My Big Fat Feminist Wedding

I never wanted to get married. Yes, I was that woman. My mom loves to tell stories of how even when I was a little girl I would bemoan how much more women do than their husbands, and how they were never even thanked for their work.

As an adult I became more adamant about this decision to never marry, mainly because the marriages I saw around me growing up in Bangladesh just expected women to compromise and sacrifice more than their male counterparts. I also witnessed a lot of bad marriages, or bad matches, I should say, since most partnerships around me were made in a culture that only believed in arranged marriages.

Even as sister after sister of mine got married, I stayed determined not to give into the pressures and questions about when I was going to put on my traditional red and gold wedding sari. In my mind, being single and having freedom was the best marriage a girl could have.

So when I got engaged last year at the age of 29, needless to say people were taken by surprise. Meeting my now-husband and deciding to take that leap was something that we both talked about and thought about at length before we let any family or friends enter the conversation.

My fabulous bridesmaids and I. Choosing the right women to surround you is the key to a successful, and sane, wedding. Photo by Samier Mansur.


It made me realize that I had never wanted to get married not because I did not want to be married but because I never thought I would find the right partner. I had convinced myself that the right spouse for me did not exist and could not exist. It was almost a defense mechanism of sorts.

But when the dust settled from the news of the ultimate feminist, aka me, tying the knot, what really bothered me was how people assumed that by getting married I was no longer a feminist. People had decided that I could not be both. After all, how could I be a married feminist, right? The two belief systems contradicted each other in the minds of so many I realized that I was confronting one of the worst stereotypes still out there: that if you’re a feminist you hate men.

Not only is this untrue, but many, many well-known women who identify as feminists are or have been married; from women’s rights icons such as Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal, Kim Gandy and Jessica Valenti to feminist-declared actors such as Nicole Kidman or Ashley Judd. The list goes on and on.

Of course you can be a feminist and get married. You can even be a Muslim feminist like me and get married. I think the difference is how you get married, and having key feminist themes and elements incorporated in your wedding. There was no doubt once I agreed to marry my husband that my wedding was going to be big, fat and feminist.

For starters, we held the wedding at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. After my brother-in-law read the passage on marriage from the Koran, which emphasizes equality in your union, I was asked in front of the whole wedding party if I accepted my husband’s hand in marriage three times, as is required in Islamic ceremonies. And in keeping with Muslim tradition, I did not change my legal name. I also had an entire table of my colleagues from the Feminist Majority Foundation at the wedding. You could say we were well represented.

Being a staunch feminist also helped when I was maneuvering my way around the American bridal industry, something as a Bangladeshi I never imagined I would have to do. This entire business is built around exploiting women’s insecurities and anxieties.

Midway through wedding planning I got a kidney stone, fell gravely ill and lost 20 lbs. The women working to alter my dress thought this was great news and worked hard to convince me how important it was that I keep this weight off so I could effortlessly slip into a sample-size gown. I walked straight out of that store and into the closest Mexican restaurant I could find.

The wedding industry is also centered around making you buy a lot stuff for your wedding that you don’t really need.  Do you think your wedding guests really want a personalized pearl and diamante heart-shaped framed picture of you and your husband to take home? Seriously?

The most important feminist aspect about my wedding was the decision I took to get married in the first place. I married when I wanted, how I wanted, to the man I wanted, when it was right for me. Everything happened under my terms and in my own time. After all, when feminist icon Gloria Steinem got married at the age of 66, she made me see that feminism is really all about making the right choices when it is right for you.

Cross-posted from Anushay’s Point.

Comments

  1. While I recognize the author's efforts to "hav[e] key feminist themes and elements incorporated in [her] wedding," wouldn't the ultimate feminist wedding be no wedding at all? I am not saying that feminists can't be in long term relationships and I am not even saying that feminists shouldn't get married (while this may be my personal opinion, I recognize in the present time, there are still legal benefits that can only be attained through actually getting married); I guess my critique is that having any public ceremony, especially one that looks as elaborate and expensive as this, doesn't strike me as particularly feminist, but as conforming to cultural norms regarding marriage. No matter how feminist one tries to make their ceremony, the ceremony itself still relies on gender roles and norms to happen. A feminist can still have a big wedding and throw in all the feminist readings she want, but going through with such an elaborate ceremony means that some compromises are going to be made made along the way. Yes, if a feminist is making the choice to have a big wedding, that is indeed her choice, but where does the need to have such an elaborate and expensive display come from? These types of ceremonies have been culturally mandated, but it doesn't have any impact on the relationship; it's a way to show everyone else that you've now legalized your union (which is problematic in itself). I think that if we're going to talk REAL feminist weddings, this is not the example to use. This is a way for a feminist who wants to have her (wedding) cake and eat, it too, to have a wedding.

