Big Wedding, Small Budget

Resisting the Stereotypes

When people talk to me about the wedding planning, the same conversations seem to come up over and over again. Inevitable, some comment is made about how Steve’s job is to feign interest, agree to everything I want, and simply show up. I mean, the wedding is all about the bride, really, isn’t it?

I know what you’re probably thinking right now. Barbra is such a feminist; she really values equality in relationships and stands up to those silly kinds of traditions. Surely, she and Steve are equal partners in planning this wedding.

Well, I wish I could say you’re right. Since I do usually rail against gendered cultural expectations, there is no way I would be living the stereotype of the bride who is planning the wedding on her own. There’s no way I would be having the kind of wedding where my groom is not involved at all. Right?

Um, wrong. Actually, in this case, we totally fulfill the stereotype. The truth is, I’m the one doing the planning for this wedding. There have been a couple of time where I’ve gotten Steve’s input, but for the most part, I do the research, look at the options, and make a decision on my own. Sometimes he wants to see what I’ve chosen, but usually he doesn’t.

This is not because I’m a controlling bride (although I do have control freak tendencies, they’re not usually about having things my way). It’s not because I think it’s a bride’s job to plan everything. And it’s certainly not because I have a vision of my perfect wedding in my head and am not going to let Steve ruin it. After all, I think we’ve established that I am not a “typical” bride (whatever that is).

This way of planning works for us. I am a planner. I love organizing, I love doing research, and I love worrying about mundane details and tedious tasks. I’m good at it. I can work efficiently and make firm decisions. I’m definitely not wishy-washy and I don’t often second guess myself. I’ve really enjoyed wedding planning so far, and I hope to keep it that way.

Steven, on the other hand, is way more spontaneous. He doesn’t really like thinking things out before he does not. He doesn’t plan ahead for much, unless it involves plane tickets (and even then…). He would really not enjoy having to think about and decide things like the menu, or research about bulk alcohol prices. He is way less detail oriented (when it comes to non-work things) than I am.

We could choose to fight against gender stereotypes by forcing equality in the wedding planning. But why should we, when this works for us?

The problem is, I’m not quite pedantic enough to give this long explanation every time someone assumes that Steve is not involved. I can’t tell them they’re wrong, but I don’t want to admit they’re right either. So for now, I just smile and nod, and assume people know us well enough to figure it out. I need to remember that make the occasional non-feminist choice doesn’t mean I’m betraying the cause. There is still so much to fight for, this is just one particular fight that I’m sitting out.

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Barbra Resnick, forever.

I am not changing my name after I get married. I have never considered doing it. It was not up for discussion, it was never an option. There was an extremely, and I mean really miniscule, chance that I would hyphenate, but only under very specific circumstances (my future husband would have to hyphenate, too). This was an extremely simple and easy decision to make, and really, it has absolutely nothing to do with Steve. In fact, I had pretty much already decided before we even met.

This may sound somewhat militant to some of you. And truthfully, I’m fine with that. I’m pretty militant about keeping my name. Notice, though, that I’m talking about me keeping my name. If other people want to change theirs, I’m fine with that.

Actually, though, that’s not completely true. I’m fine with women changing their names on an individual level; of course, I believe that everyone should be able to make their own choices about their names. But on a societal level, I’m not ok with name-changing standards at all.

I do appreciate the fact that, these days, women keeping their names is generally culturally acceptable (although not in certain pockets). However, it is still really a choice only for women. I know so many who debated back and forth, not really sure what they wanted to do. I’ve read even more personal accounts on the internet of real, hard, gut-wrenching struggles with this choice. By and large, these accounts are all written by women. The standard is still that women are the ones who will choose whether or not to change their names. I mean, the guy is obviously going to keep his, right? I know there are some circumstances where men hyphenate or even take their wife’s name, but these are few and far between, and, I suspect, only happening in hippie towns (I’m looking at you, Northampton!).

