• On Gender and Wedding Planning

    by  • May 8, 2017 • You are probably sorry you asked • 2 Comments

    So, Fiancé and I are planning our wedding. It’s no surprise that there’s a huge industry dedicated to selling weddings and a sub-industry to help couples navigate all the overwhelming details of said weddings. We knew when we talked about getting married that planning the kind of wedding we wanted (a celebration with and for our families and friends) was going to be physically and emotionally wearying, which was okay, because it was also going to be totally worth it.

    But I didn’t know about one particular flavour of emotional weariness: the wedding industry is super gendered, and, as a gender-non-conforming woman, it’s exhausting to navigate.

    Fiancé and I both have strong opinions about aspects of our wedding. There are some traditions and practices that matter a lot to him and some that matter a lot to me. We both know the kind of experience we want our guests to have, although it’s often the case that I’ve been a more frequent participant in similar events (family/friends’ weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc.) and have a more concrete idea of the details we need to arrange to make that experience happen. But we’re both taking responsibility for the things we care about more: I’m making sure the food is good, he’s making sure the floral arrangements match his sense of tradition.

    Likewise, there are aspects of our wedding that neither of us cares about, which means we’ve delegated them to people who do. Our parents chose the photographer. We’re happy for our Best Man and Mother of Dragons (… I let my sister choose her own title) and everyone involved in our ceremony to choose whatever formal, colour-appropriate attire they want. We honestly could not care less about whether our wedding party chooses taffeta or satin or tulle or tuxes.

    But it feels like many of the wedding professionals we meet project gendered expectations on us.*

    Now, of the two of us, I am more comfortable negotiating with strangers and making small talk than Fiancé is. Teaching people how to write professional cold-contact emails is literally my job. Because I’m the first point of contact, wedding professionals we meet often assume I care more. But that’s not the only reason for some of them.

    In general, I am frustrated by the assumption that I have harboured a desire for a detailed “dream wedding” since I was a little girl, while Fiancé is expected to scratch his head and grunt, “Weh-ding????”

    To be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone of any gender their wedding dreams — there is no inherent virtue in disinterest in traditionally feminine things. Of course little girls can have dream wedding fantasies if they want to! Why can’t anyone who wants to? And I don’t mind if people are mistaken about my opinions before they get to know me; everyone who meets me has to start somewhere.

    If momentary misunderstanding was the only issue with this assumption, I’d have no problem. But it isn’t. It shapes what the wedding industry makes available to me and how they treat Fiancé and me and whether some professionals listen to what we’re actually saying instead of what they already think we said.

    For example, a small problem: single cake topper that looks remotely like me (do no other brides, gender-conforming or not, have short hair? Or glasses?) A larger one: to find a tux that fits, I have to get it made by hand from scratch.

    I don’t want to have to reiterate twenty times that I really, truly don’t want (a dress/bridesmaids/a particular photographer/a poetry reading/make-up/my hair done/etc.) because the next time the wedding professional speaks, they roll it back into their assumptions. I know this one isn’t the fault of the wedding industry in particular: it’s the fault of systemic sexism that both discourages women from asking directly for what we want and simultaneously tells us we must want and have a perfect wedding — only we must always pretend never to care about perfection because that would make us a Bridezilla.

    And I’m sick of seeing a bunch of hockey-, soccer-, and other-sport-themed groom products with no equivalent products for brides. I hate every time I have to remember that, oh yeah, I can’t take for granted that everyone will be happy to perform a wedding for a bride who looks and acts like me. And I’m frustrated every time I look for advice online only to find nothing remotely useful because of values built into manufacturers’ websites and wedding bloggers’ top-ten lists.

    And, yeah, I get it: I am not the majority. But… I’m also not unique. There are plenty more women who share some or all of my opinions and feelings. Even if there weren’t, there’d still be a ton of different ladies out there, so it sure would be nice for us to be asked rather than told what we want. It would be nice if everyone I interacted with expected Fiancé to have opinions that can be trusted without a Lady Seal of Approval**, the way many trust mine without consulting him.

    Because I’m also sick of Fiancé having to put up with jokes and pop culture that call his masculinity into question every time he expresses interest in or concern about an aspect of our wedding. And of some of the professionals/organizations we encounter assuming his opinion (which he probably doesn’t have, of course) is ancillary.

    It’s wearying to constantly correct imposed social norms to make both of our voices heard. It makes the already daunting work of organizing a wedding positively intimidating.

    But I know it’s work that we’re, frankly, very lucky to be able to do. And, hey, it does, at least, let me know that Fiancé and I chose the right person, because neither of us is willing to put up with nonsense that minimizes or shames the other. I’m glad to be with someone who’s open to less-traditional approaches to gender norms for our wedding, let alone for the lifetime of marriage that follows.

    I just wish we didn’t both get quite so many reminders of that throughout the process.

    * And of course feeling gender-conforming pressure is not the only thing that turns me off about many of the businesses I’ve checked out in the wedding industry. For instance, just looking at wedding-cake toppers, I’m aghast at the casual racism and heteronormativity: three dozen white male/female couples, labelled just “couple,” plus a single dark-skinned pair labelled “ethnic”? WT flippin’ F?

    ** For example: I am not interested in engagement rings or jewelry in general, but it was really important to Fiancé to propose to me with some sort of wearable diamond item. So we compromised, and he agreed to buy an artificial diamond necklace. Off he went off to various jewellers. On his first visit, even the place where he eventually ended up buying the piece refused to accept that he knew what we wanted; they told him I was going to care deeply about all the things he kept explaining didn’t matter to me, like cut and quality. Spoiler: I don’t. Which he was sure about, because we discussed it together.


    I write SFF, young adult, and middle grade fiction, and I've been known to knock off a play here and there. I'm represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc. Stick around - who knows what might happen?


    2 Responses to On Gender and Wedding Planning

    1. Mags
      May 9, 2017 at 10:34 am

      I can relate to navigating the wedding industry with plans that don’t match vendor’s expectations! It is an extra challenge for sure and it’s especially shocking how difficult it actually is in this day and age to find anything for a bride to wear that isn’t a long white wedding dress. I was completely unaware that many suit and tux stores refuse to serve women, what’s with that??
      In case you haven’t already found it, I recommend you check out http://offbeatbride.com/ They have alternative ideas, sometimes you can even find the right vendor through them, but mostly I’ve found it to be a place to go to maintain my sanity and common sense. I’m not the only one out there with a different vision for my wedding than the mainstream! And if those other people can pull off their offbeat wedding, so can I.

      • May 9, 2017 at 9:38 pm

        More than one trusted female friend like you have suggested Offbeat Bride site in response to this blog, so there must be something to it! ;) I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

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