Okay, to start, I am generally opposed to the institution of marriage. I think it’s archaic and ought to be unnecessary, except to gain a particular legal status that everyone should have the right to anyway. I’m definitely not the type of woman who has been planning her dream wedding since the age of five, and even if I had, I’m pretty sure my dream wedding would involve me riding a dinosaur, so it’s not like that was going to happen. However, there are specific reasons why I need to go through this stupid and outdated process, so here I am.
Anyway, we’ve been engaged for over a year, but it wasn’t until we started planning the actual event that I realized just how obnoxiously gendered the culture and language around weddings was. I already knew about the sexist traditions of a bride having her father literally give her away (although now there are several alternatives), the bride’s parents traditionally being burdened with the costs of the wedding (and even with the “modern” versions making the costs more equitable, they’re still predominantly for the bride’s family to cover), but once I told people that I was getting married, there was a clear shift in what they thought I would be interested in talking about, and many assumptions were made about certain norms I was apparently supposed to adhere to.
Here are some of the doozies that I came across on a regular basis when I mentioned the wedding:
1. Name changing is assumed.
Anyone who knows me should already know my attitude on this. But even if you don’t, I’m dumbfounded when people just find it acceptable to ask nosy questions like, “so are you changing your name?” when it is clearly none of their business. When they assume it, it’s worse. No. Oh my god for the love of everything that is holy, no. This is the biggest tradition that I want to buck. I’m not sure how to spell it out for you, but I have a name, there’s nothing wrong with it, and it doesn’t need changing.
Now, if you did change your name and you had reasons for it, then that’s also fine. I just don’t like the assumption that I (as the bride) would be changing my name.
@EverydaySexism # people who have asked if I’ll my name after the wedding: 12 # people who asked my fiance if he is changing his name: 0
— JC Lau (@drjclau) March 16, 2015
Notably, not one person asked my fiancé if he was changing his name. Not one. (They may have asked him if I was changing my name, but that’s beside the point.) When I mentioned this asymmetrical assumption of name-changingness to my friends, there was a pretty funny discussion about changing our first names, or changing our names to match the last names of our ferrets, but I don’t know how I feel about writing under the name Dr. JC Fuzzbutt.
2. Title changing is assumed.
The other thing I discovered was that there’s the assumption of the Mrs. that almost instantly got thrown in. No, Mrs. Lau is my mother’s name. I worked fucking hard for that doctorate, and I’m certainly not giving that up that Dr. title so easily.
Apparently this can be a problem for some people and institutions. Some of my female graduate school friends have pointed out that their husbands have often been assumed to be the “Dr.” in the relationship at banks, post offices, gyms, and whatnot, because clearly it’s more likely that a man has a female first name, than that a woman has a doctorate. For example, one of my friends had a recent experience on a flight where the airline brought out their vegetarian meals, looked at the names and said ‘Dr. [her last name]?’ and tried to put the meal down in front of her husband.
Obviously because both the meals had their titles as well as their names on them, it must have been more convincing that she could be a Mr. than that she could possibly be Dr. anything.
To be fair, this isn’t just in the realm of married life. In academia, females with Ph.D.s are often erroneously referred to as Mrs. or Ms., instead of Dr., even though men with Ph.D.s don’t get erroneously called Mr. as frequently. (Two personal instances of this happening are here and here.) It’s one instance of implicit sexism at work.
That said, I’ve also heard horror stories where banks had addressed letters to “Dr. and Mrs. X” where the woman actually had the doctorate, and when the couple tried to change it they were told that the bank didn’t actually have an option for “Mr. and Dr. X” so they would continue getting letters addressed to them incorrectly. There’s also this story where a woman couldn’t get into the women’s changing room at the gym because the security system automatically made everyone who registered as “Dr.” a male. Ugh. Come on, what century is this now?
