Sep 22, 2007

Aisle be damned

I couldn't help but exclaim "...and about bloody time!" while reading this article, on a Swedish church's ban on the practice of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle on their wedding day. Quite frankly, I have never understood why this misogynistic tradition continues despite the fact that the Victorian era ended well over one hundred years ago.

The Lutheran vicar Yvonne Hallin, quoted in the article, sums it up best, saying couples who marry "are equal when it comes to finances, politics, values ... but when they come to the church ... the woman suddenly turns into a man's property". Halleujah, my vicar sister. We women of the West are the grand-daughters of the Suffragettes, and the daughters of the Feminists. We work, we vote, we spend, we drive, we are able to live our own lives without the dictates of others. We generally do most of the wedding planning, yet on the day itself, we allow ourselves to get passed from our fathers to our husbands like a frickin’ meat tray? Where’s the logic in that?

Now before those enamoured with traditional wedding features tell me they’re expressing their free will by choosing to include and honour their fathers in this way – you’re right, of course.* I acknowledge that being able to make that choice is a good thing. It’s taken me some years, but I have finally accepted that it is the sincere wish of some women (including dear friends of mine) to have a wedding with all the trimmings. That is their right, and I will defend that right, as they say, to the death.

But I also maintain the right to object to traditions with sexist undertones (no matter how subtle) being kept alive just because they’re “nice”. In my mind, there’s nothing more evocative of women having freedom to choose than being able to walk confidently up to your husband-to-be and say “I'm here babe - let's do this thing”. Even better would be the couple making that purposeful walk together. You want symbols – what better to say we’re walking together towards our future? We’re choosing it – together. What I advocate is a further change in attitudes when it comes to weddings, to weed out the more archaic traditions, and create some new ones of a more equal nature.

At the wedding of my boyfriend’s dear sister last year in Scotland, both her mother and father walked her down the aisle (it was actually the driveway of her parents-in-law’s utterly charming country home) for the ceremony. If you must include this practice in a wedding ceremony, that’s how it should be done. Both parents, supporting their daughter as she and her groom create a new family out of two existing ones.

I am in general, fairly turned off by many of the traditions surrounding weddings and marriages that some women seem to embrace. Name changing, for one. Woah, Nelly. I thought we’d outgrown this one. I object to it primarily because it is not an option men have to consider, and it again echoes the idea of woman as property, and transferable.** My surname is an innate part of me, and I don't believe it shows disrespect to any partner to maintain that heritage. I choose to honour my partner by committing to a life with him; and I choose to honour my father by keeping the full name I received at birth. Having him traipse me up a strip of red carpet seems to me to be something of a hollow substitute.

I like to think I have at least a bit of a romantic soul (I am, like all proper ladies, besotted with Pride and Prejudice), but I certainly don’t buy into archaic wedding traditions. I applaud this particular church for carving out a different path, and hope it will continue developing a more progressive style of wedding that truly reflects the needs of modern Western partnerships.

And let’s face it, for many brides the “walk down the aisle” only exists to allow the woman her glowing moment, so everyone can squawk at the gown and tear up at how beautiful she looks on her special day. Now, if that’s what float your boat, why would you want to share it with your Dad? He’s going to block at least one side of the assembled masses from getting a good look at you. Plus he’s probably going to trip over your hemline and burp inappropriately. That's just what Dads do.

*Yes I am avoiding a debate on social constructs, thanks for asking.

**Of course I realise it’s a patriarchal hand-me-down – it’s my father’s father’s father’s name, not the graceful Devoy of my mother, the fiery Khambatta or earthy Gerraghty of my grandmothers, nor the very British Pritchard of my great-grandmother – but they were all men's names as well, and you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.


  1. Hi Nat,

    I'm really enjoying your writing challenge posts, I hope they inspire you to write more, rather than less, when the challenge is over. :)

    I had to think about this post for a while before I commented. I think we've already worked out (given your posts on my bog about similar subjects) that we have different points of view on the whole marriage/name changing subjects.

    I'm planning for my Dad to share my wedding day by traveling to the ceremony with him and him accompanying me down the "aisle". I'm also planning on changing my name. The two activities are linked for me.

    I'm changing my name because it is important to me that we have unified family presence. Part of being a family is the name (My Mum, whilst divorced, still has the same surname as I do). I'm taking his name because I can. If I was an only child, or one of many girls, I might feel differently, but I know I will not lose my connection to my birth family by getting married and creating a family with my new husband. I guess we could have come up with a new name or a hybrid name or kept my name and him change... but I'm taking his. Our children (even if they had been conceived/born prior to marriage would have been given his surname, to help provide a link to him - I think my link would have been pretty obvious; and I don't want/need to have a different surname to my children).

    The walking down the aisle thing, well that is something I've been looking forward to sharing with my Dad, a quiet time for us, a shared experience for us (my Dad let me know when I was 16 that he thought about doing it - I hadn't. It is more important to my Dad than to me that he shares that specific moment with me, and I think that some of that comes from men from his generation not being "allowed" to get to emotional or close to his children, and this is a very emotional moment that he IS "allowed" - and for that reason, I don't feel the need to specifically include my Mother - she's had plenty of time where culturally she was "allowed" close to me).

