7 Ways To Give Your Wedding A Feminist Spirit

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Let’s face it ladies, although the wedding day is supposed to be all about us, the wedding ceremony and many wedding traditions are steeped in patriarchal values. Take the position of best man for example. Legend has it that in antiquity brides were often taken by force and the best man was there to help the groom fight off her rescuing kinsmen. In that same vein, the bride stands to the left of the groom so that his right hand is free to reach for his sword should those rescuing kinsmen appear.

If you’re reading this blog post, it’s likely that you plan to have a marriage based on equality and partnership with your husband, so why not infuse your wedding ceremony with a little woman-power. After all, in marriage as in other areas of life it’s always best to start how you plan to finish.

Here are seven ideas to bring a little feminism to the wedding party. You can use some or all of them. You may also choose to have a completely traditional wedding. Feminism is about choice and the choice is yours.

1. Don’t Let Yourself Be Given Away

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Time was a woman went from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband. This transfer of ownership was accomplished by the “giving of the bride”. If the idea of being “given away” makes you cringe, you may opt to enter solo or you and your groom can enter together. If you don’t want to completely forego tradition, the officiant could ask ” Who supports Mary’s choice to marry John” or use other less sexist language.

2. Wear A Colorful Wedding Dress

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The white wedding dress is an undying tradition among Western brides. It’s said to represent the brides purity and virginity. However the white wedding dress began less as a symbol of purity and more as a symbol of status. Prior to the Victorian era most brides simply wore their best dress on their wedding day and few saw the sense in buying a dress that would only be worn once . That all changed when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in 1840. Prior to this wedding, English royalty typically wore embroidered crimson robes for weddings. Victoria herself chose to buck tradition when she opted to wear white because it was her favorite color. After the royal wedding, the white wedding dress became a symbol of wealth and status.

Queen Victoria also reportedly took only the 2nd and last bath of her life on her wedding day. Aren’t we glad that tradition didn’t catch on?

3. Take The Lead In Reading The Vows

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Traditionally the groom is asked to read or recite his vows first. This supposedly symbolizes his willingness to take the lead in marriage matters and to be the head of the home. However you can shake the dust off of this tradition by having the officiant address you first. It sends the message that you don’t plan on always coming in 2nd in the marriage.

4. Ditch The Sexist Language

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You’ve probably never noticed how sexist and male-centric the ending of the standard wedding ceremony is:

  • I now pronounce you “man” and wife.
  • You may now kiss your bride.
  • I now present Mr. and Mrs. John Smith

How about asking your officiant to give those words a dose of equality? Instead you could opt for words like:

  • I now pronounce you husband and wife.
  • I now pronounce you married.
  • You may now seal your vows with a kiss.
  • I now present Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Smith.

5. Rethink How Or If You Will Change Your Last Name

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Modern brides “and” grooms have plenty of options instead of the standard practice of “her” taking “his” last name; especially in California where the Name Change Act of 2007 allows the bride and/or groom to change their surname at the time that the marriage license is obtained. Couples or allowed to state on the license what the post-marriage name will be. The bride may take the groom’s name or vice versa. One or the other may hyphenate their names or join their names together to create a new name. There is no additional name change fee if the name is changed when the license is purchased.

6. Feature Female Voices And Readings

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Photo credit http://www.tailormadeceremonies.com

Hire a female officiant ( shameless plug, IKR ). Have women to deliver readings and poetry during the ceremony. For even more feminist punch, feature readings writers offering a feminist perspective on love, romance and marriage.

7. Take The Driver’s Seat, Literally.

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My favorite scene from Legally Blond II was Elle behind the wheel as she and her new husband drove away from their wedding. I thought, “What a subtle, yet unmistakable nod to girl power.” I doubt there’s any more powerfully feminist statement a bride can make than hopping into the seat of the getaway car and driving off into the sunset.

Rev. Connie Jones-Steward is an expert at creating non-sexist and femnist wedding deremonies. Visit her website at www.officiantlady.com

How To Have A  Meaningful Atheist Wedding

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International Symbol of Atheism

Merriam-Webster online defines atheism  as a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods “or” a philosophical or religious position chacterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods. It defines an Atheist as a person who subscribes to or advocates atheism.

