Weddings: a feminist survival guide

From "giving away" to gifts to nuptial fashions, Rhiannon and Holly have ten tips for getting through a wedding with your feminist ideals intact.


There comes a time, usually somewhere in your mid twenties, when your friend mentions the word "fascinator" in a serious context and you don’t assume that it’s a bad use of grammar or a clever euphemism for recreational drugs. From then on, your life will be punctuated by the increasing demand to attend weddings - territory fraught with the complications of registered lists, bridal wear, and the sort of passive aggressive seating plans that were best left in the hands of your most bitter high school geography teacher. Wedding season is always something of a tricky time to be a human being, let alone a feminist. Nevertheless, it’s unavoidable. You will be expected to wish your friends and family well at various themed ceremonies, looking resplendent in pastel florals as you try to drink your overheads back in free cava. Now that gay marriage is to be legalised, it's looking as though we'll be attending even more weddings. You may even, one day, wish to plan your own. And, in light of a couple of recent marriages (somewhat mercifully, not our own), we’ve decided to put together a helpful guide to coping on even the most saccharine of Saturdays.

1. "It's your day"

Do not, under any circumstances, utter this phrase. Not only is it frequently used to excuse any megalomaniac tendencies that may be manifesting themselves on the part of the bride, but it's factually inaccurate: not only is it the groom's day too (gender equality should cut both ways, FYI), but the whole performance also belongs to the hundred of spectators (sorry, wedding guests) who have forked out hundreds and hundreds of quid to watch a lady in a lampshade cry.

2. "Giving away"

Once intended to signify the transaction of goods (woman) from one owner (father) to another (husband), the "giving away" shenanigans have become an almost compulsory nod toward patriarchal tradition (one Vagenda reader sent us images of actual father-of-the-bride cufflinks that were nauseatingly engraved with the borderline incestuous words "I loved her first"). It's understandably a conundrum for many brides who feel that they'd like to involve their fathers but aren't too keen on the whole "being treated as chattel" shebang. Happily the French seem to have found a solution, whereby the groom is given away too, but by his mother. Not a dry eye in the house, and equal too.

I mean, who cares about the pink seashell cupcakes? Photograph: kristen_a on Flicker via Creative Commons

3. The speeches

In case you hadn’t noticed, women aren’t expected to open their mouths publicly at weddings, even while the best man is encouraged to riff about laddish days gone by to his heart’s content. If there is no female presence during the speeches, we encourage you to offer your own services, preferably after a cocktail or three at the open bar. Everyone will look upon this as a loving and noble attempt redress to the feminist balance for the sake of the bride and her future. Probably.

4. A whole new way of doing fashion

This is where you start to come across magazine quizzes that ask ‘What’s your wedding style?’ The answer is always, always boring, a mixture of "muted shades" and "classic florals". This quiz is a conspiracy to once again box you in according to the size of your clutch, in a slightly different context to how they did it ten years ago ("What’s your fresher style? Preppy, cutesy, or boyfriend?") and will do in ten years' time ("What's your wifestyle?") The answer never comes out as "slutty", "commitment allergic" or "horny and jealous", not to mention that rarity of wedding "looks" - "the sassy, cool bridesmaid". If you've been lumbered with those duties and found your tentative suggestion that you pick your own dress instantly rebutted, then there's not much you can do except suck it up and disable Facebook tagging.

Releasing doves is an example of a silly thing to do at your wedding. Photograph: Getty Images

5. The running commentary

Remember what we said about the day also belonging to the guests? This is where it really comes into its own. As an attendee, it is your God-given duty to comment on and assess everything from the decorations to the music. Indeed, critiquing the minutiae (aka slagging off the "disappointing" quiche and declaring the stepmother's tears to be counterfeit) is the most enjoyable part of the whole experience.

6. Money

Whether you're the betrothed couple or the guest, after today you probably won't have any, which is why those in the latter group shouldn't feel too bad about stumping up for...

7. ...The present

Either opt for some mid-range kitchenware or, if you're really cheap, a scented candle with a conveniently unmarked label. Some people just all-out ask for cash nowadays, something that is seen as something of an affront by traditionalists but is eminently appealing to anyone who'd rather have a roof over their heads rather than fifteen fondue sets and a knock-off George Foreman.

8. The honeymoon

Considering that the average "stag do" now seems to entail a fortnight of playfighting with a cohort of strippers in a gigantic vat of vodka jelly in Vilnius, the honeymoon should either be defiantly short or unashamedly lavish. An overnight stay in the local Travelodge with fish and chips is appropriately hipster; as is a year-long round the world trip culminating on a cruise through the Galapagos Islands where you each save a giant turtle. Accept nothing in between.

Friendships have ended over what kind of flowers should go in the bouquets. Photograph: Marcel030NL on Flickr via Creative Commons

9. New technology for old tricks

Yes, the You and Your Wedding iPhone app really exists. Brides-to-be can now access real-time updates to this year’s trending centrepiece and the "perfect tiara makeover". It may be the making of you or your best friend’s wedding, but its existence leaves the impression that it could also potentially ruin your life. We've heard stories about group Pinterest boards set aside for brainstorming wedding ideas that have become so aesthetically conflicting that they have ended friendships. Don't be that person.

10. The crazy little thing

No, not the pageboy attached to your ankles by his milk-teeth or the pug with the ring around its neck, but LOVE. Granted, there are some dos where it's so painfully apparent that it's more about the day than it is the longevity, but it's those other weddings, the ones where you can tell that the bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) love one another to the point where they want to climb inside one another and reside there forever, those are the ones that make the heart swell. Either that or you're more pissed than you thought, innit. 


Exchanging rings. This is the easy bit. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses