Feminism and The White Wedding: Fourth Wave Feminism and Wedding Etiquette
Cassandra Bryant, BA Communications Salem College 2018
Feminism has been a constant movement since the first wave in the 19th century. Women have battled for their right to vote, to work, to get a degree, and to break gender roles and be viewed as equal to men. Feminism happens in waves because each movement has warriors whose generation overlaps with the following. These waves cause concern among feminists as each generation wonders if the one to follow is going to “undo” the blazed trail that’s been set. It is discussed that America is currently experiencing a fourth wave of feminism, dominated by social media use as a platform of discussion. Throughout each wave of feminism, there has been one constant: marriage. Even GenX feminist Ani DiFranco was subject to backlash from her fans when she married Andrew Gilchrest in 1998. On her live album Living In Clip, the artist says, “I just got, kind of, distracted” in response to the love-filled harmonies she’d released in place of angsty, politically themed songs. While DiFranco didn’t explode in the media in a lavish white wedding dress with a long white veil, her marriage was a shake up for the third wave feminists. Feminism and wedding culture have had a difficult time coexisting because wedding media tends to prescribe gender roles to women and men and support a patriarchal society. What is crucial about the fourth wave of feminism is that the goal is to eradicate gender roles and promote equality of men and women. Through research, it is shown that wedding media has a long history of distributing the task of planning unevenly while excusing men from carrying their weight in the process. While America wades through a fourth wave of feminism, gender roles continue to be eradicated throughout society. The only place that seems to be committed to denying the changes of social norms is the wedding world. Wedding culture masquerades itself as changing with society, but the underlying message celebrated by wedding propaganda is that the bride is encouraged to be herself and do whatever makes her happy, as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the wedding traditions that have been prescribed to American women for over a hundred years.
Feminism Waves and Accountability
Feminism has its first wave in the 19th century as women sought the right to vote. The second wave was a social movement growing out of the 1960s, pioneered by feminists seeking equal rights (Purvis, 96). Sexual identity was the focus of the third wave of feminism, beginning in the 1990s with Generation X. A fourth wave of feminism is occurring in the United States right now, with gender as the center of the narrative of social change (Diamond, 215).
Feminism occurs in waves and each generation has concerns about whether or not the generation to come after them values the efforts put forth by the preceding (Purvis, 95). Each wave of feminism was to battle something different so it’s comprehensive that overlapping generations would be fearful or frustrated in seeing that “younger women may take for granted the rights that the women’s movement had won for them” (Purvis, 108). This can lead to feelings of “feminist fraudulence” (Sharp and Weaver, 299) where some feminists have anxieties about not being as thorough of a feminist as the previous wave.
As feminist family scholars, although our research programs have different substantive foci, at this point in our careers we both are attempting to problematize larger cultural discourses and structures, such as accepting and resisting conditions of partnering and mothering, including the premises and terms of heteropatriarchal romance and the “Standard North American Family” (SNAF) ideology (Smith, 1993). (Sharp and Weaver, 303).
It’s important to note that feminist scholars look to resist heteropatriarchal romance, the very thing that bridal media seems to be prescribing. As the feminist forefront approach the age or desire to marry and begin a family, the find themselves with feelings of fraudulence and straddle second and third wave feminisms in attempt to account for their own feminist framing (Sharp and Weaver, 306). Present day society has yet to evolve into a perfect post-patriarchy society. This makes it difficult to identify and live as feminist. (Purvis, 103). The fourth wave of feminism is difficult to define because it is presently evolving, but it is noted that “a utilitarian approach emerge[s], one that refuses clear definition and one that resists the constraints of earlier feminist frameworks” (Phillips, 1131). The feminist journey can be an uphill struggle, but it can be simplified if the demand for accountability and feelings of fraudulence were minimized.
Etiquette and Advice Columns for Women, Feminists, and Men
Etiquette and advice columns have been the basis of social and family behavior since the late 19th century (Wehrle and Paoletti, 92). Evolving into the 21st century, there continue to be advice and etiquette columns for men and women. Before even choosing a mate, mainstream magazines provide “advice” from the perspective of the opposite gender. Lori Kogan and Julie Kellaway of Colorado State University examined advice columns from Maxim and Cosmopolitan to determine whether or not these columns promote gender stereotyping. The scholars noted that gender stereotyping is prominent in both magazines. Sexual objectification of women is the underlying message in columns directed towards men. “This sexual objectification of women sends the message to women that relationships are obtained through sexual activity and that women’s primary role is to satisfy men’s sexual desires (Estrich, 2000)” (Kogan and Kellaway, 37). This objectification teaches women that their role is one of presentation (Kogan and Kellaway, 38).What is dangerous about this is young people look to these “advice” columns to develop a framework for the heterosexual dynamic. “When working with couples, an understanding of the interplay between men’s unrealistic expectations of women’s physical appearance and women’s own quest for physical beauty in perpetuating destructive relationship patterns is paramount” (Kogan and Kellaway, 44). There appears to be no chance for men and women to begin the next stage in their relationship as equals because the courting process begins with the concept that a woman’s power is her physical appearance.
Williams and Jovanovic of California Polytechnic State University conducted a study about heterosexual “friends with benefits” relationships among college students. They framed their study using feminism as the cultural backdrop for identifying gender roles in theses types of relationships. The age group surveyed in their study is presumably the same demographic that reads the magazines studied by Kogan and Kellaway, so the correlation is to see how people who read these advice columns move into intimate, commitment-free relationships.
