up. Also, it's not a big win for equal partnerships to just double the consumption (his and her registries, his and her cakes, etc.).
There's a new wedding trend that has been emerging the last few years, often referred to as "Trash the Dress". I'm not quit sure what to make of it. A quick google search of the trend yields a few different opinions on how the fad got started, with some consensus that it took off after wedding photographer John Michael Cooper promoted it. Regardless, the trend consists of the bride, and sometimes the groom, meeting with the wedding photographer the day after the wedding to take artsy pictures, usually involving destroying the wedding gown by submerging it in water, mud, or ripping it.
My initial distaste for this new fad is that it reeks of conspicuous consumption. According to Knot.com, the average price for a wedding dress is about $1,100. This expense is for a dress worn once. ONCE! And, now it's becoming popular to just destroy the expensive dress. I concede some of the popularity of this trend is to get more for your buck- brides don't just wear the dress once and put it in a box in the closet, but put it on again the next day to at least get some artsy photographs out of it. Wikipedia echos this rational and offers that couples use it as a pronouncement that the wedding is over and the dress will never be worn again. (Although, aren't couples now paying the wedding photographer more for their time and printing of the photos?) Good Morning America on ABC suggests that "....some brides are celebrating the end of their wedding (and the stress associated with it) by mutilating and trashing their dresses after the ceremony". I have to wonder if maybe a better solution would be to question why the wedding ceremony was so stressful in the first place (planning it alone, pressure to be perfect, consumerist nature, etc.).
Also, this fad screams of Facebook-esq documentation. As if the wedding ceremony were not already objectifing of the bride, now women are pressured to produce artsy photos the day after the wedding as well. Must everything be documented these days? I also wonder how much of this new trend is part of the current social practice of appearing to not be a "bridezilla", showcasing how much you can be NOT into having everything perfect (see my previous post on Bridezilla's here). And, is it just me, or does the thought of spending the day after your wedding with your wedding photographer, rather than romantically with your partner, sound both a little tasteless and vain? In fairness, some brides are taking up Trash the Dress events as a fun thing to do with their new spouse as a celebration of the previous day and as a fun event to do together.
However, some of these photo shoots take a turn from the fun and artsy to the dark and creepy. Who wants a framed photo hanging in their hallway of themselves with dead looking feet sticking out a trunk of a car? What about posing next to bullet holes? This is not "new", "artsy", "interesting" or "original" art; it's simply romanticizing violence against women. Nothing says "I Do" quite like it!
Check out the video below for some "real time" images of a Trash the Dress photo-shoot. And, take a look at this website for more images of Trash the Dress photography and come back here to let me know what you think of this new fad.
On the Ellen Degeneres show yesterday, Miley Cyrus chatted with Ellen about her upcoming wedding. While I found her quite personable and actually very well-spoken, her comments regarding her wedding were incredibly complex and intriguing. For those who don't know, Miley's engagement has been much hyped in the media (I think both because of her popularity and also because she is a young 19 years old.).
Interestingly, she started out by distinguishing herself as a bride not obsessed with the details ("Like, I don't care what color the napkins are, to be honest,"). I always think it's interesting when women feel the need to assert themselves as NOT a bridezilla. Jessica Biel was also similarly quoted in describing herself as relatively low-key when talking about marrying Justin Timberlake. I'm curious how this is a reaction to, or in judgement of, the popular television show Bridezilla, now in it's 9th season. However, despite this assertion she seems to contradict herself in her low-keyness later in the interview by stating, "This is the one day that it's what I choose and every detail is things that I love." And, it's hard to blame her for wanting to pay attention to every detail given the enormous pressure brides are under these days to treat the wedding as a statement about their identity, let alone adding the pressure of being a celebrity.
Then, Miley goes on to talk about "that look" as what she's looking forward to during the wedding, "What I'm most excited for, is that look when, you know, who you're marrying, you see, the first time you're seeing the dress and everything that you've planned for months and months, like, coming together, and that you did it together." It is sweet that she's emphasizing planning the wedding together and capturing the moment when you both realize it's actually happening. Talking about jointly planning a wedding is unusual in cultural representations of the engagement process.
Yet, the more she kept talking about it, the more she seemed focused on HER look, and being an object for her fiance's affection. And, she reiterates the cultural obsession of creating a "perfect" day stating, "That's my day", a day for the bride (not necessarily the couple). In fact, she even references that she's focused on "the first moment he sees me in my dress" and that it's a time when "the movie crap, that romance" is actually supposed to be real.
Maybe I'm being too cynical and she's actually trying to express what Jane described in the movie 27 Dresses:
"You know how the bride makes her entrance and everybody turns to look at her? That's when I look at the groom. Cause his face says it all you know? The pure love there."
I still have mixed feelings about the clip. On the one hand, she seems to be demonstrating an awareness and rejection of the images of romantic relationships in movies and culture. She even at times is having to resist the cultural stereotypes being layered on her as wanting a big and over the top wedding. Yet, she subtly repackages much of the same societal messages (Bride's day, about the dress, perfect day) while trying to appear to rebuff the stereotyped image.
What was unequivocally fantastic about the interview however, was the normalization brought to same-sex weddings. Miley not only nonchalantly referenced Ellen's wedding to Portia, but held it up as a standard and ideal. Maybe we have come a long way after all.