Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wedding Crap: Being Walked Down the Aisle

(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)

What is the tradition? 

As the wedding ceremony begins, after the other wedding party members are at the front of the venue (the groom generally entering first, quietly without any pomp; the bridesmaids and groomsmen coming down the aisle before the bride), the bride enters the venue and walks down the aisle accompanied by her father. When they reach the front, the officiant asks some variation of "who gives this woman to be married?" (not uncommonly now altered to "who gives their blessing for this wedding" - at least there's some acknowledgement of the ultimate meaning of the original wording). 

If the bride's father is deceased or doesn't have the relationship to play this role, it is occasionally fulfilled by the bride's mother, or more often by the next closest male relative, such as a grandfather or son.

What is the origin of the tradition?

This is a direct descendant of the bride's father literally giving her away. Because the bride, as a woman, was property, being transferred from her father to her husband. The handoff at the front of the aisle actually was the handoff of an object of property being bought and sold.

Why do people still follow it?

Because it's tradition. Many, even if icked out by the origin of the tradition, don't want to offend their dad. If you have a good relationship with your father, it's generally considered an insult to not want him to walk you down the aisle. 

Others consider it a useful tool to the bride, to have their father supporting them (emotionally and literally) as they walk down the aisle to a lovely but emotional and stressful moment for the wedding ceremony. It's also often thought of as a lovely gesture that simply represents the bride leaving her parent's family and joining her husband to start a new family.

Why is that crap?

You know what's actually disrespectful? Treating a woman as her father's property. Even if it's adapted to include being walked down (or given away/blessed) by the bride's mother as well as her father, and/or being viewed as simply the transition from one's birth family to one's chosen family - why only the bride? 

Very rarely have I heard of the groom's parents accompanying him to the ceremony to represent him leaving their household, or providing their blessing on the marriage. In essence, the bride is treated as a child until the wedding is done, still under the protection of her parents, while the groom is already considered an adult.

Even as it's become more common to acknowledge that, while sure it does have a less-than-pleasant, it's still a lovely way to involve the bride's father (or parents) in the ceremony, to represent the idea that your child is growing up and forming their partnership, etc. - why is the alternative, when needed, to being accompanying by your father still to consider the next-nearest male relative? 

If it were only about the person who raised you willingly giving up you being a de facto member of their household, why it is even debated whether you should ask your single mother to walk you instead? Why would you defer to a grandfather, brother, or even uncle, if you have a single female parent who raised you? Because we're still stuck in the concept of men being the head of the household. Asking a male relative to fulfill this role over a nearer female relative inherently reinforces the sexist power structure that still exists in society.

There is absolutely no reason, beyond the patriarchal origin, to (1) treat the bride differently than the groom or (2) to defer to male relatives rather than the parental figure closest to the bride.

What am I doing with this tradition?

We eliminated the aisle altogether. When we were ready to begin the ceremony, we played a topical song to cue the mood (The Muppet's "Somebody's Getting Married") and both meandering through the room to the stage at the front to take our places. 

We're both adults, who have each been living on our own and supporting ourselves for years. Though of course we still love our parents and family, neither of us considered ourselves still part of their "household" or under our parents "protection". It would not have felt authentic to represent either set of parents walking us towards our new life together. 

Fortunately, my relationship with my parents, and my dad, is close enough that we've had many talks over the years about how I feel regarding these traditions, and my dad wasn't offended by my not wanting him involved in this tradition. He knew it wasn't an insult or statement about my relationship with him, but about the origin of the tradition itself, which has no place in our lives or how he (and my mom!) raised their strong-willed, independent daughters.

Photo by Stephanie Kaloi

How did/will you handle this tradition?

I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!

Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.

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