The idea that friends with benefits (FWB) relationships may express heterosexual female sexual agency and liberation is a theme increasingly affirmed by popular media in the United States (Taylor 2013). Yet academic research exploring the motivations and satisfaction associated with these relationships is more mixed, suggesting that these forms of intimate relationships among emerging adults at United States colleges stem from complex origins and have a variety of outcomes (Williams and Jovanovic, 157-8).
It grows complicated when the double standard of sexuality is examined more closely. Similarly to how Maxim and Cosmopolitan prescribe gender roles by placing the value of women on their appearance and sexual appeal, there is a double standard that exists where women can be labeled as “sluts” or “pathological” simply for partaking in the same sexual behavior as men (Williams and Jovanovic, 160). Based on the responses by those surveyed, the goal for woman is to either experiment sexually and without consequence or to hope the relationship moves towards intimacy and romance. Men, however, were more likely to engage in a FWB relationship because of the simplicity. With magazines like Cosmopolitan writing pieces titled “Could your boy friend ever fall for you? You’re buddies now–is there a chance for more? How to know what he’s thinking” (Oct. 1999, p. 64; Kegan and Kellaway, 53)), women don’t have a chance to enjoy a FWB relationship the same way a man could because she’s prescribed phrases like “fall for you.” Contrarily, Maxim publishes pieces with titles like “From girl friend to girlfriend: when you look at her, you think, babe. When she looks at you, she thinks, buddy. It’s about time she started thinking Bosom Buddy” (March, 2000, p. 74, 76, 78). The Maxim article contains the line “Now to get her to jump you . . . Go out and get drunk together. A little alcohol can shake her inhibitions . . .” (Kegan and Kellaway, 53). The contrast in language and what it suggests starkly perpetuates a clear gender divide in expectations about a FWB relationship.
Etiquette, Advice Columns, and Gender Roles for Brides and Grooms
Assuming a woman survives the patriarchal world of dating following the “advice” given by relationship columns, the engagement and wedding is what follows. With this comes an entirely new realm of advice columns and expectations. “Many people view weddings as a specific event that is conducted in a precise way, but they are unfamiliar with how a wedding comes together and look to the wedding industry for advice” (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 102). Advice and etiquette columns for brides began as early as 1880, with Ladies Home Journal and the New York Times being two of the most popular and highly regarded (Wehrle and Paoletti, 1990). From 1880-1910, women were concerned with what was appropriate to wear to a wedding. In this time, society was attempting to comprehend how to properly mourn during wedding season. “The etiquette manuals say it is both unlucky and inappropriate to wear black at a wedding: ‘all friends, even the widowed mother, should lay aside their mourning for the ceremony, appearing in colors’” (Wehrle and Paoletti, 85). From the earliest bridal etiquette and advice columns, the primary focus is on the appearance of the bride. This suggests that the most important thing about a wedding is the woman as a physically appealing object who meets all socially acceptable ideals.
As bridal and wedding media evolved away from Ladies Home Journal’s focus on the bride not wearing black (Wehrle and Paoletti, 1990) into including the groom in the wedding process, it is discovered that this primarily enforces rigid gender roles. “The bride is categorized in two ways: as a physical object who had to be pampered and cared for… and the meticulous planner “superbride” with CEO management skills” (Engstrom, 68).
Gender messages and roles are entrenched in society and culture; it is important for people to be aware of these messages in order to make informed decisions about whether to perpetuate these roles in their own relationships… Information about the wedding ritual may not only guide the bride and groom in the planning of their wedding, but they may also provide important messages about roles and responsibilities in the marriage itself. (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 100).
A wedding is a joyous time where, ideally, two people join together their lives to create a new family unit and celebrate with those closest to them. Because a couple may seek advice for how to host such a life changing event, they consult etiquette and advice columns and wedding media. A content analysis of bridal books performed by Angie Besel, Toni Schindler Zimmerman, Christine A. Fruhauf, and Joanna Pepin of Colorado State University discovers that advice given to engaged couples maintains and promotes inequality in the planning of this rite of passage. “Information about the wedding ritual may not only guide the bride and groom in the planning of their wedding, but they may also provide important messages about roles and responsibilities in the marriage itself” (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2009). This begins as early as the engagement, where the man initiates the next stage of the relationship by asking the woman to marry him. “The wedding ritual is so embedded in culture that it is difficult to have a wedding without perpetuating some patriarchal values” (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2009). Upon conducting their content analysis, the scholars discovered six themes present in thirteen wedding books. Focusing primarily on wedding details, women in weddings, and expectations of women in weddings, the scholars noted that women were expected to handle all aspects of planning while maintaining patience, good communication, stress, and consideration of other people’s feelings (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2009). The content analysis showed brides portrayed as stressed, overemotional, and primarily responsible for all details regarding their wedding. There was prevalent dialogue about wedding details stresses, nerve-wracking rehearsal dinners, and insisting the bride will be stressed and time starved, yet she should take time to pamper herself (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2009).