3. The status of being a wife is apparently the greatest thing since… well, EVER.
I’m astonished at the number of people who think it’s okay to say things like “oh my god you’re going to be a wife!” like it’s the most amazing thing in the world. I don’t know. Maybe it is. I’ll let you know after the wedding. (Update: it’s not.) I can understand the general excitement about weddings and how they’re lovely events and everything, but becoming a wife specifically? Not really.
I am many things already, and of the things I have chosen to become, being a wife probably is the least interesting. When I got my Ph.D., nobody said “oh my god you’re going to be a doctor!” in the same way. When I embarked on my career, nobody said “oh my god you’re going to be a writer!” or “oh my god you’re going to be a videogame tester!” or anything like that. When I moved to Seattle, nobody said “oh my god you’re going to be a Seattleite!”, or when I talk about politics there’s no “oh my god you’re going to be a left-leaning liberal feminist!” with the same degree of enthusiasm. Why should we care so much about the status of being a wife? After all, I’m all those other things, and those things matter to me a whole lot more than wifehood–which, incidentally, is a relational status depending on the existence of a spouse, where the other ones aren’t.
This is also a pretty dumb thing to say to someone if you don’t know the circumstances of their marriage. Imagine how horrible it would be if you were forced unwillingly into marriage, and upon mention of your wedding someone responded excitedly with, “oh my god you’re going to be a wife!” It’s kind of like when you see a woman who is pregnant and congratulate her and tell her how excited she must be about the baby, without knowing the context of her pregnancy. Now, that’s MEGA awkward and inappropriate.
I asked my fiancé about this, and although some people expressed their excitement that he was going to be married, nobody specifically said anything to the same extent about how he is going to be a husband.
4. Everyone is basically obligated to make comments about how pretty the bride looks, as if nothing else matters.
My fiancé and I are writing a joint thank you speech for our wedding, and when I started writing it, I did research online for speeches. It already irked me that speeches were traditionally the domain of male wedding party members: the fathers, the best man, the groom himself (who spoke on behalf of him and his wife… WTF). I was happy to find that this tradition is changing, where now it’s acceptable to have anyone make a speech, really.
But when I scoured the internet for sample speeches or speech templates, literally every single one I came across for a male speech-maker made a comment about how the bride (and the bridesmaid) looked, or how lucky the groom was to find a woman who was so lovely, or even one thanking the bride’s parents for having such a beautiful daughter. Oh please. You’re thanking my parents for their genes? There were a few comments about the bride’s other qualities–mostly to do with her ability to tolerate her future husband–but the comments regarding the bride were overwhelming about how pretty she was.
Comments about how hot the male wedding party members were appeared rarely in speeches, and never were the focus of a speech.
5. Comments about children
Of course, right on the heels of marriage stuff comes the (equally nosy) questions about popping out kids. Or, what’s worse is that there aren’t questions–there’s just the assumption that there will be some. When I said we didn’t want any, the rebuttal was often that I MUST be wrong about how I feel about my own reproductive desires. (First of all, desires can’t be right or wrong. Secondly, you can fuck right off, thanks.)
Update: Of course, what I do with my uterus is none of anyone’s business. But we had a guestbook at the wedding where people could say where they thought we’d be in five years’ time, and the vast, vast majority of the comments about having children were from people in my parents’ generation or older. Actually, basically EVERYONE in that generation said something about how they expected us to be having kids. [RAGE]
I’m glad that generational attitudes are changing such that the expectation that we’re all here just to pop out more sproglets to continue overpopulating the Earth is getting outdated. A friend also showed me this awesome article where I now have some handy-dandy responses to this obnoxious question. Huzzah!
Anyway, that’s just a taste of the gendered attitudes and comments I got when mentioning that I was engaged. To be clear, these were all unsolicited, usually just in reaction to the mere statement that I was going to get married. Of course, I did get a lot of positive reactions as well, with people asking me how I felt before making conclusions about things like name changing. Honestly, despite what people have said to me, being married makes virtually no difference to how I view myself at all, and ultimately isn’t that what matters anyway?