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Opinion: Are Western Marriage Traditions Sexist?

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Opinion: Are Western Marriage Traditions Sexist?

Traditional Western marriages are beautiful ceremonies to be involved in and are very often days that can never be forgotten. However, upon looking deeper look into the traditions, not everything is sunshine and flowers. Many of the customs are born from sexist ideologies that everyone had to follow hundreds of years ago. So why haven’t these customs changed with the times? It is because society has not progressed far enough to get rid of them? This could be due to older generations pushing the past on younger generations or perhaps it could be due to the simple fact that we’re all too fond of the status quo.

Even before the whole ceremony, from their mid-twenties onwards women, face nagging from well-meaning relatives. I wonder how many times those individuals have heard the phrase, "When you find the right person and get married …….." I cannot begin to imagine how irritating it must be to have your life decisions already mapped out for you.

One of the most enduring traditions during the ceremony is the expectation that the father of the bride will walk his daughter down the aisle and pass her to the groom. Although seen as a loving gesture, it has a dark side as it harks back to a now out-dated law stating that women are property and are owned by their father or husband. This imbalance of power had serious consequences and it wasn’t until 1991 in the case of R v R, heard in the House of Lords, that rape within marriage became illegal.

Have you noticed that the bride always stands to the left of the groom? According to popular bridal magazine ‘The Knot’, it dates back to a practice called ‘marriage by capture’ which is as grim as it sounds. The idea was that the groom needed his right side to be free so he could draw his sword to fight off any rival suitors.

Another tradition that supports the idea of male ownership of women can be found in the assumption that a bride will change her surname to that of her husband and in doing so will erase the surname that she was born with, her lineage, and, in some cases, her culture too.

Wearing a white wedding dress is still a big thing today. However, it was not popular in Western countries until the mid-19th century when Queen Victoria wore one. The colour white is seen as a symbol of purity which concerns some people as it suggests a woman should be a ‘maiden’ on her wedding day. If that’s the case, should there not be the same expectations of a man as well? Should men have to wear white and don a veil to protect their modesty too?

There are a few positive things we have changed regarding marriage. Firstly, until 1839, fathers were almost always granted custody of children in a divorce. Secondly, until 1870, married women were not legal owners of the money they earned or any property they had previously owned. Thirdly, the wording in the ceremony was recently changed so the marriage officiant now says ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’ instead of ‘man and wife’. Although these changes are small steps, they still count, and we should continue to change some of these rules to create a healthier foundation for a loving relationship.

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