The same four scholars conducted a content analysis of twelve wedding books for grooms and discovered five themes: the groom should act as a manager, define masculinity through oppression, preserve masculinity, maintain traditional gender roles, and act as a social coordinator. (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2008). The books written for grooms define his role as “bride management”, where he is responsible for calming his frantic and overwhelmed bride. Stemming from that, the books suggest he take on the role of managing parents, particularly the bride’s. It was also noted that the groom acts as the manger of the money during the wedding planning process. This theme was found in all twelve books. Conclusively, the bride is responsible for every nerve-wracking aspect of wedding planning, and the groom is to placate her and her mother, as well as pay the bills “This flattery was often presented in contrast to the presentation of a materialistic bride” (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2008).
Women were presented as insane, overemotional, “alien creatures,” irrational, overo- pinionated, tearful, controlling, fickle, virginal, frustrated, whiny, indecisive, and generally prone to having a “meltdown.” Men, on the other hand, were depicted as being rational, in control, macho, unopinionated, interested in drinking and sex, educated, technologically savvy, and financially stable. (Besel, Zimmerman, Fruhauf, and Pepin, 2008).
In two separate content analyses, these scholars discovered an unequal distribution of tasks for wedding planning, relying on the woman to take care of it all while simultaneously flooding her with “advice” on how to handle the inevitable melt down she was likely to have in the process. Meanwhile, the groom was assigned the role of placating his bride, enjoying a bachelor party, and paying the bill. The gender roles are enforced again.
The Bridal Recipe
Women partake in weddings part of every day conversation. They discuss the bride, the décor, the music, and the flowers in great detail as part of socialization that occurs among women (Arend, 156). “The ‘big flashy show’ was prescribed in 1950s “Father of the Bride” when Ellie (Joan Bennet), the mother of the bride stated His wife, Ellie (Joan Bennett), responded with an urgent, sentimental appeal: ‘Oh Stanley, I don’t know how to explain. But a wedding – a church wedding – it’s what every girl dreams of’” (Shrout, 1). The white wedding has been viewed as a rite of passage for many Americans since the 1950s, despite the expansion of career opportunities for women suggesting that marriage would become less essential (Schrout, 4). Yet this ritual and all the multi-tiered wedding cakes and matching bridesmaid dresses continues to be an extravagant affair that costs the average couple nearly $37,000 (XO Group, 2016). “White weddings mixed institutional priorities coming from churches with cultural developments coming from new forms of consumerism, tied to very specific gender norms and sensibilities” (Schrout, 11). Focusing primarily on the bride herself, the entire planning process falls on her shoulders. In addition to producing the entire event, the bride is responsible for perfecting her “look” (i.e. “brand”) by consulting wedding media, celebrity weddings, and traditions that are important to her family so she can have that glorified moment of walking down the aisle with all eyes on her. The research on bridal and wedding media shows that they are effective in teaching brides how to express their individuality within the white wedding format (Arned, 146). Women are invited through bridal media to indulge their inner fairy tale. They can create the brand they desire, consulting bridal media and etiquette columns along the way.
“Wedding media borrows its concepts from brand management in attempt to persuade their consumers not only to theme, but also to strategically manage their weddings” (Winch and Webster, 51). What is notable about brand management is that it promotes individualism among consumers—namely the bride—as she creates the ideal wedding for herself. It is considered for her as a self because the planning and pressures of the entire affair are prescribed as the sole responsibility of the bride. As the bride embarks on her solo journey of planning the majestic rite of passage, she consults wedding media for advice. Despite the gender roles prescribed until this point, she may use this wedding planning as an empowering opportunity to showcase herself as the CEO of this blessed event. When she is inundated with bridal media, etiquette, and traditions, she may reach out towards finding her own brand as her attempt at presenting herself as the most incredibly and unique bride to ever exist. To brand oneself is to create a brand and because wedding media is hyperfocused on the bride’s physical appearance, what is desirable is the ideal bridal body type (Winch and Webster, 2012). The wedding has always been a spectacle but what is observed is the consumption of the branded image of the wedding and the bride. Brides seek out the uniqueness of celebrity weddings, as celebrities are notorious for creating their own brands. “It represents this wedding perfection as unique in being financially unavailable for its consumers, but at the same time suggests ways in which it can be emulated” (Winch and Webster, 57).
While women are seeking out the unattainable brands and bodies of celebrity brides, they fall into a cycle of pain and pleasure with the result of bridal beauty (Broekhuizen and Evans, 2016). With the attempt at creating her own brand, the bride falls into the painful discourse of beauty regimen and strict exercise and diet plan.
Much contemporary feminist literature around beauty and beautifying practices focuses on understanding beauty as part of a patriarchal society that makes women weaker and more vulnerable (see Jeffreys, 2005; Wolf, 1991). It is important to keep these overarching structures in mind (Broekhuizen and Evans, 343).
Broekhuizen and Evans interview five white, heterosexual women who identify as Christian. The women were asked to bring something with that evoked memories of their wedding day. One bride notes that the beautification process is what made her feel most like a bride. Another mentions that the dress is what made her feel most like a bride, commenting on brides she’d seen in “inappropriate” (flashy or revealing) bridal wear. (Broekhuizen and Evans, 338-343). As these women commented on their own bridal pain and misery, it is parallel to postfeminist sentiment, though the humor is absent from their reactions. Fun, humor, and irony have become part of postfeminist sentiment. It is worth noting that these empowered bridal CEOs are alone to create their brand and endure their pain and pleasure beauty rituals while it is suggested the groom enjoy a night of debauchery at his bachelor party.