    • With all due respect I disagree! I guess this takes us back to how we define feminism.As long as a person believes in the principle that men and women are equal and should have equal rights, they are feminist. So, marriage as an institution does not contradict feminist value. elaborate wedding is a choice couples make, it shouldn't disqualify people. Besides, would we have this conversation if this elaborate wedding was b/w female partners? I don't think so! The feminist movement should be open to all people who have the core belief in equality.

    • Pam Redela says:

      Having her cake and eating it too IS being feminist! NO compromise in her beliefs while honoring her CHOICE to marry. Getting married, following some traditions simply because not all of us want to live life in constant defiance and denial of things we may even latently want (like the celebration of our commitment to a relationship) does not make us unfeminist.

      More than the ceremony and its details, the feminist marriage is what is going to be the biggest statement here. By living life as a feminist couple – sharing household chores and parenting, honoring and supporting each other's career choices, being a model for others of what gender equality looks like – the institution will change from within. It may not be radical enough for some, but it works for a lot of us.

  2. When feminists insist that a feminist wedding should not be elaborate, they're ignoring one of the most important parts of life: celebration. A wedding is one of the time-honored rituals that give people a change to come together as a community and rejoice in another's good fortune. It's up to the bride and groom to decide what parts of the ritual have meaning for them personally and to put aside those that don't. And then we should do our part and be happy for them.

  3. suburbanfeminist says:

    This statement was depressing: "People had decided that I could not be both."

    Where do others have the right to decide who you are? That is just depressing.

  4. thanks for sharing this. i too felt as if i would never marry. now i'm engaged.

  5. Feminist Too says:

    Anushay, apparently I had a "feminist wedding" without even knowing it. . . I got married at the same venue. . . my brother in-law read the same passage from the Quran. . . I was asked three times to marry my husband. . . I did not change my last name . . . and I negotiated the heck out of my wedding vendors and did not allow them to manipulate me and play on my emotions. Does that mean I had a "feminist wedding"? NO! Except for the venue, almost every Muslim girl I know got married in the same fashion. And what does the venue have anything to do with being a feminist? That's a corporate decision to bring in profit and utilize the beautiful space of the museum. It seems to me that you are trying so hard to be someone you are not. You can't merely call yourself a feminist a thousand times and hope it sticks.

    • Really?! Hmm, I thought calling myself a feminist over and over again was exactly how I would become one! I suggest you read my bio before giving yourself the permission to decide who is and who is not a feminist.

      • Belle of Acadie says:

        Well I think your wedding sounded just lovely. :)

        I am 16 really interested in feminism but I never recognized that stereotype for what it was. So thank you for that. *smiles*

        I really enjoy your articles. I hope I can be a Ms. blogger one day too!

    • Feminister says:

      Wow, I thought all you need to be a feminist was the belief in equality of both sexes! I didn't know you needed much more than that! who would have thought.

    • wow, I just came across this extremely naive and narcissistic piece. She may be a feminist as she calls herself one a hundred times – but from what she says and does, its not that obvious – what is obvious is someone obsessed with herself, and filled with material value. The Look at Me. For some, Guess and Prada may be a label. For Anushay, Feminism symbolizes a label akin to material products.

  6. Not sure what to say here. I enjoyed reading the article, but are you trying to say that because you negotiated with vendors to have the wedding you want (typical of all brides, to have the wedding YOU want) and that you didn't let those women talk you into keeping weight off, that's the way to have a feminist wedding? Be a feminist and have the wedding you want, whether it's elaborate or not.

  7. Feminister (?) lol says:

    I'm not big with weddings in general. But, I'm can see why some people find it appealing. its a OK as long as its what you want to do! My hubby and I had a very modest ceremony, no ring or white gown. Just Muslim ceremony/nikah, and that was that. we got married really young (early 20s late teen). we made well past a decade and we have health fulfilling marriage. we have feminist values! that means we both believe we are equal partners. I consider myself a staunch feminist, not because it sounds cool, but because I believe in a world where gender equity is the norm! I love the men in my life (husband, father, friends, cousins….) that is not antithesis to my feminism! My desire to see my daughters live in a world where they are just as valued as their brothers doesn't mean I hate men. It means I want a better equitable world for all people who live in it.
    With that said, I really like your wedding! it looks like you had a blast. You and your groom look beautiful and happy. congratulations on your big fat feminist wedding! :)

  8. Great article – thank-you for sharing your story. I got married a month ago and encountered many of the same things you did (outrageously priced wedding vendors trying to pressure me into every little thing). I stood my ground and got married in the field behind my parents house. I was barefoot, and I didn't change my name (amazing how many people still think you are "supposed" to do that). It was an awesome night, one of the best in my life. Do what YOU WANT, not what others want or what you think you should do.

