[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction
[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein Lau and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.
[00:00:34] Section: Episode level introduction
[00:00:35] Anna: Hello friends. Welcome back. I'm so glad you are here for this conversation about woman and weddings, the most expensive day of our lives designed entirely around traditions most of us know little to, nothing about. Which is typical for carrying out traditions. You do them because the people before you did it that way, and everyone around you is doing it that way. But my guest today is trying to put a stop to that. Not getting rid of traditions and certainly not getting rid of weddings, but uncovering truths about how social traditions impact people's lives.
I'm speaking with Katrina Majkut, author of The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride, and adventures is no exaggeration. The book is filled with her many crazy wedding stories, pop culture references and a deep dive into the history of our wedding traditions and how they help perpetuate things like the wage gap, street, harassment and sex and gender discrimination. It is not a wedding planning book, but it will teach you some ways to modernize outdated traditions and walk down the aisle as equals.
Katrina Majkut is a visual artist and writer who is dedicated to exploring and understanding how social traditions impact civil rights. Her research and findings are represented in her writing and through mediums such as embroideries and painting. The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride is her first nonfiction book and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, museums, and art galleries. In our conversation today, we talk about the gender socialization that begins long before the legal marriage age. We talk about the importance of language and the decision to change your name. Or not. We talk about bachelorette parties and the very minor differences and duties for bridesmaids and groomsmen. And we talk about the ways you can modernize a wedding without compromising on what's important to you. You can have your cake and eat it too. Pun intended.
The two quotes you will hear read during the interview are taken directly from her book, The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride. I hope you enjoy the conversation. And if you do feel free to share it, if you don't while you're still welcome to share it, we had some technical difficulties in the beginning, so we will just jump right in with the first question.
[00:03:26] Section: Episode interview
[00:03:27] Anna: I want to start with what story you were trying to tell in writing this book. We know that weddings and marriages are pretty sacred to a lot of people. You have said that marriage is our highest value cultural Institute, more than births and birthdays, education and even death.
So it's clearly a critical component of our everyday lives. So there may be some listeners that are apprehensive to hear anything faulty about such an important and fun event. And there may even be some that are wondering why weddings need feminism, because after all this institution basically revolves around women already.
So to start, can you set the stage and tell us what is the story you were trying to tell in writing this book and why do we need to look at wedding traditions with a feminist lens?
[00:04:20] Katrina: So I was trying to address the issue, the fact that this is something that everyone loves to do, they place so much important on it. And like you said, it's a huge cultural institution, yet so many people are stressed out about it. There's so many ways things can go wrong through planning through execution and I was also really, really struggling with going through it, which didn't make any sense because it's been explained to me since childhood, how to have a wedding and how to be successful at it. And yet I was still failing and I felt like a lot of other people were struggling as well. And so I wanted to address this and to figure out what it was we were all doing wrong for such a beloved and very explained cultural process. And so what I figured out was that most of the traditions for Western weddings are obsolete. They don't match modern lifestyles. And so you have these obsolete expectations of what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to act and they're conflicting with how we conduct ourselves day to day and how we have a sense of value in ourselves. And I found the solution was feminism.
Weddings are never really going to be truly intersectional and equitable if you don't dismantle these problems inherently within it. Using evidence to prove my points, which is looking at the history of all these traditions, looking at statistics, behavioral economics, social psychology, I thought we could really get at the heart at what was happening. And unlike a lot of other feminist books, I wanted to create solutions. I feel like there's way too much complaining about the problem and not enough call to action about what we can do next and how do we solve this problem for ourselves and other people. And so I wrote the book, covering the history and then the social impact, and then I offer solutions that are more equitable in the end.
[00:06:12] Anna: I think that's an important point to highlight in the very beginning that there is a toolkit for ways to continue having weddings and carrying on traditions. I mean, I know for me, I love a wedding, mostly for the music and dancing, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. So I think it will provide comfort to people to know that, you know, it's not about doing a way with weddings or with traditions, but finding another more equitable way.