In Engtrom’s content analysis of Real Weddings from The Knot (2003-2005), the scholar notes how bride Amy is experiencing physical pain as she is fitted for her tiara (Engstrom, 69) while the groom is casually doing his own hair while he sips a beer. Her future husband Mark even acknowledges her controlling nature when he explains to the viewer that, “Amy wears the pants. She’s the boss of the family.” Groom Mark is absent from the episode analyzed as he goes off-roading on motorbikes shortly before the wedding (Engstrom, 71).
Many of the women featured in Real Weddings from The Knot also have careers, successful ones at that. In this sense, the very inclusion of such facts can allow one to view it as feminist. However, the program gives even more time to depictions of these same women undergoing beauty regimens, being fitted for bridal gowns, and devoting large amounts of time to a clearly feminine project (Engstrom, 78).
With women stepping in to act as the CEO of their wedding, this may cast aside some of the traditions brides have deemed outdated or old fashioned, or just not fitting with their brand. “With the decline of traditional wedding values, ‘consumer-led culture has rushed to this gap to connect the pursuit of wedding perfection with the need to consume’’(Winch & Webster, 2012; Broekhuizen and Evans, 336). If the tradition is going to the wayside, bridal media has the opportunity to interject and fill the void with anything they can prescribe to the modern day bride. It is up to feminist brides to accept or reject what is prescribed to them by bridal media.
The GRRRL Bride
The National League for the Protection of Family Campaign began in the 19th century as an attempt to combat feminism and feminist agenda (Adams, 502). This campaign thought that women’s rights would result in the deterioration of “family” (i.e. heterosexual, middle class white couples where the woman stayed home to raise the family). ‘When women began to seek autonomy and freedom from coveture it was seen by some as a “crisis of the family” (Adams, 504). As waves of feminism occurred, it was apparent that the purpose of feminism wasn’t anti-family, but pro-autonomy. It is not on the agenda of feminism to dismantle family, but it is important that women are treated as individuals and equals with the authority to choose for themselves what they deem fit. Third wave feminists are the most racially inclusive than the two waves the preceded them. Because of this, they are better able to choose autonomy and family simultaneously (Adams, 523). Women want to make the choice to have a career in the workplace or at home. This radical notion allows women the right to have the wedding they desire while maintaining a feminist agenda.
The era of the “I Do” feminist has begun (Matrix, 55). Women have begun to express their freedom of choice and liberation from patriarchy and its traditions of coverture by (paradoxically) eagerly embracing (what appear to be) classic heteronormative and hyperconsumerist rituals of the white wedding and housewifery. This does not mean undoing the evolving of feminism, but embracing these traditions if they fit the relationship dynamic (Matrix, 57).
The I-Do Feminist can (allegedly) have her white wedding cake and eat it too: she can safely perform the time-tested rituals and age-old traditions that hopefully will lend stability, certainty, and significance to her wedding (and marriage, and identity as wife), while at the same time she can demonstrate her modernity and liberation by flexing her individual purchasing power (otherwise known as the bridal buying binge) (Matrix, 57).
The wedding industry sees an opportunity to appeal to “busy brides” by targeting “modern career women to provide insight into the relationship of feminism on the commercialization of people’s intimate lives” (Blakely, 2008).
Wedding planning is viewed as a domestic activity geared towards women much like planning Thanksgiving dinner. It is revolutionary that there is a branch of the wedding industry dedicated to working women who need the extra support of a planning agency that understands the necessity for balance. The current wave of feminism is not attempting to create “radical, revolutionary change” (Blakely, 2008), but to strive to be seen as equals. Because of the immense pressure put on women to orchestrate the entire wedding extravaganza while striving towards that vision she’s had for herself for that brief moment that all eyes are reveling in her perfectionism, women have to outsource. It is implied that rather than asking for the unconditional fifty-fifty division of responsibility from her partner, she must seek out other resources to accomplish all that is expected of her.
When she finds her outside source to assist her with the planning so she can focus on her career and bridal beauty routine, she has to decide what aspects of bridal etiquette and advice are important to her and what can be left behind. Lisa Walker of University of Tulsa notes that the saddest part about her coming out as a lesbian was that she wouldn’t get to have the lavish white gown and be a bride. “In spite of the problematic aspects of bridal fashion and beauty, many women, including feminists, lesbians, and women of color, dream about transforming themselves into that most fantastic creature, the bride. And the fantasy of becoming the ideal bride is not the exclusive province of biological women” (Walker, 222). This revelation supports the deeply ingrained sociological concept of what a bride should be. Walker notes that it’s important to consider fashion as an art form and a framework of society when analyzing wedding attire and bridal dresses. “There is no version of bridal beauty that does not implicate feminists in the social hierarchies that uphold dominant ideals of female beauty. But I have never been a fan of fashion abstinence” (Walker, 229). What is refreshing is the reminder that just like any delicate art form, bridal fashion is subject to criticism but also available to admire and appreciate.
In 2016, Julianne Guillard of University of Richmond noted that feminism was trending on social media pages. Women were the dominant users of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. Guillard noted that women are using social media as a platform for dialogue for gender roles, wage gap, harassment, and violence against women. What her study shows is that if women are dominating social media forums and discussing eradicating gender roles and patriarchy, we may be able to see the results of fourth wave feminism and weddings coexisting.