  9. "I married when I wanted, how I wanted, to the man I wanted, when it was right for me. Everything happened under my terms and in my own time. "

    That's not feminism, that's selfishness. Hoped you saved money for a lawyer, because it STOPPED being all about YOU the moment you accepted the proposal – all that "I, me, my" should have become "us, we." Narcissism at it's best.

  10. Unlike some, I don't think marriage is inherently anti-feminist, but I do think this article brings up another point that needs to be addressed outside of feminist discussion–or perhaps inside–and that is conspicuous consumption. As a proud feminist, I shudder at the thought of spending so much on an elaborate wedding when I think of all the women in developing countries who go without. Not to mention the long-standing male driven rhetoric that targets women as mass consumers and men as the providers of the money for their mass consumption.

    If you want to get married do it, my partner and I plan to marry at some point as a celebration of our lives together, but I won't be taking his name and if we chose to have children they'll have both our names, but we would never spend this amount of money on that celebration because it's the partnership that important, not the wedding.

    Maybe this is somehow related to the fact that we are not religious? What do you think, are religious people more inclined to want larger, traditional weddings? I don't mean this as a slag against religion, btw I'm just curious because in my experience all large weddings I've been to have been for religious couples.

    Cheers.

  11. "I realized that I was confronting one of the worst stereotypes still out there: that if you’re a feminist you hate men"
    This is a straw man logical fallacy. The argument is not that your getting married isn't a feminist act because it shows you don't hate men like you should. The argument is that marraige as an institution has nothing to do with your love or hatred of your husband as an individual , it has to do with a system of oppression wherein legal marraige is used to grant men privledge and power while stripping women of it. You are a feminist, no one can take away your feminist card. All women must make decisions and concessions, and no one can make every act a feminist act. You have a right to autonomy and your own choices. But I object to you attempting to present this personal choice of yours as some sort of empowering feminist act when it just isn't.

  12. As a Feminist, the problem that I have with marriage is that it's a heterosexual institution, and it is the pinnacle of heteronormativity. There would be no gender roles in our handfasting. I was handfasted to my partner on Halloween, but I refuse to be legally married until gay and lesbian people have that same right.
    On a consumerist note, we worked hard to keep our handfasting very low in consumption. The people who participated in our ceremony wore whatever they wanted to – I would never make someone spend money (hundreds of dollars usually) on dresses or suits. Instead of receiving gifts, we put out bowls in which we asked people to donate money to our local no kill animal shelter. We spent very little money on our handfasting, the most we spent was on our costumes. Our handfasting was Alice in Wonderland theme, so we went all out in that respect.

    Other than that, our ceremony and everything about it was either gender neutral or equal…even down to our invitations. Half of them put my name first, and half put my partner's name first.

    I believe that a Feminist marriage should work to challenge the institution of marriage. It doesn't make a wedding Feminist if you follow the same gendered or oppressive customs, but call them Feminist.

    • Blessed Be! As an ordained minister of Wicca, I have officiated at several handfastings, both legal and not. While not all couples were as engaged in planning the ceremony as others, the basic Pagan ceremony I use stresses equality between partners (hetero & same-sex). It is seen in what I believe is a very feminist way: as an alliance, based on love, between two equals. As it was stated higher up on the thread, having a ceremony doesn’t make it patriarchal. It is a celebration and a means of joyfully including the families (if the couple wishes to), which builds community.

  13. Thanks for sharing your story. I agree, the argument for a feminist wedding (whether it can even exist) is a hard one. I'm a married feminist and struggled with whether it would be ridiculous and hypocritical for me to enter into this heteronormative and often misogynist tradition. But in the end, as a commenter above mentioned, I decided that a wedding is a rite of passage, a celebration of two lives together in a committed relationship. This doesn't take away the heteronormitivity in the laws, and when Prop 8 passed here in California, I took my wedding ring off for a year in protest (of course, not that this is sufficient, considering I was still legally married on paper). Then I felt hypocritical for denying my committedness to my partner and put the ring back on…

    So I guess the question here is: can a feminist ever willingly enter into a perhaps inherently sexist tradition and still be a feminist, or is changing the face of weddings/marriage by giving the woman more voice and choice in the process enough?

    However, I will take slight issue with the fact that you said that "you agreed to marry your husband". Sure, this might go along with the argument for choice, but to me, this implies that he asked you to marry him and you said yes. In my mind, at least, feminist men and women should decide together to enter into a marriage, and the traditional engagement process, to me, is archaic and sexist. No one should be given the power to decide when to take or not to take someone's hand. That said, I hope that you greatly enjoyed your wedding and I wish you a lifetime of egalitarian marriage!

