Feminist Bride

Confessions Of A Feminist Bride

How does a card-carrying feminist approach her big day in 2016? Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett redefines the modern bride

It's a fraught business being a feminist.

We're constantly being asked to define our terms. 'Can you be a feminist and shave your bikini line/wear high heels/go on a juice cleanse/watch music videos?' we are asked.

And on and on it goes, for what seems to be almost every life choice we encounter, however trivial. And now I've made one of the most momentous life choices of all, I can already anticipate the next question: 'Can you be a feminist bride?'

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See, I'm getting married next year. I'm a card-carrying feminist, and hope to be a modern bride. But being both a fiancée and a bride means, even in this enlightened day and age, being bombarded with conflicting messages.

Let's be honest here: a wedding, with many of its traditions rooted in a time when women were flogged off like farmyard animals at a market (and treated with even less respect), is pretty much the most patriarchal party you can ever throw. I have watched other feminists try to contort themselves into arguing there can be such a thing as a feminist bride, but let's not kid ourselves that the two things are 100% compatible. While same-sex marriages have more flexibility because they already fly in the face of 'tradition', heterosexual weddings are mired in throwback customs, which is seriously complicating things for me – morally and emotionally.

Being both a fiancée and a bride means, even in this enlightened day and age, being bombarded with conflicting messages

The thing is, no matter how feminist you try to be, it is impossible to sign up to any belief system without compromising somewhere, especially if, like me, you are a die-hard romantic with a deep and slightly guilty love for Richard Curtis films.

But that doesn't mean you can't defy convention and resolve to make your wedding your own. It's 2016, after all, and only the legal bits are fixed. Everything else is up for grabs. The question is, how to pull it off and stay true to yourself?

INDECENT PROPOSAL. Many women propose to their boyfriends now, but for years it was so taboo that it was only acceptable to do so on Leap Day, an event so rare that it only actually happens once every four years.

According to old Irish legend, St Brigit of Kildare struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men on this day in an attempt to balance out the traditional gender roles. While I salute St Brig's right-on progressive feminism, I also feel duty bound to say, 'Come on!' I was actually tempted to propose, but ultimately I was glad my boyfriend asked me, on Valentine's Day on Hampstead Heath (told you: Richard Curtis).

Why? Because it felt like a statement that he was ready for this huge, slightly scary commitment. But, mercifully, he didn't get down on one knee. We both hate a scene and it was really muddy. Now, lots of people don't bother with a proposal at all.

The whole idea that it should be a big surprise feels like a silly charade

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The whole idea that it should be a big surprise feels like a silly charade and ignores the fact that most modern human couples communicate honestly with one another about the future. Plus, springing a life-changing decision on a woman like that with no warning kind of undermines her agency.

PUT A RING ON IT? You can't get more patriarchal than the fact that, traditionally, the woman wears an engagement ring and the man doesn't. There's really no getting around it. Historically, it's a sign of ownership (men didn't used to wear wedding rings either, a convention that has thankfully died a death).

I was largely opposed to a ring until I was presented with a beautiful art deco emerald one. Does that make me a hypocrite? Possibly, but I realised it meant a lot to me. I joked about getting my boyfriend an engagement watch in order to even things out a bit, but haven't done so because he already has two watches he doesn't wear so why buy a third?

Not having a diamond pacified me enough so that I didn't feel I was buying into a sexist marketing trend (I was concerned about conflict diamonds, too). He also knew that I thought it completely idiotic that it 'should' cost three months' of his salary.

'We raise women to make them feel like the biggest diamond is a goal, and the idea of women giving men the ring is seen as emasculating, which is crazy and unequal,' says Orsolya Szabo, 31, a fashion stylist who, pre-empting that her boyfriend may be about to propose, told him not to bother putting a ring on it.

'The diamond tradition comes from an advertising campaign De Beers ran in the Thirties. They basically made up the fact an engagement ring should be a diamond so they could sell more rocks. Adverts encouraged men to buy the biggest possible (the bigger the diamond the bigger the love, apparently).

It's a cultural tradition that keeps women back.'