In order to obtain the information, documentary analysis was conducted with a focus on etiquette, feminism, wedding culture, gender roles, and patriarchy. Throughout that analysis, it is determined that many scholars have examined the parallels of gender roles and wedding etiquette, with traditions and customs perpetuating these inequalities. While acknowledging the existing research, a narrow lens was used to perform a textual content analysis of The Knot dot com’s increasingly popular advice and etiquette blog posts aimed towards an audience of overwhelmed brides-to-be. The twelve top trending blog posts from The Knot’s wedding planning website were examined through textual and content analysis to determine what, if any, patriarchal gender roles were prescribed through wedding media and whether or not a fourth wave of feminism was being embraced by the industry giant. The following will be a textual analysis of The Knot’s top trending blog posts from 2017-2018, reflecting on heterosexual/ heteronormative weddings (straight woman as the bride and straight man as the groom).
The textual analysis examines language and word selection, determining what exactly is communicated to a newly engaged woman, focusing particularly on how roles are prescribed to the bride and groom, as well as their friends and family. This information is analyzed and used to support the type of roles created by The Knot and the modern-day wedding industry.
The content analysis examines the underlying themes of The Knot’s most popular blog posts. These are the posts that have been listed as “trending” on the website from January 2017 to April 2018. The themes examined are gender roles, the function of the bride and how the bride is perceived, the implied function of the groom, and the importance of wedding traditions. This information is analyzed and used to determine whether or not The Knot uses its industry advantage to eradicate gender roles and embrace feminism.
The information obtained from both techniques is combined to analytically examine how The Knot creates a role for the bride that fits the following characteristics: overwhelmed, stressed, acting as the CEO, grateful, and unsure. There are posts that discuss the etiquette norms for the bride-to-be, bridal party, and mother-of-the-groom. There are also several posts that discuss the appearance of the bride from fitness and weightloss to what to wear. Finally, there are posts that suggest ways that a bride-to-be can overcome all of the concepts prescribed by their website and truly act as her very own CEO of her big day.
The Knot consistently has posts that are trending in popularity. Among those trending are several regarding etiquette. When a woman becomes engaged, it’s possible she has little to no experience with planning a wedding. Where to start? she wonders. In taking to the internet, the industry giant is the first thing to pop up in a search. The carefully selected word choice of headlines in trending posts function in a way that puts words to emotions that the bride-to-be has never experienced. Before the wedding occurs, some women wonder which traditions are outdated or antiquated. This would be an opportunity for The Knot to address some of the traditions and empower women to act on their own behalf and abolish them. Unfortunately, the miss the mark frequently.
In a post titled, “Are Bridal Showers and Outdated Tradition?”, The Knot goes forward to offer advice to brides-to-be on how they can honor an outdated tradition. The site says “bridal Showers don’t seem to be going anywhere soon” (The Knot, 2018) so it’s best that the bride-to-be get on board. Showers may have evolved away from the showering of home good “items that historically made up the bride’s dowry” (The Knot, 2018) as many modern brides have already established a home with their soon-to-be partner. The piece suggests that this is “a great way to upgrade your household goods, ask for cash gifts (hello, new car!) or even support an amazing charitable cause” (The Knot, 2018). This is an astute example of a bride looking to a modern day industry giant for advice on how to side-step old fashioned traditions only to be told that the tradition is more important than her wishes and personal preference. “If a shower is important to you (or the loved one who’s hosting), go nuts and have the shower of your dreams” (The Knot, 2018). They precisely incorporate verbiage that suggests the shower may not be important to the bride and if she has to sacrifice her preference for a loved one, she can at least have a dream-shower.
A suggestion for a dream-shower is a wildly modern idea of a Couple’s Shower, rather than the traditional bridal shower. In a post titled “Couple’s Shower Planning Basics”, The Knot states “if the bride and groom can’t bear to celebrate apart, get the whole group together and throw a shower with the guys and the girls” (The Knot, 2018). This opportunity to eradicate gender roles and not stick the bride in a room of tea sandwiches and dowry gifts is present, but The Knot misses the mark again. “The party still revolves around gifts, but they’re presented to both the bride and the groom, and generally they are a mix of home goods and guy-friendly gadgets” (The Knot, 2018). The list of bridal shower gifts suggested by The Knot includes things like cloth napkins, vases, nail polish, stand mixers, and picture frames. However, it is worth noting that the gift list for a coed shower consists of exciting and diverse gifts that seem to steer clear of decorating and stocking the kitchen (the woman’s domain) with theme and gift ideas focused on travel, pool party, backyard games, and bbq sets. When this focus on sharing the burden of this old-fashioned tradition with the soon-to-be husband has created a sense of appeal, The Knot then indicates that a coed shower may not be for everyone and the bride should “steer clear of [inviting] people who may be offended by a coed shower” (The Knot, 2018). The seed is now planted that what is appealing for the modern bride could mean that certain friends and relatives may have to be excluded from a portion of the prenuptial bliss. “Since the rowdiness factor can shoot sky-high when boys are involved, make sure the girls know the guest list includes folks of both genders” (The Knot, 2018). The Knot continues to prescribe gender roles to a bride (even a feminist bride) who may have been interested in quelling patriarchy by including all of their important friends and family in the wedding shower. She was given “permission” by the industry giant to break tradition but with a heavy serving of guilt that suggests the amount of discomfort others would feel if she dared venture outside the white-wedding box.