    • ["So I guess the question here is: can a feminist ever willingly enter into a perhaps inherently sexist tradition and still be a feminist, or is changing the face of weddings/marriage by giving the woman more voice and choice in the process enough?"]

      I think so, especially if they tweak the big things that tend to make the institution of marriage to be so patriarchal and sexist. To me, it's about solidifying the relationship, to have that person to live with for the rest of your life because we, as humans, crave other humans love and company to survive.

      To me, feminism is about having the right to make your own choices while not pushing the choices you yourself make as the right thing to do. And I think the latter part is where a very, very, frighteningly large number of women fall through the cracks. Conservative women feel that the liberal forms of feminism is being pushed on them, so they push their own views on feminism on the more liberal women – and then the more liberal women feel threatened. It's a constant push and pull, with absolutely no medium in the middle – each women should do what makes them feel empowered. If it's being married with five kids and baking cookies to pass out at parties and being a PTA cardholder – good for them. If it's climbing the corporate ladder their entire lives, good for them. If it's living their lives in a more 'hollywood' style, then good for them.

      We might not like the choices one of our fellow women might be making, but we can't force them to change their habits. THEY must be the ones to do it themselves, and all one can do is try and convince them to make the change. If they refuse, then one must go on their way. If they listen – that's great – but THEY were the ones to make that decision to listen and change their habits.

  14. There is so much anger and hate in so many of these comments, people really need to chill out. First of all, I'm Bangladeshi and my husband is Persian, two cultures that have about two weeks worth of wedding celebrations and tend to do everything slightly over the top. Hello Bollywood! We had our wedding in Washington and we had one event. That's normal for Americans but considered abnormal for us. That being said, my budget, and the countless deals and discounts I got from my vendors, is nobody's business. My wedding was a celebration and my husband backed me the whole way. But you want to know what the biggest feminist aspect of my wedding was? ME. I am such a big feminist that my weekend grocery store trips are even feminist. And if anybody wants to debate me being a feminist or a passionate women's rights activist, a field I have even dedicated my entire career to, read my bio and follow my blog.

  15. Anita Murano says:

    Ms. Hossain, I am thrilled that you found your right match and your right venue. I never wanted to be in a married "state" when I was younger and it wasn't that I didn't like the pomp and circumstance… I just never saw anyone who would be a feminist man to my feminist self. I knew it could happen too (I worked with Kim Gandy at NOW). And four years ago, I finally found him. So BRAVA you! Congratulations and good luck! And I must say, I am not a little envious of your sumptuous surroundings at the venue. :)

  16. I don't get how the term feminist has become so labeled and complexly defined.
    My definition of feminism is simply about "…the belief in equality of both sexes." why does it have to be so complicated?
    SO, why can't i have a big white wedding and believe in equality and that i have a right to make my own choices.

    I don't agree Anushay in everything she writes, but i agree with her that its about choices. though i have not been married but i was able to somewhat relate to what she wrote. i am 34 and not married by choices. when i do decide, it would be because i want to and not because i have to… This is a choice i will hold on to

    besides, yes Feminism is about equality but many forget that thriving for feminism is not universal… each culture/ society has its own battle to fight to win equality .
    yes you can talk about marriage as a heterosexual institute but there are cultures around the world that do not believe in premarital sex , neither gender.

  17. Try having 4 kids in 5 years and making the decision to stay home with them because the child-care costs would be more than you can make! And THEN try to explain how you are still a feminist, though you are now officially a card-carrying member of the PTA, run scout troops, and bake for the school's bake sale. <sigh> Been there, done that, emerged on the other side just as ardently feminist as when I was one of the first subscribers to the then-newly-born Ms Magazine. My opinions on equal rights have never wavered, nor have my opinions on a plethora of other issues, including the right to choice. I have raised 3 sons and 1 daughter who all share my view that society will be vastly improved when the 51% that are female are equal in the workplace and their private lives, to the men around them. I shake my head in disbelief when I see others insisting that it is a good thing to want to shove all women back into the home as baby-makers. It was a good decision for me at the time, though I never realized that even with my college degree, I'd be relegated to minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life, as punishment for doing what was right for my family. But if all feminists stay single and childless, who is to raise the next generation to make the right choices?

  18. Belle of Acadie says:

    Wow some harsh comments I do not understand the judgmental reasoning of them. :s

    I see how entrenched the man-hating stereotype is.

  19. love it!

  20. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Many thanks!

Speak Your Mind

*