[00:06:38] Katrina: Yeah, that was one of the pushbacks that I got the most when I was writing the book is that most people would accuse me of hating tradition. I love tradition. I am ethnically Ukrainian and tradition and our cultural practices are huge to our identity. And so I've been raised to really appreciate the things you do every day to honor your identity and where you've come from. And so I feel the same way about weddings and other rites of passage. And it's funny for people who say that because I'm a feminist, I hate tradition- one, that's just a stereotype that is counterproductive to moving forward, but feminism is this great tool to help you understand what it is you're doing and how to make it better. And I'm just not against progress in that sense, I'm all for making my experience of something, the best it could be.
[00:07:26] Anna: Yeah, and all for progress, which is to say that traditions can change, you know, as you've pointed out in your book, they have origins and they fluctuate. And I think we can all be so set in stone and rigid about how we abide by them but there's no such thing as a traditional marriage or wedding, because both have been evolving for centuries. For example, marrying for love becoming mainstream, just in the 20th century, before that it was all about creating alliances and building power. So I think your book is a very necessary reminder that what we do now is not what we have always done, and it's not the only way.
[00:08:03] Katrina: Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree.
[00:08:07] Anna: So we're going to start where it all begins with the proposal and the ring. But first can you tell us how are women conditioned to aspire to marriage? Whether that be the wedding ceremony or the marriage, or just the ring itself...
[00:08:24] Katrina: Yeah, so social psychology really starts to explain this and how men are sort of raised to be independent lone wolves and women are raised to think more about the collective and how they participate within it. You know, diametric opposites, and that kind of sets the stage for how we accept certain behaviors for men and for women.
So we're already raised in the beginning to think a little bit differently when it comes to community. And then that's also reinforced through media and religion and advertising. I grew up on Disney, hardcore Disney princess fan. And that's really what got me thinking about marriage and the happy ending in the first place.
That also makes me think of, I have two young boys, and so I'm doing Christmas shopping right now. And I am scouring the toy shelves to figure out what to get them. And the toys that are pitched towards young girls versus young boys are so opposite of each other. The girls toys tend to be fashion based, the color pink versus blue thing aside, the girls toys are softer. They're more about play in the home and the house and cooking. And the toys that my boys are getting advertised are all like trucks and science and dinosaurs. And these things just don't exist on the girl shelves. And so you already have these toys that are priming young women to think about the home and how they act within it. And so you're predisposing them to certain behaviors that just sets them up for wanting marriage.
[00:10:02] Anna: Yeah. I mean, it's a, it's a complex one. I think there's lots of factors that go into it and I think that through all these means women are taught that our value and our worth comes not from ourselves, but from our relationship to a man through the form of marriage.
And you don't just have the one side of the woman limiting her ambition and kind of aspiring to marriage, but then you have the other side where there's all of this unfair financial and social pressure placed on men, to find the right ring, to make the proposal the best day of that person's life. You mentioned in your book, a guy who took on $30,000 in debt to buy his fiance's ring. And I think this is about the time in your book that you started talking about benevolent sexism. Can you explain to us what you mean by that?
[00:10:53] Katrina: So benevolent sexism to put it simply is chivalry. And now a lot of people were like, well, chivalry, really, you know, what's so bad about it. Well first off kindness and courtesy is gender blind does not matter who you are, what your sexuality is, what your gender is, what your sex is, you should be nice to that person. But chivalry treats women differently. it is this idea that women should be put up on a pedestal, men should be taking care of them and treating them sort of like princesses, assuming traditional gender roles. And what's dangerous about this is that if I reject someone opening my door, paying for the date we're on or saying like, no, I don't need to be carried over to the threshold, that can be seen as me taking away men's masculinity, their leadership, their power. And so by you suing those gender roles, I'm the bad person. And people feel that it's okay to then punish me for that. And that's when hostile sexism pops up. So it's kind of a ying and a yang situation where you can't have benevolent sexism and chivalry without having hostile sexism. And that's how you understand that chivalry is about unequal gender roles, despite being, treated well or, so it seems. It's very, very deceiving. And so this is also dangerous because this whole idea of let me take care of you chivalry sort of sets up women to become financially dependent on men.
