Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing, is getting hitched. Her Web wedding announcement came around the start of the year in a blog post paired with a cheeky graphic reading: “Congrats on the engagement! I’m sure you’re eager to see this hashed out for weeks in your comments section” — and was it. There were just so many questions for a feminist bride-to-be to consider: Will you wear a white dress, be “given away,” use gender-neutral language in the ceremony, get flowers from an ethical company, use tree-free paper for invitations, provide only sustainable foods for your guests, wear a garter, toss a bouquet, exchange wedding rings, marry in a church, marry in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage, protest the hetero monopoly on marriage by having an unofficial ceremony, take his last name, hyphenate your kids’ last name?
Now, roughly two months later, Valenti has posted an exceedingly thoughtful response to the ensuing debate over her nuptials, and weddings in general. She’s keeping her name, hyphenating her kids’ last names and wearing a non-white dress that she purchased at a store that donates all profits to a charity, she said. Valenti also explained that she had considered “not getting married until everyone could” but ultimately decided to “use our impending marriage as a pro-active way to talk about same sex marriage among our friends and family, and being mindful of the inequity in every step [of] our process.” She’s even asked all guests to donate to a pro-gay marriage organization instead of buying a wedding gift, planned to make charity donations instead of offering party favors and decided to speak about marriage inequality during the ceremony. Then, she solicited more thoughts, more debate.
I finished the post and thought rather cheerily (to the tune of that Billy Idol song): It’s a nice plan for a non-white feminist wedding, yeah! But, while I was singing that delightful little ditty, others were gnashing their teeth and banging on their keyboards. All of Valenti’s thoughtful and transparent consideration about the details of her wedding, and how to “find ways to subvert [troubling traditions] or add a little dash of feminism,” led Kathryn Jean Lopez to call her a “feminist bridezilla” on National Review Online. (Watch out, next she’ll force her bridesmaids to stop shaving their legs!) Another conservative blogger, whom I won’t be linking to, declared this “the death of feminism,” made a dig about her “impressive rack” and included a photo of her fiancé with a caption referring, again, to Valenti’s secondary sexual characteristics. Yet another blogger simply concluded that Valenti’s looking at the ceremony “as Princess’ Special Day” — the political considerations and openness to commentary, debate and suggestions are just a front! Several commenters then questioned her fiancé’s sexuality and declared him a “Beta male pussy” (because a real man wouldn’t put up with a feminist).
Clearly, Valenti wasn’t asking for input from these people. (In an e-mail, she referred to the whole debacle as “feministbridezillagate.”) I asked Lori Leibovich, editor of indiebride.com (formerly feministweddings.com), for her thoughts on the matter. “I think the people who take issue with feminists like Jessica getting married are the same people whose perception of feminism is completely warped,” said Leibovich, a former Salon editor. “They are the people, mostly conservatives, who think that being a feminist means that you love having abortions, you hate men, and you do vaginal self-exams for fun, therefore you shouldn’t want a wedding.” In this skewed view, of course Valenti is a hypocrite, because they haven’t the slightest clue what she stands for in the first place.
It isn’t just delusional conservatives that are passing the judgment, though. I turned to a co-worker who is currently planning her own wedding and she said: “We hate brides. We hate them.” Tell the stranger next to you on the subway that you’re marrying and they’ll show a sudden investment in your wedding; decisions over invitations and place settings are made into grand social and political statements. Then we shake our heads at “bridezillas” who treat it as the high-pressure event that we’ve collectively made it into. Conservatives and liberals, misogynists and feminists — we all seem to love (to radically differing degrees) to pass judgment about brides’ choices. Changing your name? Ohhh, you’re betraying feminism. Walking down the aisle alone? Your poor father. Wearing white? You’re bowing to the patriarchy. No matter how hard you try to be politically correct or traditional, you won’t be able to please everyone.
So, obviously, the answer to the question Valenti posed in the headline for her engagement announcement — “Does the personal always have to be political? (And can’t it ever be private?)” — is a complicated one. But by attempting to make it personal, albeit in a public way, she’s making a political statement: There is no one, feminist-approved way to tie the knot.