Another bridal etiquette question that comes up is whether or not she has to have a maid of honor. In a post titled “Do You Have to Have a Maid of Honor?”, The Knot says, “there’s no ‘clause’ in the wedding rulebook that says you have to have a maid of honor” (The Knot, 2018) which may give a glimmer of hope to the bride who wishes to have the type of wedding that is outside of the barriers of traditional. Rather, The Knot choose to follow up the statement with an astronomical list of traditional maid of honor duties such as “organizing and hosting your bridal shower, helping you do things like address invitation envelopes and shop for bridesmaids’ dresses, and collect and keep records of your wedding gifts” (The Knot, 2018). If that weren’t enough to deter someone from skipping the maid of honor role in their wedding party, The Knot goes on to say, “if you think you’re going to have time to do everything… and enjoy your wedding day to the fullest… well, good luck” (The Knot, 2018). The snide undertone from their new found wedding planning confidant presented in the statement would deter any bride from breaking etiquette and skipping assigning a maid of honor role. The Knot continues to concoct the perfect recipe for 100% dependence on them for bridal needs. If interested in side-stepping traditions, The Knot instead suggests that brides have two or three maids of honor. “There’s no wedding etiquette rule against it” (The Knot, 2018).
Assuming the bride has navigated the behavioral roles prescribed by the trending etiquette posts, she turns to The Knot to help find the dream dress. Perhaps she envisions an elegant pantsuit or a strapless ballgown. A post titled “Top Trends From Fall 2018 Bridal Fashion Week” shows images of attire that is projected to be popular in the coming fall. An array of traditional dresses are presented ranging from halters to split sleeves. The media giant offers the suggestion of a bridal cape instead of a traditional veil. While the modern suggestion is alluring, the photos presented do not portray bridal elegance. The cape suggestion seems like an “honorable mention” as an alternative to traditional bridal wear. The photos of flowing gowns and veils show “desirable” styles and classic, form fitting cuts. Yet the images of the dresses with capes show awkward and homely dresses. If the bride were interested in the new trend of halter dresses, The Knot says, “this more modest style also works for a range of body types, as it flatters the upper body and offers additional support for buster brides” (The Knot, 2018). The Knot also suggests a pantsuit for a bride “eloping, looking for a chic bridal shower ensemble, or just aren’t into dresses… a tailored pantsuit is perfect for city hall nuptials” (The Knot, 2018). The only time “modern” or “eloping” is presenting in the dress trend analysis is for the type of weddings that would be deemed “untraditional.” It is difficult to distinguish what The Knot means by “modern ceremony” though it could be a same-sex marriage or any type that chooses to forego patriarchal wedding plans that present a virginal blushing bride donned in a flowing white gown. The Knot seems to say with their presentation of the bridal pantsuit is that it’s a great fit for those who don’t prescribe to the template laid out in their trending media posts.
Perhaps a bride has fallen in love with a dress style. Linked directly to “Top Trends From Fall 2018 Bridal Fashion Week” is a post titled “Wedding Dress Styles Dos and Don’ts.” The Knot lays out a minefield of conflicting advice for brides. Each line seems to conflict the preceding such as “Do: Tie your look to your wedding location” followed by “Don’t: let your wedding style dash your dreams of the perfect gown” (The Knot, 2018). The most excruciating “advice” given by The Knot regarding wedding dress etiquette is the idea that the bride should “dare to defy tradition.” This would be an opportunity for The Knot to empower a bride-to-be in making a decision for her bridal-wear that allows her to banish the antiquated bridal concept that’s been fed to women since they were old enough to communicate. They go on to say, “just be sure to consult your officiant first to make sure she will be comfortable with (or, more importantly, will allow) your choice of attire” (The Knot, 2018). In each opportunity The Knot has to support any bride who wishes to defy tradition, they reel it back in quickly with the importance of the opinion and approval of those who continue to keep said traditions alive.
Another trending article regarding the appearance of the bride is titled “10 Beauty Appointments You Need to Make Before Your Wedding.” The first on the list is a dermatologist. The site says, “No matter what your skin issues, visiting your dermatologist will help get your skin on track before your wedding” (The Knot, 2018). The first stop on the bridal beauty shop is a medical professional who “can be the ones you call to zap the zit with a cortisone shot if an unexpected blemish pops up the day before your wedding” (The Knot, 2018). The utmost importance is placed on what might happen to her face (which is completely out of her control). The template is enhanced by the priority of flawless bridal beauty. The list goes on to suggest visiting an esthetician for laser hair removal for a “hair-free” honeymoon, a dentist for a teeth whitening procedure, and several beauty gurus like a makeup artist and hair stylist. At the end of the list is the suggestion that the bride visit a tanning salon because they “understand the idea of walking down the aisle in a white dress while pasty and pale is enough to make anyone shudder” (The Knot, 2018). This statement alone shrewdly indicates the positioning The Knot takes for any form of beauty that falls outside the roles prescribed to women since wedding media came about. The idea of pale skin being shudder-inducing supports the theory that anyone outside of an American Beauty template is not acceptable in the eyes of weddings guests. The bride should be hairless with flawless tanned skin and perfectly white teeth accompanied by impeccable hair and makeup. Women are choosing to get married and The Knot is here to guide them through the perfect recipe of a young, flawless, virginal bride that American wedding culture desires.