Caitlin Moran’s (go read her book right now) test for whether something is sexist is to ask, “Are men worrying about this?” I think that’s a great question. Until men really struggle with the decision to change their names, things are not equal. I told Steve, who certainly believes in egalitarianism, that I was only really willing to discuss my choice to keep my name if we were going to discuss his choice to keep his. And he couldn’t really think of any discussion that needed to happen regarding keeping his name. I feel the same way.

So, after the wedding, I will not become Barbra Arthurs, or Mrs. Steven Arthurs (I mean, I still will exist as a separate person, right?). Barbra Resnick I will remain, forever.

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Competition

In case you didn’t already know this about me, I am an extremely competitive person. Mostly with myself, but sometimes with other people too. However, for most of my life I have been able to restrain my competitive tendencies to video games, board games, trivia, etc. I have never really been competitive about things like school grades, salaries, homes, or other indicators of social standings. To be honest, I’ve never really understood why other people’s accomplishments or material accumulations would reflect on mine at all. I don’t need to beat them at relationships; I just really want to beat them at Mario Kart.

In the world of weddings, though, it’s so easy to be competitive. Or at least, it’s so easy to compare your wedding to others’. Then I guess the choice to be competitive or not is up to you. But if you’re doing a lot of internet wedding browsing, as I am, you are inundated with pictures of others’ weddings, along with all the details of their beautiful favors, personal vows, gorgeous photography, and gourmet, local, sustainable food.

When I’m alone with the internet, I have no problem looking at weddings that bear no resemblance to our wedding or what I want. The problem comes in with all these “indie” weddings. Perusing the indie blogs means that I’m constantly confronted with handmade favors from Etsy, lovingly crafted escort cards, bouquets made with flowers that the couple started growing a year before in their backyard, personal vows, gorgeous photography, and beautiful china that the bride and her mom spent the past two years scouting from thrift stores. Think I’m kidding or exaggerating? I’m not. And my mind automatically starts comparing these “blog-worthy” weddings to my own.

In real life, I have several friends getting married this year. They are all having weddings that are quite different from each other, and quite different from mine. But in real life, it’s a little harder to avoid comparisons. My wedding is just so different. It’s less fancy. Just as our wedding will be missing so much of the indie-blog touches, it will also be missing quite a lot of the typical wedding accoutrements.

Complicating this issue is that brides are often judged on their weddings way more than grooms. Although of course, grooms tend to be more involved in the wedding these days, I still think that there is a lot more pressure on brides to have a beautiful wedding and reflect that image of perfection. No one expects grooms to be perfect anyway; they just expect them to be dragged reluctantly to the altar. This is a subject for another post that I’ll probably write when it makes me feel less angry.

Media and mainstream society pit women against each other constantly. The message that we get, both subliminally and overtly, is that we’re always in competition with other women, whether they are our best friends or strangers. We are told that other women’s looks, partners, careers, and families directly reflect on whether our own are good enough. Whether this has evolutionary origins doesn’t matter. It is really no longer relevant in our society and I hate when women I know buy into it.

The truth is, my friends’ weddings are perfect for them. They will be beautiful and fun and I can’t wait to be a part of them. Just as their grades in college didn’t reflect on mine, their weddings don’t reflect on mine either. There is no reason why, as women, we can’t look at and attend others’ weddings and just enjoy them. Sharing a special time in our lives with those we love is a privilege, and a great opportunity, not a chance to show them up.

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School Year Wrap Up

Well, another school year has ended and I am on my much longed-for summer vacation. Of course, I have a long to-do list for the wedding (including those ever-elusive save the dates). But don’t worry—I’m planning lots of fun stuff too.

I’ve been thinking lately about bridal “identity” and about how getting married is really seen as an accomplishment for women in our culture. There is a message that’s sent, I think, that says if you have snagged a man and gotten him to propose, then you have checked off the most important thing on a young woman’s to-do list. I mean, that’s what our twenties are supposed to be all about, right?