And this can become extremely difficult, especially if they need to get divorced. I think the statistic is when women get divorced, their lifestyle, and their financial level drops like 30%. Not only because of the wage gap, but because they've already participated in the self fulfilling prophecy where they've become more financially, dependent on a man as a result of this sort of behavior.
And pretty much every wedding tradition has benevolent sexism within it, from being carried over the threshold towards the ring, getting down on one knee is another example of benevolent sexism. Like it's everywhere, unfortunately, but once you realize what it is and why it's bad, you're going to see it everywhere, but it's a good thing so you can, be able to catch these little red flags and understand how you should be treated, because I can't tell you like how many bad boyfriends I've had where they would do something really lousy to me, and then they'd be like, oh, but baby, I'm so sorry. I love you. You know, here's some flowers. That's a really good example of benevolent sexism and hostile sexism. It creates this dynamics of like, well, he's treating me good now, that excuses the bad behavior before. And it just sorta puts you into this unhealthy relationship status where you're not really being treated as well as you could be.
[00:13:41] Anna: It's so insidious because it comes off so positive, but it implies this inferiority that's based on a lack of competence and a need of help and protection. And your book talks about other long-term effects such as, as you've kind of alluded to, perpetuating unhealthy or abusive relationships or women embracing it being less ambitious in their careers and as you say, it becomes a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. And I know that not everyone is like that. I'm sure there are plenty of women who like their door held open for them and are ambitious about their careers, but that's what makes it so insidious as a whole. I saw this research paper recently that looked at hostile and benevolent sexism across 19 countries and they found that not only is there often a strong correlation between hostile and benevolent sexism, as you said, but they also discovered that benevolent sexism was a significant predictor of nationwide gender inequality. So in countries where men were more likely to endorse benevolent sexism, even when controlling for hostile sexism, men also live longer, were more educated, had higher literacy rates, made more money, participated in politics more.
So the kind of warm, fuzzy, nice feelings that might surround acts of benevolent sexism come at a cost. And that cost is often actual objective, gender equality.
[00:15:11] Katrina: Yeah. And, you know, and for the people who are still like, I like having my door opened for me, I'll just keep on using that as my example. I just want to reiterate that kindness is gender blind. They can still do those things for you. You just do them back. It's not a one-way street whatsoever. And you know what, returning those acts of kind ness makes you feel good too and you're not losing anything, you're actually gaining a lot more, by doing away with chivalry.
[00:15:39] Anna: I love that way of thinking and looking at it, that kindness doesn't have a gender, so we should all just open the doors for someone else when we want to.
So, kind of along those lines of, there might be some people that say they want to have their doors open for them, they want to be proposed to, or they choose to wear a diamond because they like diamonds, not because Disney or society has told them to. In your book, you address this by talking about choice feminism. Can you tell us what is choice feminism and how does it play a role in these proposals and really all wedding traditions?
[00:16:15] Katrina: Choice feminism is taking this idea of the freedom of choice, which came about in the third wave of feminism, that is specifically applied to reproductive rights. This is still a very important narrative, the idea of reproductive rights in the United States, this is something we're still really working on and hangs in the threads, but choice feminisms takes this concept of their freedom of choice and applies it to everything.
This exists in pretty much all those sorts of cis, heteronormative, wedding traditions, where if a woman chooses to take a man's name, then that's her choice and you should respect it, and it's feminist. Except she's not considering all the different influences that leads her to that choice.
What I realized is that there's no such thing as free choice because we're all conditioned by religion, by our family, by our upbringing, by our education, you name it, it's all preconditioned for us to choose a certain way. And the wedding advertising as to like how to choose certain things is very strong. So most people execute choice feminism thinking that they're acting as like true feminists, but choice feminism doesn't protect you from choosing your own subordination. And this is hard to decipher if you're not familiar with the history of these traditions, the social impact of these traditions, but also the spectrum of these traditions. So I talk about women proposing in the book and women proposing doesn't often happen. And I kind of explore this, like, what is it going to take for women to be proposers more? And women proposing to other women is going to be that example of this is, look, this is a woman proposing. This is, this shows you that it can be done.
