This morning, I was treated to the above image on Twitter, which sparked equal amounts of laughter, curiosity, and social criticism. Edith-Anne, you are now officially my patron saint.
I started pondering courtship, historically, as in this showcase of marriageable skill, and my own experiences and confusions about courtship, romantic love, and marriage. This has proven to be quite a lot of heavy lifting for me on this rainy, cold Monday morning, though I suppose this is ideal weather for sitting and pondering.
It’s easy enough to look back at 18th and 19th century courtship rituals as being antiquated and even silly, but I’ve also been hard-pressed not to take a look at our own cultural expectations and wonder if we’re still stuck trying to emulate an out-dated idea of what it means to partner ourselves in marriage. Marriage, after all, has historically been the rite of passage in which a woman is given from her father to her husband, and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us have partaken in some framework of this ceremony; walking down an aisle, perhaps being “given away”, also perhaps in a white dress. I was not above this hoopla, and in the planning process found myself torn between “tradition”, or probably more likely social conditioning, and trying to find my way as a modern burgeoning feminist (everyone’s favorite dirty word). In fact, I’d go as far to say that it WAS my wedding that really opened my mind to feminism.
In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done a traditional ceremony. I wish my partner/husband and I had either walked into our ceremony together, or we had skipped that part altogether. The words exchanged to honor the day and our commitment were lovely and didn’t follow and sort of standard script; we put a lot of thought into what was said. Obey, this gal shall not. But, alas, I was wearing a white dress, and was confused about what I wanted our rings to be. I think, for me, the rings were the hardest part (more on this later). Otherwise? After the ceremony, we had a really fun party filled with family, a few friends, lots of great food, some adult beverages, and dancing. My personal goal on my wedding day was to dance myself sore, and I’m happy to report I achieved this tenfold. I think we all want to celebrate our love and commitment, so I am 100% pro-wedding, but it’s the party that meant the most to me. The rest of it made me wildly uncomfortable. What can I say? Like Edith-Anne, I did not cotton to the stitching.
If you’ve read any of Jane Austen’s novels, you have a better sense of what courtship meant as a woman, the performative aspect of gaining a husband, and the financial necessity for you as a dependent social creature to do so. Marriage was largely a financial arrangement, and for the most part marriage for love was seen as immature and impractical. Marry someone to better your station in life; love could be fostered (hopefully) afterwards, but if not at least you were socially secure. In some ways this social stigma still remains. Men seem to be more easily accepted as perpetual bachelors, women have a lot more explaining to do should they chose a life unwed; couples who partner without marriage still struggle for the same legal rights as those couples who do, or who are able to, marry. (I don’t mean to create a hetero-exclusive conversation, but in addressing marriage ceremonies historically, it is necessary to acknowledge that they did begin as a union between a man and a woman).
In some sense, we still want marriage to be a financial arrangement. Marketers create “guidelines” as to how much a man should spend on an engagement ring for a woman (some factor of his monthly salary), and the expectation is that we will be presented with a ring when our hands are “asked for” in marriage. There is still an expectation, even if in gesture only, that a woman’s father will be consulted before she is. My husband and I skipped the whole engagement thing altogether. We mutually decided we wanted to get married, and then had fun telling everyone we cared about. While I know the general modus operandi is free-flowing, “do whatever makes you feel good”, I thought I wanted a fancier-looking ring, even though I’m 100% not a diamond fan, but what I have found over the course of almost five years of marriage, is that for me? Wearing something that looks like the financial symbol makes me feel all kinds of weird. I feel most empowered and on equal ground when I wear my simple, silver wedding band.
I suppose this was a really long-winded way to say, Edith-Anne, I hear you, girl. I hate those stitches too.
*Sarah’s note: I tried to verify the validity of this sampler/image, and I’m sad to say that it seems most likely to be a joke, i.e. something someone made and is selling. But hey, love the sentiment.