SAY YES TO THE DRESS? Also to be filed under: 'Oh, don't be so ridiculous.' Are we really going to continue to play along with the virginal white pretence in 2016? It's they're traditional and pretty, but I'm here to tell you that there is no obligation.

Personally, I'll be jettisoning the veil, as I don't like the symbolism, and will probably opt for a cream dress – I don't want any colour to broadcast my sexual history, even if people don't take the tradition that seriously anymore.

It's accepted now that the modern bride is free to wear whatever the hell she wants, in whatever colour. It's about expressing yourself, not feeling like you're a Disney World extra (though if that is your thing, go for it).

And for those of us on a budget, the resurgence of vintage and DIY fashion is a blessing. So often we're told it's the most important dress you'll ever wear (as opposed to the one you're wearing when they make you Prime Minister, naturally) so it often has the frankly terrifying price tag to match. My mum's making mine.

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HENPECKED. The hen do is traditionally organised by the maid of honour, who I'll be referring to as 'the best woman' because her marital status is irrelevant and she is my very best woman. Ultimately, I feel like the hen do is about managing expectations.

My best woman is a fellow feminist and will want to keep things chilled, but I have a friend who keeps talking about Greek island spas that cost £900 per person for the weekend. I'm not keen on this, and an 'L-plates, male stripper, penis lolly' bash is my personal idea of hell, but one of my 'unofficial bridesmaids' is set on it.

I'd feel uncomfortable if my boyfriend had a stripper at his stag, so I owe him the same courtesy. Plus, does anyone actually find Fabio abs and thongs even a tiny bit attractive these days? A nice weekend with my closest girls and a carload of booze at a cottage in the country would be ideal.

That is, until a man in a polyester imitation police officer's uniform knocks on the door because, 'Ladies, there's been a complaint about the noise,' in which case I can't be liable for my actions.

I'd feel uncomfortable if my boyfriend had a stripper at his stag, so I owe him the same courtesy.

OUT OF SERVICE. I don't want to be 'given away' because I'm not a pair of old shoes. My dad was completely cool about it, saying: 'I've never felt like I owned you.' Rather romantically, friends of mine walked into the registry office together, an idea that I may borrow. There's no rule that your father (or indeed anyone) has to escort you at all. At my cousin's French Catholic wedding, she was accompanied by her dad but, in a pleasing nod to equality, the groom was given away by his mum.

Furthermore, if you choose a Church of England wedding, you are free to adapt some of the script. So 'who gives this woman to be married to this man?' can easily be changed to 'who brings this woman…' which I dig.

Many couples have friends give readings or write the vows themselves. And, praise be to the feminist goddesses, the requirement that you have to promise to 'honour and obey' your husband is now long gone.

FREE SPEECH. There used to be a time when you'd think all women had been rendered magically mute, because only the men gave speeches. Sometimes, horror of horrors, the best man would use his speech to make crass jokes about the groom's sexual past. Not so now, in this world of sensitive modern men (well, mostly). I will certainly be giving a speech, as will my mother, mother-in-law, best woman, one of my 'unofficial bridesmaids', and anyone else who chooses.

FLOWER POWER. Traditionally, the woman who catches the bouquet is next to be married, hence the old cliché that women go feral and are willing to claw each other's eyes out to get to it. Out of respect to those friends of mine who run the length of the room in order to avoid the bouquet toss, I don't think I'll be partaking in this tradition.

Have you ever seen desperate, undignified women scrapping over a bouquet outside of a bad romantic comedy? Exactly.

Modern feminist wedding planning involves picking those elements that you feel totally comfortable with and discarding the rest. I don't think that any wedding can really be truly feminist, but why does that matter?

We can still be feminists while acknowledging the fact that, in a patriarchal society, not everything we do is going to be ideologically pure.

And what's a 'right' or 'wrong' bride anyway? A wedding is about you as a couple and presents an exciting opportunity to break away from the clichés of films, magazines and Pinterest boards to do what makes you happy.

Just as I was supremely unimpressed when my grandma fretted about my being a bride with bare arms, so should you be if anyone tries to foist their own idea of a wedding on to you, whether it's traditional or quite the opposite. Because doing your own thing is, ultimately, the biggest feminist statement you could make.

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