And so if we all lived in a world where these privileges were available to everyone and you had as many examples of women proposing as men proposing, then you're making a decision to propose within a more equitable system. And right now we don't have that. So when all of these women are saying, I made these choices, this is my choice. It's still done within a biased system right now, unfortunately. We still live in a patriarchal world. There's no escaping it. And so we have to be really mindful about what we choose. It's not so simple and clear cut.
[00:18:31] Anna: Yeah and if women keep choosing to being proposed to that's not women's power, that's just maintaining the status quo. And as you say, I think we have to really look at the structures and the systems, because if people are making decisions within unfair limits, then that's not really freedom of choice of any kind and focusing on a women's choice really diverts attention and conversation away from the oppression that drove women toward those choices in the first place. So I think that's why it can be so dangerous. It's distracting.
[00:19:07] Katrina: Ya and that's not something that's really discussed anywhere. I really struggled with some of the concepts when I was like, you know, this just doesn't feel right to me. And, my girlfriends and other people would be like, no, no, no, this is the way it is. This is fine. And then you learn about choice feminism. You learn about benevolent sexism and how they relate to each other. And it was just like that aha moment. Never ever had these things ever popped up in my education, my sex ed, the books that I had read, and they were just so eyeopening to learn about these concepts and I wish people discussed it more, you know.
[00:19:41] Anna: Yeah. So if the decisions that we're making are within these unfair limits, and within this system that is probably going to take a while to change, then how do you think, how can our choices be rooted in what we actually want? You know, how do we go about making decisions? Does this mean we can never choose the traditional way?
[00:20:04] Katrina: So I do make the points in the book that you can have your cake and eat it too, and still be a feminist. It just takes a lot of education and involvement in the process. And willingness to accept that the thing I'm participating is not necessarily like the healthiest or best one. I think Roxane Gay's book, Bad Feminist really gets to that.
She's like, there's pop culture that I love, and I know it's not feminist, but I still absorb it. And like I said, you cannot escape these systems at this moment. All you can do is be a better agent within them And that takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of strength, to try to be a feminist bride and push against some of these traditions or just even modernize them in a kind way, we'll still receive backlash.
So it takes a lot of constitution to say like, no, I believe this to be a better path and I'm gonna work to improve it, as opposed to keep on perpetuating this unhealthy practice. It's like your computer. You keep on upgrading your operating systems. So it runs smoother and you're happier with it. This should be able to happen with our cultural institutions.
[00:21:14] Anna: Yeah, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, culture doesn't make people, people make culture, so we should be able change it when it doesn't suit everyone in that culture.
[00:21:27] Katrina: Yeah, and you might be inspiring someone else to set off on their own as well and do something beautiful that's honest to them and who they are as well. So I know it's a struggle to be a leader within that space, but it doesn't mean it's not worth it.
[00:21:41] Book excerpt: “Semantics can seem like a moot point when there are bigger fish to fry, however big revolutions can’t happen without micro changes. For all the things that keep women as disadvantaged minorities, language might be the most dangerous because everyone uses it every day and often too carelessly. Think about how easy it might be for women to fill at least 50% of congress and CEO positions if labelling them as bossy didn’t hold back strong women leaders. What if women learned not to say sorry for every little thing, such as when asking for a raise or promotion they deserve? What if men learned not to catcall women on the street? Healthy language is imperative toward equality. The best part? Everyone has the ability and power to use it toward positive effects.”
[00:22:34] Anna: So moving on, to one of the chapters was on language and linguistics. And you really talked about how language is dangerous because everyone uses it every day, but it also can be this powerful tool for that exact same reason. So as it relates to marriages and weddings, why is language and linguistics so important? And how do we see it play out?
