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Weddings and Unquestioned Traditions

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Here you can find some of my brief thoughts and earlier blog posts. Most of my writing is now available under the "Published Pieces" tab.

Weddings and Unquestioned Traditions

Anna Nti-Asare

Weddings. What wonderful, exciting, emotion filled, and… odd events. They’re interesting to me, they cost immense amounts of money, and they induce insane levels of stress. While at the same time, they can produce happiness, encourage coming together, and abound with celebration. I’ve been to and been a bridesmaid in three weddings now, my older sister’s, then my brother’s, and most recently one of my best friend’s - Three very different weddings that varied in size, location, and cultural influences. Following these experiences, I realize I have a lot to say about the whole tradition and decided to write these thoughts down, in case anyone agrees or disagrees with them, in case someone might find them informative, humorous, or simply thought provoking.

I begin with a question - Why do weddings always seem to become so much more about other people instead of the ones getting married? In the three weddings I have participated in, it seems that the couples’ desires are often overlooked even when they are taking on the majority of the expenses. Things become about mom and dad, aunts and uncles, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and most of all, the unquestioned traditions that bind couples to additional expenses and sometimes-superstitious paranoia.

I have many discomforts regarding some of these traditions, and here are just a few that immediately come to mind: I don’t really like the fact that during heteronormative engagements it is only the bride-to-be who wears a ring (typically a beautiful one) but still a symbol to show others she is taken. I mean, let’s think about what the purpose of this ring really is. If it’s to show that she is loved and adorned by her partner, why does it not also happen the other way? Just to add some brief history, according to Reader’s Digest the first historical record of engagement rings came when the man tied cords made of braided grass around his chosen mate’s wrists, ankles, and waist, to bring her spirit under his control. The notion of symbolizing property with the ring carried forth into modern day traditions. While I’m sure grooms today do not buy rings for this reason, and I myself love singing along with Beyonce’s “if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it, oh oh oh” it is still important to know some history and question the remnants of the original intention.

 I am also uncomfortable with the idea of a father passing on his daughter to her husband by “giving her away.” While I see the cuteness in the tradition, my discomfort comes from what seems like a trade between the father and the groom, again, the exchange of ownership over a woman and her body. According to this amusing Buzzfeed post, weddings indeed originated as a transaction between the father of the bride and the groom. “This is directly where we get the tradition of the father walking the bride up the isle.” Furthermore, I don't know how I feel about the changing of a last name, the permission that is given to the “groom” to kiss “his bride”, nor the announcement of Mr. and Mrs. [Insert the man’s full name]. I suppose I just do not like the idea of starting off a marriage with what some might consider blatant patriarchy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I picture myself getting married in the future as most people do (another interesting point since marriages are not doing so well in the US specifically, yet most still believe that marriage is a crucial part of our existence…). I like the notion of celebrating love, all kinds of love, and the desire to share this with friends and family. I like the idea of choosing my favorite cake and getting a big portion of it fed to me, I like the idea of declaring my commitment to a person for everyone to see. But, if and when I do get married, I’d like to know more about some of the traditions that make me stop and think, so that I can decide whether or not I am comfortable with them… Or, figure out how they might be adjusted to align more with my, and my partner’s, values.

For example, in some cultures it is normal for both parties to wear the engagement rings “in Brazil, both parties wear the wedding band on their right ring finger during the engagement, then switch the band to their left hands after the wedding.  Similarly, there are many cultures where neither party wears a ring at any point during the engagement or marriage.” (Quora.com) Other changes are just a matter of wording and some can be interpreted differently than the tradition originally intended for. If my dad does walk me down the isle in the future, I won’t necessarily consider myself part of a transaction, for instance, or maybe I will ask both of my parents to walk with me. I encourage you to learn more about other wedding traditions even those that are just strange and not necessarily patriarchal - such as bridesmaids and groomsmen originally being decoys for the bride and groom, dressing alike in order to confuse evil spirits from targeting the actual couple (crazy huh?)

To close, this post isn’t just about weddings, but instead about the need to always question the routines we participate in and the messages we perpetuate in doing so. Weddings are just a good example to start with because they are considered such joyous occasions; you might not immediately think to question them. I’m not sure if/when the day will come that I choose to tie the knot with another person but I will continue to think about and question the norms until and after that day arrives; so should you in this instance and in others.