To tell you the truth, I haven’t really struggled with this very much. I think I just so don’t buy into it all that it’s easy to dismiss. Also, it helps that I have had a really successful school year. In reality, when I look back at my successes over the past ten months, I think more about presenting at a conference for the first time, being a commencement speaker, and winning my first professional award. Those are successes. Getting engaged is something great that happened, sure, but it’s not an accomplishment.

This was driven home while I was talking to one of my coworkers at an end of the year lunch. Without knowing I was engaged, she asked if I was getting married this summer (umm…what?). When I responded that no, I was getting married next March, she actually said, “Good job!” and high-fived me. Look, it’s nice that she is happy for me, but it’s also important to note that she wasn’t as enthusiastic (nor was anyone at work) when the principal announced at a different staff meeting that I was commencement speaker. This is not a family member or a friend. This is someone at my job, where I actually did have success this year.

I’m glad that I was raised to value myself as a total human being, not just as a girlfriend, wife, or fiancée. Even if I hadn’t gotten engaged, even if I was still single, this would have been an incredibly successful year. Focusing only on my relationship would discount the hard work I put in to my career and the things I’ve gained from it this year. Believe me; I’ll turn all the focus onto my relationship on the wedding day. But the other 364 days of the year belong to my life as a whole, and to me as a whole person living it.

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The fun, festive world of bridal magazines.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with women’s magazines. Makeup? Fun. Trashy celebrity stories? Sign me up. The eternal focus on pleasing men? Ummmm…what? The never-ending efforts to make you feel like you must fit into the same, bland box as everyone else? No thanks. So maybe more hate than love, then. I’ll stick with my Mother Jones and Rolling Stone.

Bridal magazines are sort of a different story, though. They’ve always appealed to that “bride” side of me. The part that loved thinking about weddings, even when I was single. I loved looking through those magazines with my engaged friends, but I would never let myself buy them. Not until I was actually engaged.

So, it felt like a victory of sorts when I could actually buy them! I am finally engaged! Someone actually wants to me marry me! And now, I get to telegraph it to the world by going up to the cash register with actual BRIDAL magazines. Maybe they’ll even ask me if I’m getting married! Yes!

Side story: the victory was short lived when, at the cash register with my fianci-daughter Emily* buying them for the first time, the cashier assumed that we were picking them up so Emily could plan her future wedding. What?? She’s only nine. Kill me now.

Anyway, the truth is that when it comes to Modern Bride, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and Brides Florida (the list goes on and on), I have much more love than hate. For some reason, it’s a lot easier to laugh at the ridiculous expectations and gender stereotypes of the WIC than of society in general (a fine line, I know, but stay with me here). Maybe it’s because I’m more confident in offbeat choices for my wedding than offbeat choices for my life. Maybe it’s because, at least online, there is a lot more support for planning a wedding outside the lines than planning a similar life (but thank you, Reclaiming Wife, Offbeat Home, and Offbeat Mama!).

With all that said, there is still plenty to hate in the world of bridal magazines. I present to you some examples**. Feel free to laugh, shake your head, get all ragey, read a feminist blog, or have whatever reaction you deem appropriate.

From The Knot:

“For the past few seasons, it’s been all about bright nails, from classic reds to purples and even greens, which we’ve loved—just not for weddings. (Green doesn’t exactly scream “bridal,” if you know what we mean.)” –Because there is definitely just one way to look “bridal” and that is with pale pink or nude nail polish. I love pink nail polish as much as anyone, but on my wedding day, I can tell you I will probably be matching my nails to whatever colorful necklace I’m wearing. Or maybe I’ll just be too lazy to do them at all (the horror!).

“The knot destination wedding guide” Phuket Thailand. “Wed at Amanpuri on the beach or in one of the luxe villas (they can pull of a Buddhist ceremony if you want that local flair.)” –Cultural appropriation for the win! Don’t have a Buddhist ceremony because you are a Buddhist. Why have a ceremony that reflects your beliefs at all when you can just make it part of your wedding theme?