[00:23:03] Katrina: So the power of language is that it is so commonplace. And so every day, that to use it poorly or incorrectly, or to use terms that, have hidden negative meanings to it. It's sort of reinforces the status quo. When you think about all the ways that you can change the world, you can make these big, big gestures, and it will help, but it will not be a hundred percent unless you edit the minutiae of every day and language is one of those things, it really sets a tone for how you perceive yourself, how you perceive others. And when I was getting married, the word wife just didn't sit well with me. It just felt very archaic. And, I didn't understand why that was. And so I started looking at the etymology of wife and it really came down to the fact that a wife has to help mate, it has always historically meant that is the woman supporting the husband, raising the children, staying at home. And I just didn't want that to represent my role in my marriage. And so when I started looking at the more equitable term, which was spouse, it just fit well. I think it would stand as a reminder of what kind of relationship my spouse and I would want to have, which is as equals.
At the time when I was writing this book, same-sex marriage was going through the Supreme court and there was Prop 8 out in California. And I realized that if I could use the word spouse, that would start to remove this idea that marriage was just for heterosexual couples, that it could be for anyone because the word spouse is gender neutral.
And that also sat really well for me. But on the other hand, you know, I was talking to a friend who, is a lesbian and she's like, well, I use wife because that challenge is this heteronormativity that is tied to the terms, husband and wife. And so she could use different language to affect her own type of activism within the space, but she was like, all for spouse. She was like, yeah, I have no problem using that. But in this current climate that we are right now, it's better for me if I challenge these norms by using it. You know, she was a disruptor within that space and that was important to social progress as well. That's just an example of how it can be used differently.
And I mean, there's lots of other ways in which language plays a powerful role within weddings, down to the term brides maid, which is someone who's supposed to be unmarried and not have sex. That's another way language is policing women's sexuality, versus bride matron. It can seem like a benign small thing, but if you change it just a little bit, it can create very powerful ripples. So I think it's worth exploring the nuances of it.
[00:26:01] Anna: Yeah, I think language is one of our most underestimated tools for social influence. I think really thinking about the words that we use, realizing that they have a much bigger impact that they really do matter is, is really important and crucial points, I'm glad that you address that in the book.
[00:26:20] Katrina: Yeah and when it comes to men within Western weddings, most don't even think about changing their name. That is a pressure that's just put on women mostly. And I get so many brides that come to me who are like, I put so much thought into whether or not to change my name and I decided that it's okay if I change it. And then I go, well, what did your fiance say when you asked him to consider taking your name and they just are like, what?
Which is the most rudimentary step that you can take when considering name change, everyone should be considering this adjustment in their lives, because it's a big one. You've had so many accomplishments, so many important moments and events in your life with your birth name, that to change it just because of marriage under this idea that it unifies you, I just don't think it's true. Especially if you look at the divorce rates. But the fact that it's not a two-way consideration is a major red flag to me. And most men that I talk to have not even thought at all about changing their name. They're just like, that's the thing women do.
And I really talk in the book about considering the spectrum of name change. So on one end, you have patronymics, which is when women change their name to the men's name, and then on the other end, you have matronymics which is when men take women's name, this almost never happens. It's so rare that there are no statistics on it And so a lot of women who are like, well, I hyphenated my name, I adjusted it. And it's like, well, let's put this on the name change spectrum. In the middle you have what I call neutronymics which is absolute equality of the names. And this is not a term that existed at all, I had to create the term. And so when you talk about one sided hyphenation or one-sided name change, it's not neutonymics.
It's an attempt to be more equitable, but it's not really there because it's still not including the men's side in creating more of an equitable relationship. It's tricky to navigate it just because people still aren't talking about this issue, but I think if you can end in a place with your fiance, we are equally considering name change, together with the understanding of all the biases that come toward it and all the peer pressure, it comes with women changing their name, I think that's a great sign of what will be a healthy marriage because it's complicated politics, to be honest. So many people, when they get down to discussing it, realize that they have very strong opinions about it and all their friends and their family have very strong opinions about it. Names are very powerful.