After all of the mandatory beauty appointments, The Knot is here for the bride’s fitness needs. In a post titled “6-month Wedding Fitness Plan”, the post opens with “Hey, we love you just the way you are. But…” (The Knot, 2018) and continues forward with a calculated template for already-overwhelmed brides to achieve acceptable bride status. The message sent by this “guidance” suggests that the woman who has taken on the gigantic role of wedding planning should be smaller as it’s more visually appealing. If a bride happened to stumble upon this post with less than six months to go, The Knot suggests hiring a personal trainer. After four months of following their step-by-step guide to physical bridal appeal, they say, “if nothing or very little has changed, you may need a more advanced program” (The Knot, 2018). With eight weeks to go, The Knot reaches to say, “with every crunch, squat, or curl, envision yourself looking gorgeous in your gown– you’ll get there” (The Knot, 2018). The implication is that “gorgeous” is still a destination and this overwhelmed individual who has reached out to the media giant for support and guidance hasn’t arrived yet is not only offensive, it’s patriarchal and slightly misogynistic.
At this point, the bride has acted like the planner, magician, CEO, and perfectly tanned and hairless eyecandy of a main event. Each aspect of etiquette and tradition has deftly pointed to her for final approval. The Knot has carefully crafted the perfect recipe for the bride to act as the CEO of her big day. The minute a woman becomes engaged, she is flooded with a series of emotions she’s never experienced before. As soon as the good news is shared with friends and family, a series of questions usually follow like “have you picked a date/ venue/ maid of honor?” The bride is inundated with questions she can’t answer so she might turn to the internet to look for guidance. In a Google search of “engaged overwhelmed” the top hit is a post from The Knot titled, “Just Engaged and Completed Overwhelmed? Read this Now!” (The Knot, 2018). These strategically chosen words are what a bride reads as she is experiencing emotions she don’t know how to identify. Women are told they are overwhelmed before the wedding planning even begins. The idea is prescribed in the very first article they’d select on The Knot. Human nature is to research anything that one is unfamiliar with, which is why a bride-to-be may take to googling. Throughout the post, there are key subtitles like “Stay Organized!” and “Set Aside Weekly Time To Plan” (The Knot, 2018). Each subtitle has a live link that brings the bride to one of their products that will help her with whatever they’ve just told her she’s going to need to do next (like the link to their exclusive wedding planner tool that organizes her venues, style, flowers, etc.). As The Knot suggests to “Divide and Conquer (While Communicating)”, there is a link to their tool that allows the bride and groom to build their own wedding website. This section of the website is the only time it is suggested that the work be divided between the bride and groom. Unfortunately, this is the only place that it is present. The eleven other pieces examined show no signs of dividing the work. Even through a post titled “Mother of the Groom Etiquette Questions Answered” (The Knot, 2018), several opportunities come up for the Mother of the Groom to help the bride. Yet when they address wedding day dress code, The Knot says: “Per general etiquette, the mother of the bride buys her wedding day outfit first… But if the groom’s mom doesn’t get word by the four-month mark, she should touch base with the bride-to-be about what to do” (The Knot, 2018). The endless list of “suggestions” seem to create a perfect prescription for a Bridezilla (a woman whose behavior in planning her wedding is regarded as obsessive or intolerably demanding). Each post has a daunting list of responsibilities for the bride only to follow it with posts like “How Meditation Can Help You De-Stress During Wedding Planning” (The Knot, 2017). The cyclone of bridal propaganda first prescribes an endless list of traditions, rules, etiquette, and tasks for the bride-to-be. Once they’ve created the perfect storm, the circle back to give her ways to handle all of the stress they’ve produced.
The Knot shines as a wedding media giant: the top trending posts on The Knot’s website create the perfect vortex for bridal dependency. Out of the gate, they play off her new and overwhelming emotions by giving her a to-do list with shameless plugs to other products they offer. The lists are endless and daunting and any one person could feel vanquished by the task of planning a wedding. As the engagement progresses, The Knot is there with endless antiquated etiquette tips that continue to enforce the outdated gender role of weddings being the woman’s thing and the men just showing up and paying. Each time The Knot appears to shift focus away from outdated traditions like bridal showers and mother-of-the-groom etiquette, it reels back to traditional importance and suggests the bride not stray too far. Society may be in a fourth wave of feminism, but it doesn’t look like napkin rings and kitchen mixers are leaving the “Top Bridal Shower Gifts” list anytime soon as far as The Knot is concerned. The bride can use all the tools they provide to really make her wedding her own, be her own CEO, and have the wedding of her dreams. Anything outside of their template is discouraged– or completely lacking in sources– so hopefully her dream wedding fits within the rigid gender roles of a patriarchal society that have been served to women in an engraved champagne flute for over a hundred years.
Adams, Michele. “Women’s Rights and Weddings Bells: 19th-Century Pro-Family Rhetoric and
(Reinforcement of the Gender Status Quo.” Journal of Family Issues, vol. 28, no. 4, 2007, pp. 501-528.
Arned, P. “Consumption as Common Sense: Heteronormative Hegemony and White Wedding
Desire.” Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016, pp. 144-163.
Blakely, K. “Busy Brides and the Business of Family Life: The Wedding-Planning
Industry and the Commodity Frontier.” Journal of Family Issues, vol29, iss5, 2008, pp639-662.
Besel, A., Zimmerman, T. Fruhauf, C., Pepin, J., Banning, S. “Here Comes the Bride: An
Ethnographic Content Analysis of Bridal Books.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy,
vol. 21, no. 3, 2009, pp. 98-124.