From Brides:

“Rate your MOH: rock star or reject?” –Let’s all judge our best friends against each other! And, if we want to complain about the most special people in our lives, let’s do it in a national print magazine! Fun!

“5 awesome engagement moments: 1) Telling your family. 2) Hearing him introduce you as his fiancée. 3) Trying on your first gown. 4) Asking your BFF to be your MOH. 5) Realizing that right now, is really is all about you.” –Let me state for the record: Numbers 1 and 2 were pretty effing awesome, I have to say. And I expect number 3 to be, hopefully, fun. As for number 4–I don’t plan on having a maid of honor but I did enjoy getting asked to be one, so I can get behind that. But then I got to number 5. Oh, Brides, you were so close. But is it really all about me? For the next 14 months? Wow. I mean, it’s not like there is another person participating in this wedding or anything. And oh yeah—it’s not like I actually have a life to live outside of planning my nuptials. Right. Sorry, I forgot. I’m not a person, just a bride.

So, commenters! Friends and family! I am the bride, a magical, mystical creature and the center of the universe! Share your adoration of me!

On second thought, please don’t. That would be really, really awkward.

*In case it’s not clear, Emily is my future stepdaughter. We both though it was just a lot more fun to use this phrase.

**Don’t worry—there are always more! Look for them in a future post when I’m feeling snarky.


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Weddings and Feminism

There are so many ways that weddings interact and sometimes contradict with feminism, at least my feminism. Starting with the pre-proposal and going all the way through the reception, weddings can embody traditional gender and family roles so completely that it makes my head spin, and, truth be told, can make me super-ragey.

I was prepared for these issues coming into wedding planning. For god’s sake, I’ve been reading A Practical Wedding for two years now. But I wasn’t prepared for what came up this week, already, in my first month of being engaged.

Steve and I worked hard to come up with an ideal date for the wedding. Originally, we had been thinking about October 2012. That would have given us about a 10-month engagement, which I thought was ideal. Then, I started to think about what this fall already looks like. I am a Maid of Honor (for the first time!!) in a wedding in September. Then, the Jewish High Holy Days, which all take place on weekdays, will be happening. By the time we got to October, I will have taken four of my six personal days off from work. I won’t really be able to take off any time for the wedding, and I’ll be trying to get everything together during one of the busiest times of the year. Plus, having the wedding in October would make it extremely difficulty, and probably impossible, for Steve’s family to come from England.

Starting to despair, I searched around for another possible date. And then, miraculously, I found a Sunday in March where my Spring Break and UK Spring Holidays overlapped. Brilliant! Wonderful weather, time off, and the chance for Steve’s family to make it work made this date look beautiful. Plus, it would give us a few extra months to plan and save. I felt really excited when we committed to this date and started telling our families and friends. It was finally real!

Then, at work this week, I got word that my principal had agreed to send a group of us to the national school social work conference next year. This was great news! I have been wanting to present at a national conference and I was planning to apply to this one. It’s in San Diego, where I’ve never been. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

You probably see where this is going, right? The conference ends the day before the wedding. On the Saturday. My brain searched frantically to try to find a way to make it work, but it is just not going happen. I am heartbroken. I told myself, “But you’re getting married! That should be enough to make you happy! It’s worth missing the conference!”

The truth is, of course it is worth missing the conference for my wedding. But, the wedding is not enough to make me happy. It will make me happy, obviously, but I’m not just a bride. I’m a person, with other interests and other ambitions. As I tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t be upset because, come on, I get to have a wedding, I felt squeamish and uncomfortable. Being totally ok with forgoing everything else for the wedding would for sure betray my feminist beliefs. And luckily, my squeamish-ness reminded me that those beliefs are part of my core.

So, I’m allowing myself to be upset about missing the conference. I’m disappointed. I will probably be disappointed and frustrated when my colleagues fly off to San Diego to present on my program that I’ve worked hard to make a success. Being excited about the wedding won’t change that. And it shouldn’t.

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