The belief in God or gods is at the center of most religions and belief systems. These religions and belief systems in turn lay the foundations for ritualized life cycle celebrations— such as weddings, funerals, baby blessings and bar/bat mitzvahs—that offer a sense of belonging, community and make life meaningful to  their adherants.

So where does that leave the wedding couple that is Atheist or for other reasons wants to have a wedding that does not acknowledge the existence of God yet still be meaningful ? If you, dear Atheist, feel that your only option is  a cold courthouse style wedding–bereft of any sense of joy, community or the ritualized pagentry of a church wedding–I’m happy to tell you that you are wrong.

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While a religious wedding is a celebration of religious tradition, an Athiest wedding has the potential to be a celebration of love and joy. Whereas a religious wedding ceremony usually focuses on “God’s” rules concerning marriage, an Atheist celebration is free to focus on you and how you view marriage. In this type of ceremony you have greater freedom of expression that allows you to include music, readings and traditions that may not be allowed in a more traditional ceremony but hold great meaning for you. An Atheist ceremony will also allow you to invite friends and family to participate in your wedding ceremony in non-conforming ways.

At it’s simplist the word  atheist means “without God” so an Atheist wedding ceremony is one that does not mention God or any Higher Power. Many of my couples are interfaith or don’t follow any particular religious doctrine. They thus choose a ceremony that avoids reference to any form of Deity as a way to avoid discomfort or resentment on either side of the aisle.

Atheist weddings are structured much the same as religious weddings. Your officiant  will begin with an opening or welcome, usually followed by words that reflect your shared values, your hopes and intentions for your marriage and your vows to each other. There may also be readings from poetry, historical or current events or cultural references that are relevant  your wedding ceremony. Friends  and family may participate as readers or they may sing songs that are important to either partner.

As the ceremony draws to a close, the officiant may perform secular versions of such wedding traditions as the unity candle or wedding lasso. An experienced officiant can secularize almost any typically religious unity ceremony or may opt for something that is less likely to be viewed as religious, such as a sand blending. This is also the segment where cultural traditions like jumping the broom may be added.

You will then be prounouced as married before your friends, family and guests. As you can see, just because Atheist means without God is no reason that your Atheist wedding has to be without the joy, beauty, meaning and sense of community that is inspired by a religious wedding.

Including The Kids in The Nuptials

Many of my wedding couples are older couples or couples who are walking down the aisle for the second (or third) time, so quite often one or both of them has children or grandchildren.

It’s understandable that these children sometimes feel some kind of way about getting a new parent, grandparent or set of siblings to contend with. The couple can start the new family out on a unified footing by including the children in the wedding ceremony. So on this National Sons and Daughters Day, let’s look at how some of my couples have included the kiddos in their wedding ceremonies

  • Vermyttya had seven children, aged late teens to toddlers when she married Douglas at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Her oldest daughter was her maid of honor, her youngest children were the ring bearer and flower girls and her middle sons were groomsmen. The ceremony also included a nine person family sand blending as one of their unity rituals.
  • When Vilda and Gustavo wed at Friendship Gardens & Japanese Tea Room in Glendale, CA his daughters entered just before Hilda carrying a banner that said “Daddy here comes your bride”. They also had a family sand blending ceremony with sand in each person’s favorite color.
  • Right after Israel put the ring on Minata’s finger during their wedding at The Castaways Restuarant in Burbank, CA, he placed a small gold band on her daughter’s finger and promised to always be her dad.
  • Nelly’s teenaged son stood beside her as her best man when she exchanged her vows with Yamie in Long Beach, CA.
  • Carl and Jackie were grandparents before they rekindled their high school romance and decided to get married. They included their adult children as bridesmaids and groomsmen while their grandchildren took part as flower girls, ring bearers and broom bringers during their wedding at The Newland Barn in Huntington Beach, CA. There were so many tots involved that an adult daughter was appointed the official kid wrangler.
  • Last but not least, when my husband and I jumped the broom 11 years ago, his then 10 year old son was the broom bringer. I didn’t have any children but my three nieces served as bridesmaid, gift table monitor and mini-maid. We each had nephews serve as groomsmen.

There are many, many ways to include your children in your wedding ceremony. You could have them render a reading, sing a song or act as a “backup” photographer. Let your imagination along with their talents and interests be your guide.

