Thursday, March 07, 2013

On 'weddings'

In my latest effort at sullying an otherwise fine publication with my ramblings, I wax ambivalent on bridal fauxbivalence.

As a rule, I do my best to incorporate even the trolliest criticisms of my writing into something positive. As a grad student, one can get used to all feedback on one's writing being couched in a great deal of positivity and support, so the harsh world of anonymous commenters can be - yes, really - of great use. It can be difficult, when, for example, the comments are along the lines of, ‘this is the dumbest thing I ever read,’ or are furious tirades based on misinterpretations of headlines I didn't even write. The lesson learned can feel like, more nuance! Always more nuance! Or someone will be upset that you oversimplified what is in fact a complicated issue! The addition of extra hemming, hawing, and cautiousness is probably the opposite of what would improve my writing, and yet.

But I want to take something from a comment at the Atlantic claiming that my latest post felt mean-spirited, although the commenter him/herself admits to not knowing why they have this impression, nor towards whom this alleged meanness is directed. This I can work with, even if I'm not exactly sure to whom I should direct the apology. When I reread my initial WWPD post on fauxbivalence, I found it far too snarky, although I continued to believe the basic premise. What I do in the more recent post, and hadn’t in others there, is position myself in the issue in question. I wasn't sure about doing that at first, but it didn’t seem right to pin it all on Jessica Grose and other writers who’ve put their fauxbivalence before a wide audience. (I have ample stores of anecdata on fauxbivalence, but prefer to cite publicly-available examples.) My own wedding involved a mix of good-feminist and bad-feminist moments - as I find they nearly all do. And I find myself playing up the good-feminist ones, playing down the bad-feminist ones, rather than simply owning (as another commenter puts it) the lot of it. I am not above fauxbivalence! If I'm hard on the fauxbivalent, I'm hard on myself. 

And... the following will address Caryatis's points in the comments there, which I'm reluctant to enter for fear of losing the week to that: I don't think the answer is to throw up one's hands and have the most 'traditional' wedding possible. We should all do what we're comfortable with, be less judgmental about what others feel comfortable with, and so on. Given that I got married at City Hall, I'm not about to tell people who get married in their backyards that they're not making a big enough fuss. We're all comfortable with different things. If you don't want a fancy-schmancy ring, more power to you. (My personal favorite in the non-traditional ring arena is this.) What I think is wrong is to turn who can be most low-key, most offbeat, into a competition in its own right. A wedding is by its very nature an unoriginal act, and I think there's a certain value to acknowledging it. Not acknowledging it by having a more 'traditional' event than you're comfortable with, but just, like, acknowledging it to yourself, in conversation, etc.


caryatis said...

I got the impression that commenters, like me, were expecting you to tell women what to do at some point and since you didn't really, they read it into what you did write.

But now you are, I guess, by suggesting that women should have the wedding they want, without using the wedding as a way to make a statement about their comparative status. Or at least to keep the status competition in their own heads, and curb the urge to tell other women they did it the wrong way.

Other issue: weddings are incredibly expensive! Is it possible that some women are patting themselves on the back for their cheap weddings as a way of convincing themselves that their wedding was different because it's "special"--not just because they didn't have the money for a traditional one?

caryatis said...

Is it easy to avoid the competitive wedding conversation, though? I wouldn't know, but I would think you'd get a lot of questions from other women about your wedding plans. And even if you answer in a neutral way, what's to stop them from taking your wedding or lack thereof as an implicit judgment of theirs?...which then leads to the other women getting defensive and justifying their choices, and then you get defensive and argue for your choices, and...I can imagine it working that way.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised at the conclusion many of your commenters took away from your article. I was so appalled by that Jezebel article about engagement rings (at first because of the "violence might be done to you because of what you are wearing!" aspect of it, and then for the commenters trying to one-up each other for how non-traditional their rings were) but I had no organized way to express my outrage about it, and certainly no term to describe what I saw at work there. I think the movement afoot to out-local, out-handmade, out-DIY extends beyond weddings, but the social implications in that particular genre are interesting.

Phoebe said...


Let me try to address most of this:

-It seems a bit of a stretch to say that I'm telling women what to do. At least in the sense some readers expect this from that publication, i.e. readers who remember Lori Gottlieb asking women of a certain age to "settle." My point is basically that the proper response to the line of thought that says one is only married of one spends a ton and wears a diamond isn't to say that one is only married if one spends as little as possible and wears a ring made of twine.

-Re: the cost of weddings, this is something I get at in the piece (see re: McMansions, and the link from Wedding Industrial Complex is to the average cost of an American wedding), but don't focus on. That's because this is largely about pride in unconventional weddings. Cheap (as in, cheaper than the norm in whichever area) is just one way a wedding can be unconventional.

-Re: avoiding this, one way to avoid anything along these lines is to be conscious of it and, if you're happy with whichever choice, to, as a commenter there says, "own it." Another is to just say that your life is not up for discussion. To say, sure, there's some interesting gender analysis possible, but let this be done on a societal level, and not in terms of one's own friends'/acquaintances choices in particular.

Phoebe said...

Savages in Memphis,

Yes, while I focused on the threads, that post itself was something in its own right. One need not embrace choice feminism to say that it's a bit less than feminist to joke about assaulting women whose presumed choices aren't consistent with your values/aesthetics. I say presumed because it's not clear which gargantuan rings are real or fake, which are heirloom, which were requested and which were a gift it would have been awkward to decline, assuming what the gift symbolized was desired.

And it's that last bit I find frustrating about ring-judgment: the tradition is such that women tend to receive these, often unprompted, and may not have selected whichever style or material. Of all the things a woman is wearing, this is the one she's least likely to have actively chosen. Meanwhile the men who've purchased the most offensive-to-Jezebel rings are, what, invisible? Much of the bragging on Jezebel seems to be about how pleased certain commenters are that their fiancés really understand them. It's not all that different from bragging that one is truly loved because one's ring cost a fortune.

And... yes, 100%, re: local-ness oneupmanship. I think it's the mix of consumerism and anti-feminist symbolism with weddings that makes this so extreme in this arena.