Broekhuizen, F. Evans, A. “Pain, Pleasure, and Bridal Beauty: Mapping Postfeminist Bridal
Percetion.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 25, no. 3, 2016, pp. 335-348.
Diamond, D. “The Fourth Wave of Feminism: Psychoanalytic Perspectives.” Studies in Gender
And Sexuality, vol. 10, no. 1 2009, pp. 213-223.
DiFranco, Ani. “Distracted.” Living in Clip, Righteous Babe Records, 1997.
Engstrom, E. “Unraveling the Knot: Hegemony, Gender, and Weddings in Mass Media.”
The Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 32, no. 1, 2008, pp60-82.
Guillard, Julianne. “Is Feminism Trending? Pedagogical Approaches to Countering.”Gender and
Education, vol. 28, no. 5, 2016, pp. 609-66.
Kogan, L. Kellaway, J. “Relationship Advice Columns from Two Popular Magazines:
Implications for Therapy with Women, Men, and Heterosexual Couples.” Journal of
College Student Psychotherapy, vol. 19, no.1, 2004, pp. 35-55.
The Knot. (2018, March 10). Are Bridal Showers an Outdated Tradition? [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/hot-topic-are-wedding-showers-going-out-of-style
The Knot. (2018, March 10). Couple’s Shower Planning Basics [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/couple-bridal-shower-basics
The Knot. (2018, April 17). Classic and Contemporary Bridal Shower Gift Ideas [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/classic-andcontemporary-bridal-shower-gift-ideas
The Knot (2018, April 5). Do You Have to Have a Maid of Honor? [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/do-you-have-to-have-maid-of-honor
The Knot (2018, February 21). Just Engaged and Completely Overwhelmed? Read This Now! [web log comment]. Retrieved from
The Knot (2018, February 8). Mother of the Groom Etiquette Questions Answered [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/mother-of-the-groom-etiquette
The Knot (2018, April 9). 6-Month Wedding Fitness Plan [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/six-month-fitness-makeover
The Knot (2018, April 9). Top Trends from Fall 2018 Bridal Fashion Week [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/bridal-fashion-week-fall-winter-2018-wedding-dress-trends
The Knot (2018, April 9). 10 Beauty Appointments You Need to Make Before Your Wedding [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/beauty-appointments-before-wedding
The Knot (2018, April 9). Wedding Dress Style Dos and Don’ts [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.theknot.com/content/wedding-gown-style-dos-donts
Matrix, S. “’I-Do’ Feminism Courtesy of Martha Stewart Weddings and HBC’s Vow to Wow
Club: Inventing Modern Matrimonial Tradition with Glue Sticks and Cuisinart.” Association Canadienne d’Ethnologie et de Folklore, vol. 28, no. 2, 2006, pp. 53-80.
Nolan, L. “Wedding Spend Reaches All-Time High As Couples Look To Make The Ultimate
Personal Statement, According To The Knot 2015 Real Weddings Study.” Xogroupinc.com, http://ir.xogroupinc.com/investor-relations/press-releases/press-release-details/2016/Wedding-Spend-Reaches-All-Time-High-As-Couples-Look-To-Make-The-Ultimate-Personal-Statement-According-To-The-Knot-2015-Real-Weddings-Study/default.aspx. Accessed 06 December 2016.
Pepin, J, Zimmerman, T, Fruhauf, T, Banning, J. “An Analysis of Wedding Books for Grooms:
A Feminist Perspective.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, vol20, iss4, 2008. Pp328-356.
Purvis, J. “Grrrls and Women Together in the Third Wave: Embracing the Challenges of
Intergrational Feminism(s).” NWSA Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, 2004, pp. 93-123.
Sharp, E. Weaver, S. “Feeling Like Feminist Frauds: Theorizing Feminist Accountability in
Feminist Family Studies Research in a Neoliberal, Postfeminist Context.” Journal of Family Theory and Review, vol. 7, no, 1 2015, pp. 299-320.
Shrout, Catherine Elizabeth. What Every Girl Dreams Of: A Cultural History of the Sacred in
American White Weddings, 1840-1970. Diss. Emory University, 2010, pp. 1-29.
Winch, A. Webster, A. “Here Comes the Brand: Wedding Media and the Management of
Transformation.” Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 26, no. 1, 2012, pp. 51-59.
Walker, L. “Feminists in Brideland.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol19, iss2, 2000,
Wehrle, L., Paoletti, J. “What Do We Wear to the Wedding Now that the Funeral is Over?: A
Look at Advice and Etiquette Literature and Practice During the Years 1880-1920 in America.” The Journal of Costume Society in America, vol. 16, no. 1, 1990, pp.81-88.
Williams, J. Jovanovic, J. “Third Wave Feminism and Emerging Adult Sexuality: Friends with
Benefits Relationships.” Sexuality And Culture, 2015, vol. 19, no. 4 pp. 157-171.
“Could Your Boy Friend Ever Fall For You? You’re Buddies Now–Is There a Chance For
More? How To Know What He’s Thinking.” Cosmopolitan, Oct 1999, p. 64.
“From Girl Friend to Girlfriend: When You Look At Her, You Think, Babe. When She Looks At
You, She Thinks, Buddy. It’s About Time She Started Thinking Bosom Buddy.” Maxim, March 2000, pp. 74-78.