[00:28:57] Anna: Yeah and not only do people not understand, but they can take serious offense. You pointed this out in your book and I've been on the receiving end of it, just saying that I think a woman should be able to do whatever she wants. I've had someone come back, basically yelling at me that that's not right and telling me, well, you took your dad's name, which I find to be a kind of odd argument, but I can't stand when I read an invitation or hear a couple announced as Mr and Mrs. John Smith. I mean, she's given up her last name and now she has to give up her first name as well. She's just completely erased or it's normal, you know, we expect that of women to just become the identity of the person that they're marrying and then anything outside of that is abnormal, causes offense, people don't understand...
[00:29:49] Katrina: That's a really good example of how these small traditions that seem benign to most people really set a stance as to who's the leader in a relationship, who's meant to be the dominant one. That's another way language has been used to subvert women's identities. And I was raised in a time where women are supposed to be equal to men, but then you get these cultural institutions that are just really slowly chipping away at that concept and really sort of undermining it, like what you said, how you're announced, how does name change work, all these women are receiving kitchen items for the house because that's their domain, you know, not outside of it. So it just doesn't match up with how women operate today in their modern lives.
[00:30:34] Anna: Absolutely, not to mention, I can't recognize any of my friends on Facebook or I can't find them because all their names have changed and I can't keep track of all these changes, but all of the men in my life, I will always know, but the women get lost to history.
[00:30:49] Katrina: Yeah. I was just at my 20th high school reunion and reconnected with an old friend and she was like I'm not changing my name, I have my PhD, my name's all over my accomplishments. No way in hell am I going to change it, and I was like, oh, that's awesome. She really took a stance and she's like, no, I'm proud of my accomplishments just because I'm getting married and I want to create like a unit with this other person doesn't mean I have to disappear. I'm still important, and that's okay. And if my spouse can't recognize, the importance of who I am and the accomplishments behind it, then that's the wrong person for me.
And when I was writing this book, I was trying to think about all the counterpoints that everyone would have. And so many people would argue saying, well, saying I'm going to be misses, his name makes me immensely happy. So why can't that be my truth and an okay path as well. And that gets back to the choice feminism where, you know, you're already predisposed to want to be Mrs. His name, to want to be, sort of, consumed by his identity to give up yours in the name of unity and this idea of family.
[00:32:03] Anna: Absolutely. So moving on to a few, other of the traditions I want to talk about. The wedding industry was estimated to be worth $72 billion in 2016. And we know that as the tradition goes, it's mostly the bride side of the family that is footing this massive bill. So where does the tradition of bride's parents paying come from?
[00:32:28] Katrina: So that comes from dowries. And again, it gets back to this wage gap issue where women were not expected to be educated or have professions. And so they were financially dependent on their families. And, when it was time for them to marry, which their family probably arranged, they would pay for like the rehearsal party as a thank you for taking our financially dependent daughter. But we understand that she is just going to be depleting your resources for the rest of her life. So here's a dowry.
And then even wedding showers are a little bit of an evolution of the dowry as well. You know, you'd have the dowery and trousseau. So it would be like the dowry is the money, the trousseau is like all the trims and fixings that a woman would need to be a wife and establish a household. So that's kind of where the dowry is in a modern sense.
But they're all connected to the wage gap and the fact that women are not expected, but accepted as the financially dependent one that doesn't earn as much money.
[00:33:28] Anna: And, you talk about how this practice in the West originated from dowries, but how this really pales in comparison to those that are found elsewhere in the world, still today. So can you tell us how these Western traditions tie into other dowry traditions, such as those in the Middle East and Africa?
[00:33:49] Katrina: Yeah. So wage inequality is a huge issue across the United States. And in more conservative countries that forbid women from getting educations, that really still stick to the idea that women's places in home and as a mother, dowries are still very prevalent, they're also called bride prices. So a dowry is when the bride's parents gives money to the groom and a bride price is when the groom pays for the bride to become his wife. And so a lot of this is tied to child marriage, which is a horrible thing because it's usually done for women who are barely entered puberty. They usually engage before they even enter puberty and then they wait to get officially engaged until after they've hit puberty too much, much older men.
And one of the other difficulties with the dowry in these places is that it can be associated with honor killings, which are this idea that if a dowry is too small, the groom's family or the groom can receive shame on the bride's part and they will, and the nicest case is that they just ostracize or outcast her. In other instances, it's not just related to the monetary dowry but also if they just think she's not a virgin on her wedding day, that they'll either stoner to death, they'll throw acid on her, basically killing her so their son is single again and can remarry or saying like she's no good anymore. And they just cast her in the streets after they, disfigure her. And there are some other things that they can do sometimes they'll force her into prostitution or, into drug dealing to help subsidize what they think is not a large enough dowry. So there is a very seedy side to the effects of a dowry, in other parts of the world. And you know, child marriage still exists within the United States. It's just something that is, not widely publicized and regulated, even though it's illegal in most states.
[00:35:48] Anna: Absolutely. I think you did a really good job in your book of really tying this all together at how these seemingly benign traditions in the West stem from this misogynistic history and perpetuate a misogynistic present for so many women just depending on the country and the culture. It's all tied together, but we don't often zoom out enough to see this much bigger problem for women elsewhere in the world, to see the full picture and how it's all connected and this type of thing comes up more than once in the book, and coverture is another big one under this category. Could you tell us what that is and how that ties into our present day traditions?
[00:36:31] Katrina: Yeah. So coverture is this British law dating back to way back when, that said that wife and husband were one and that person being the husband. It was actually never officially law in the United States, but it was such a strong cultural practice that people just assumed it was the law of the land.
And so they created other laws, working around this idea of coverture. I talk about this as a good example, with the name change. Lucy Stone wanted to keep her name. She was a suffragist and when she petitioned at the Massachusetts courts to do it, they were like, no, you have to change it, it's the law. And it turned out, it wasn't actually the law that she had to change her name to her husband's. And so they're like, oh, oops, we're going to create a law that says you have to do it because everyone's already doing it we practice coverture even though it's not official. And coverture while it's never been a law here, is embedded in a lot of our cultural practices.
You already brought up one where you're announced as Mr and Mrs. John Smith, when you walk out. That is coverture all the way, where the woman's identity disappears and it just becomes the man's identity. And this became really problematic, in the late 19th, early 20th century, because of inheritance laws. Because of coverture, a lot of women couldn't inherit their husbands estates, it would pass them and go straight to the kids.
So a lot of women would be sort of destitute and just rely on whether or not they had a good relationship with their children or the male heir that, got to inherit the state and everything, but it pretty much prevented women from having a legal identity. So, there are some tales, like if I murdered someone, my husband would stand trial. If I stole something, my husband would go to jail. Women just had no legal right or legal identity because of coverture.
[00:38:21] Anna: If I earn money, my husband gets to keep it. That's another one.
[00:38:25] Katrina: Oh yeah, absolutely.
[00:38:27] Anna: So the introduction of Mr and Mrs. John Smith, and then how else do we see this play out in weddings? I think you said who is going to give away the bride and vowing to obey your husband and all kinds of language that we hear throughout the ceremony.
[00:38:42] Katrina: Yeah, I think coverture is sort of interweaved with this idea of benevolent sexism, where we're letting men take the lead on certain things where we are perfectly capable of doing them as well, or returning the act, out of kindness.
Under coverture women were expected to take men's names. This not only was believed to unify a household, but it showed that away belong to a husband that she was married. But what was more important about that is that the kids had the husbands name. If the kids didn't have their husband's name, they were considered bastards because then people assumed that they were outside the marriage, which wasn't okay.
And so if the kids had the husband's name, they started to have a few more legal rights. And that includes like the inheritance thing that I was talking about, where the wife couldn't inherit because she had no legal identity, but the kids, particularly the male heirs, could inherit from the husband because they shared the name.
And so you have this, perpetuation of coverture throughout the ages where it's like, well, the men get certain benefits over the women, under these frameworks.