The Wedding Lasso or Lazzo

The wedding lasso or lazzo is a symbol common to bridal couples who are of MexiMexican wedding traditions, Los Angeles Wedding Officiantscan, Filipino or Spanish heritage. It is thought by some to have originated with Mexican cowboys; Still others believe it originated as part of Aztec culture.

Though commonly associated with Catholic weddings, today many couples who are nether Catholic nor Hispanic are choosing to include this beautiful ritual, that symbolizes the unity of the couple and the infinity of their marriage, as part of their wedding ceremony. Such couples sometimes use a non-denominational version of the lasso instead of the traditional version that resembles a rosary.

5 African-American Wedding Traditions

February is Black History Month so I thought I’d blog about a few African-American Wedding traditions starting with one of the most popular, jumping the broom:

1)      Jumping The Broom: This wedding tradition is nearly synonymous with African-American weddings. There are several interpretations including that it represents sweeping away the past and the beginning of a fresh future. Another interpretation is that the broom represents the feminine principle and the bride’s willing acceptance to maintain her new household.

2)      The Dolla Dance aka The Money Dance: Versions of this dance are popular at African-American, Hispanic, Pilipino and Polish Weddings. Traditionally, male guests take turns dancing with the bride after presenting her with a dollar bill. In modern weddings it’s becoming more common for female guest to also dance with the groom after presenting him with a dollar.

3)      Honoring the Elders: In many West African cultures, it is considered proper to ask the blessing of the oldest person in attendance before proceeding with any weddings or similar ceremonies. This practice is becoming more prevalent among African-American weddings.

4)      The Electric Slide: You’d have to look far and wide to find an African-American wedding reception that didn’t include the Electric Slide, a dance first made popular in the late 1970s and featured in just about every African-American wedding themed movie made in recent years. If  you haven’t seen this dance you can check it out on YouTube.

5) Tasting the Four Elements: In this mini-ceremony, the bride and groom take turns tasting honey, lemon, cayenne and kola nuts to represent that all marriages will experience times of sweetness, sourness, hotness and bitterness and to demonstrate that the couple has the strength to make it through the good as well as the not-so-good times.

Leap Year Wedding Traditions

The year 2012 is not only an election year but also a leap year, meaning that February has 29 days. According to tradition, February 29th is the day that it is appropriate for a woman to propose marriage to her reticent beau. Legend has it that in ancient Ireland, St. Brighid complained to St. Patrick that women were unhappy that they had to wait so long for their men to propose. As a compromise, St. Patrick authorized February 29th as the date that women could propose marriage.

Leap year is also a popular wedding date for couples with a sense of humor; or husbands who want far fewer opportunities to forget their wedding anniversary.

The Custom of Jumping The Broom

Jumping the broom is a tradition typically associated with African-American weddings. There is debate as to whether it dates back to Africa or if it is totally African-American but regardless of its orgins it is a custom used by many African-American couples to honor their ancestors.

As a symbolic rite of passage jumping  the broom represents many things: It is a leap into the unchartered realms of matrimony, it is symbolic for sweeping away past wrongs and clearing away negative energies and it is a symbol of the beginning of a new home.

Though considered by most to be an African-American custom, jumping the broom is practiced by other groups as well. Wiccan, Gypsy and Celtic themed weddings frequently include jumping the broom as a modern day version of the “besom wedding” that was once prevalent in Wales. This practice has been described as a type of legally sanctioned elopement ritual in which a birch broom (besom) was placed at an angle in the open doorway of the house, with its head on the doorstep and the top of its handle on the door-post. First the groom jumped over it, then his bride, in the presence of witnesses. If either touched or knocked it in any way, the marriage was not recognized.

In this kind of marriage, a woman kept her own home and did not become the property of her husband.  A child of the marriage was considered to be legitimate. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage. If a child had come, it was the father’s responsibility. Mischievous boys played with this symbolism by placing a birch broom over a doorstep before an unmarried lady went out of the house. This was supposed to make her pregnant before marriage.

In the Welsh version, the broom was a viewed as a masculine,  phallic symbol that facilitated the fertility of the bride. In contrast, the African version views the broom as a symbol of housekeeping and domesticity, making it a symbol of the feminine.

Photo credit: Artist Annie Lee’s work can be seen at It’s A Black Thing.Com