    I don't see it as him "transferring ownership" to the new husband, but a symbolic gesture of my split from my own family, to creating that new one with my husband, to us creating a new family together.

    Anyone can read anything in to any situation. I imagine that plenty of people will see blind tradition without thought to it's context. Some people will see the misogynistic overtones. I will be happy and excited to be spending one on one time with Dad, that others can witness, because I then will spend some one on one time with BabyCakes, that others will witness too.

    Me personally, I think anyone telling me what to do or what not to do on my wedding day, would be very hard to take - we're doing what we want to do to make us happy, balanced with what we know our parents would like to share with us. (Which makes us happy - and costs us a fair amount of money... I'm a customer, and would like to be respected as such)

    I like tradition and superstition, and the romance of them. I don't say the name of "the Scottish play" in a theatre, I don't whistle in a theatre. Not specifically because I think my life will end or bad things will befall me, but because I respect where the traditions come from and I like the completeness and the fun that they bring to the theatre experience. I do know that there are some people who put a lot of stock in such traditions, and would be horrified if one was breached.

    Life is a balance of all kinds of things. Finding balance and doing what makes one happy without impinging inordinately on others is a balance I'm happy to live with.

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  3. It is every human's right to choose but it is also every human's duty to understand the choices.

    Both GirlClumsy and CrazyCatLady have obviously thought about their stances in this argument and find their own position acceptable.

    However it is very important to shine a very big light on these kind of issues and see what scuttles away.

    These wedding traditions were originally (and still are many places in the world) designed to treat women as cattle.

    Here is a thought experiment. Talk honestly with your future hubby about how you have changed your mind and you AREN'T going to take his name. Would he be cool about it? Even if it was your choice? It is so heavily written into our society that the woman takes the man's name at the time of a wedding. To have that male 'right' taken does not go down well.. no matter how cool and groovy the man appears to be.

    Second thought experiment. Tell the hubby the girl children will be named after him and the boy children will be named after you. Feels weird, yes? But why?

    You say it is your choice to take his name and name your children after him but is that merely going down the path of least resistance? Was the name change tradition ever questioned? Was the children taking the father's name tradition ever questioned? If not, why not? Nothing is sacrosanct. Nothing is immutable. Choice is the key.

    I think humans justify a lot of odd traditions and rituals. Mentally we make excuses for what we feel emotionally.

    All in all, as long as people don't hurt someone else with their traditions then let sleeping dogs lie. BUT it is so important to understand the reason for the traditions and not merely go with them because society programmed you to think that way.


    all that aside.. I sincerely hope it works out for you and BabyCakes.

  4. Thanks Crazy Cat Lady and the Wah!

    I'm so happy to have thoughts and debates on my site - I feel all inspired and stuff. ;)

    As I mentioned in my initial post, I do support any couple's right to tie the knot in the way they choose. I understand the reasons behind name-changing too, as it is a lot easier, if nothing else, to exist as a singly-named unit (I should know, my mother changed her name!).

    I don't plan on having children, but if I did, I'd probably be comfortable with them having the father's surname. But I also don't mind having a different name to them. I would still be their mother, and they would grow up knowing that's a stronger bond than name alone.

    I'm really inspired in this instance by our new Premier, Anna Bligh. Bligh is not her married name, in fact, she and her partner Greg Wise only married a couple of years ago after 25 years together. They have two sons, who have different surnames entirely. Yet nobody could doubt they're a close family, and that she's a devoted mother (she missed two days of media conferences earlier this year while staying at home when her son had a bug).

    I just love that neither partner saw any need for the traditional "marriage and family" path. They totally wrote their own rules - is it any wonder she's now leading our state?

    And in regards to superstitions - I agree with you, they can be quite fun. But over the years many superstitions have been done away with because they're just plain wrong. Nobody these days would say, "Don't touch her! She's menstruating and unclean!". OK, that's a more radical superstition, but still, it's good its gone. I think as times change, other superstitions will fall by the wayside. I certainly know the Wah is doing his bit to counter the "Scottish play" legend. He does like to jump around on stage yelling "Macbeth!" as loudly and as often as possible. ;) Sure, superstitions can be respected, but they don't have to be molly-coddled!

    Again, it is not my intention to bag your choices, CCL - hell, I'm absolutely fine with you doing whatever makes you happy, and like the Wah, am certain that you and your fiance are going to have a rocking wedding and a great future together. I'm not trying to spoil anyone's party, and in posting an article like this I'm not trying to tell you what to do on your wedding day.

    But I have the right to express my view that I believe many wedding traditions are outdated. I take your point about fathers not being "allowed" to be emotionally close to their daughters, but I'd much rather change that than compensate for it with a simple trip up the red carpet.

    But then, maybe my Dad's just weird - after all, he bursts with pride whenever I put in super co-contributions!