[00:39:46] Book excerpt: “Bridesmaids are expected to show up to everything – the bridal gown fitting sessions, the engagement party, rehearsal dinner, bachelorette party, and wedding shower. Then they are expected to pay for their own uniform and beautification, be on call 24/7 in case of a mental breakdown, then cure said mental breakdown and keep their own to themselves, because nobody wants to add to the bride’s stress level. And of course, be available for non-wedding related events because the bride needs a break from it all. Is it all part of a sisterly comradery, and I’m incapable of being a team player? Consider that a groomsmen’s responsibilities are much shorter than a bridesmaid’s, they just need to pick up their tuxedos or suits, which are rented, throw an epic bachelor party, and show up for the wedding. Groomsmen aren’t burdened with the expenses or emotional expectations that bridesmaids are, making it hard for groomsmen to disappoint a groom. Isn’t that a double standard for two jobs that are held in equal esteem?”
[00:40:54] Anna: So I think most people will be thrilled to hear you very much approve of bachelorette parties or hen do's as they are called in the UK. You say your book that, you know, these are actually a sign of parity and progress since they've only been around for 20 or 30 years, as opposed to bachelor parties, or stag do's as they're called here in the UK, which have been around since ancient Sparta, about 2000 years. So men have had their celebrations a hundred times longer than we have. So it's great that we have them and that we can continue carrying on with them, but on the subject of bridesmaids and groomsmen, we have a slightly different story. Can you tell us where the idea of bridesmaids and groomsmen come from and what do you see as the problem with how things are done today?
[00:41:46] Katrina: Right, so bridesmaids comes from this idea that there are these demons that want to cast bad luck onto the bride. And I believe this stems all the way back to Roman times. And so the bridesmaids used to dress like the bride as diversions to it. So, everyone's like you can't wear white to a wedding, because you're taking away the attention from a bride. Well, that's what bridesmaids were supposed to do originally. And that was for, making sure the bride remains lucky or at least not unlucky.
But with grooms men, this is a little bit more insidious. So groomsmen in like Medieval times were the partners in crime for when a man sort of kidnapped a woman from a nearby village and raped her, i.e. consummated the marriage and the groomsmen stood watch basically, and watched the horses.
So that's the origins of it. Not very nice. Today, luckily, that is not their purpose, but I think there's still a lot of masculinity, like very typical cis, toxic masculinity associated with the bachelor party. I've definitely had a few friends that have admitted to not being so, kind or well-behaved on their own parties because again, you know, when we talked about earlier in the podcast that men are taught to be lone wolves, that their behavior doesn't affect the group, that sort of sets the tone, that they can go ahead and do whatever they want and that social propriety doesn't apply to them. And you see that a lot within bachelor parties, not to say that some don't behave well, but there is that culture that sort of the rebel rousing that still exists today.
With bachelorettes who choose to do that because of the history and how, short-lived that they have been this idea that women can go out party, celebrate express their sexuality is really an advance. And women's standing within society because the behavior that occurs on most bachelorettes seems to be very unseemly. My mother never had a bachelorette party and a lot of her friends admitted, like that's not a thing that they did, they had luncheons, which were essentially the wedding showers. That was your gift, you got to prepare for marriage while your fiance went out and, you know, went to a strip club. That was what they were allowed to do. And that was sort of the dynamics that have evolved over time.
[00:44:04] Anna: And then what about the actual wedding itself? The responsibilities that come with being a bridesmaid versus the responsibilities that come with being a groomsman?
[00:44:13] Katrina: The differences in responsibilities are great. Men basically just need to show up and be clean and put on whatever suit they're supposed to wear for the day and take them on the bachelor party. There's not much to it. Whereas bridesmaids are expected to do a lot to help with the planning, to throw a few parties, to show up to the dress trials. The women's work is real.
And the expectation that women are supposed to be doing all these domestic things to help their friend prepare for marriage is still real. It shows that there's still a gender division of labor in terms of what men are expected to do and what women are expected to do.