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Who needs marriage anyway?

Like the royal family, wedding ceremonies reflect backward and patriarchal power dynamics that should be consigned to history, writes JO BARTOSCH

I THINK it’s fair to assume the Morning Star won’t grace the breakfast table of the royal bride and groom today.  

It’s a shame really, because I’d like to use this space reach out to Meghan Markle and tell her, woman-to-woman, to spare herself the awkward first dance, dull speeches and £32 million bill.  

From the card used for the invitations to the cake, the minutiae of the couples’ wedding arrangements have been scrutinised by a press hell-bent on boring the public. Vexed questions of protocol, such as who should walk Markle down the aisle in the absence of her father, have been discussed at such length one would think her incapable of walking unaided.  

It’s easy to dismiss wedding traditions as quaint echoes of a bygone age, but when so many women’s lives are still shaped by the violence of men, I believe it is impossible to divorce wedding ceremonies from their patriarchal roots.   

I find it baffling that anyone would romanticise such creepy practices as fathers “giving away” daughters or the wearing of rings to advertise sexual availability. Furthermore, I challenge anyone to have the “happiest day of their life” while corseted into a frock that makes laughing, eating and even taking a dump a trial.

So, to mark the legal contract between an uninspiring rich couple, I thought Morning Star readers might appreciate a quick feminist analysis of three popular British wedding traditions.

Best man: the tradition of “best man” dates from the Dark Ages in central Europe, when women would be kidnapped by men outside their community and forced into marriage. The role of the “best man” was to prevent the escape or any attempted rescue of the no doubt terrified woman.  

This is also the origin of the husband carrying “his” bride across the threshold of the marital home, a nod to when women in Europe were chattels, the spoils of conflict between warring groups of men.  

Today, folk traditions like the “mummers” wearing blackface are quite understandably questioned, as such it seems concerning to me that no heed is paid to the gruesome origins of the “best man.” 

Given that trafficking and forced marriage are daily realities for women and girls across the world today (including in Britain) the failure to think about the history of the “best man” is shocking. Arguably it is indicative of a tacit acceptance of male violence as inevitable.

Throwing of the bouquet: watching otherwise rational adults push past each other for some second-hand flowers encapsulates so much about our indoctrination as women into a sexist society.  

From infancy girls are groomed to obsess about their appearance, every well-meaning “what a pretty dress” comment reinforces this. 

A vicious backlash to the career and educational gains made by feminists has taken hold in the form of ever more impossible ideals of female beauty requiring pain, money and time.  

Media outlets force-feed the message that to be whole women need a man, and to get a man they need to be attractive.  

There is something about aspiring to grab that bouquet, as if “catching a man” were the high point of a woman’s life, that I find wholly depressing.

Of course once the knot is tied women are still burdened with the majority of housework, childcare and emotional labour.

Moreover, married women are likely to find their careers stall (unsurprisingly marriage has a converse affect on men).  

I find myself wondering why any woman would have such limited aims, and then I find myself casually joining in with praise of my female colleague’s weight loss.

Taking the husband’s surname: if ever there were proof that tradition is just sepia-tinted sexism, it has to be the custom whereby women sacrifice their surnames. 

This one-way act of devotion dates from the time before the Married Women's Property Act (1882), when upon marriage the property of the wife was surrendered to her husband and her legal identity ceased to exist.

As the paragon of romantic love Juliet herself famously asked: “What’s in a name?” 

For starters surnames carry an individual’s heritage, family history, professional and personal identity and yet around 60 per cent of unmarried UK women intend to take their future husband’s name.  

It is telling that the phrase “man and wife” passes largely without remark. To me it seems obvious — the man retains his individuality whereas the woman is only seen in relation to him. She ceases to be a person in her own right, she is merely an adjunct to the man — “a wife.”

Writing this prompted memories of a friend who had long dreamt of marriage. Ordinarily a chatty and confident woman, on her “special day,” save the odd polite platitude to a distant aunt, she was more-or-less mute.  

Her silence was all the more jarring given the lengthy speeches given by her father, her new husband and, of course, the best man.  

Perhaps slowly this is changing in Britain but weddings still seem to be where gender norms are magnified and women are a merely decorative backdrop to a timeless celebration of male dominance.  

Like the royal family, marriage ceremonies reflect power dynamics that should not have survived into the modern day.  

As someone in a committed same-sex relationship I greeted the move to legalise same-sex marriage with a sense of unease. Why on Earth would any self-respecting lesbian want to emulate such an archaic, patriarchal practice?

 

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