White Weddings are uh, White

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (26/10/2020)
Categories: | Inclusive Weddings | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Planning |
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White bride and groom kissing under bridal
                    veilThe traditional white wedding - what most of us in Australia think of as the "proper" way to get married - is a culturally loaded event. That it is loaded with patriarchal assumptions about gender roles is something that is reasonably well understood.

Nonetheless, churches, together with many civil celebrants, persist with delivering a marriage ceremony that, in cultural essentials, has seen no significant change since mediaeval times, and many brides and same sex couples either clench their teeth and obey the "tradition" or go along with it because they perceive it to be romantic.

That the white wedding is loaded with upper class culture is something we don't talk about, much. But really, other than contributing to blowing the budget and including customs taken straight out of upper class social custom, no harm done. Except for one thing. It is British upper class culture. Which means that the white wedding is culturally white, through and through.

In a country as culturally diverse as Australia is, we need to openly acknowledge this and have open and frank conversations about how ceremonies, services, and the media are very much skewed towards white culture when it comes to weddings.

This is not going to be easy. We are still at the stage in the wedding industry where anything, or anybody, that doesn't fit into the white culture box is deemed exotic. Invented traditions, such as the Sand Ceremony, are often falsely attributed to an indigenous or "long-ago and far-away origin" to give them some authority. And there is a distressing level of cultural blindness still evident. We haven't progressed much beyond tokenistic inclusion of people of colour in the marketing of wedding dresses, and celebrants who come from other cultural backgrounds tell me that they are still coming up against the assumption that their niche market consists solely of couples of similar background.

Cultural assumptions we need to stop making

Early in my career as a marriage celebrant I was in a group situation with other celebrants when a celebrant shared a story about a marriage he had recently solemnised. "I had to almost force them to kiss," he complained. A certain level of tutting ensued. But no-one commented that there is no legal requirement to kiss nor did anyone ask why he felt that a kiss was required. Eventually, I just quietly asked what the couple's first names were. The answer revealed the problem. Any PDA would be cultural anathema in their culture.

Many cultures (and it is not just religion that is in play, so let's get over "It's a Muslim thing") respect the privacy of romance. Many cultures view marriage, and by extension, a wedding, as a family matter, rather than an event focused solely on the marrying couple.

In the traditional white wedding we inherited from Britain, only the father of the bride is acknowledged. Indeed, historically only fathers of bride and groom were recorded in the marriage register in England and Wales. That changed only om 2019, when the law was amended to include details of both mothers. In many other cultures both parents are significant in marriage ceremonies and have a prominent role in pre-wedding ceremonies. As do aunts and uncles.

And then there is the issue of colours. Colours have both cultural and religious connotations that are by no means universal. Wearing a colour that has negative connotations can make others present very uncomfortable because it can be viewed as a malign wish or a bad omen for the marriage.

Weddings are about values

Weddings are about emotions, about feelings. We wouldn't marry in the presence of others if they weren't. that's reason enough to be aware of cultural differences. And while, on the surface, weddings are very much about traditions, they are also very much about values. The media makes hay out of bridezilla stories, particularly about outrageous demands made of guests, family, and/or bridal party by entitled brides. Such stories are perennially popular because they highlight what most of us would regard as more than a breach of etiquette. They reveal values, about politeness, rudeness, and unreasonable behaviour that most of us are socialised enough to reject.

In the conversations I have with the couples I marry we unpack issues of equality and how the traditional wedding ceremony needs to be redesigned to eliminate any and all overt and subliminal suggestions that there is a gender-based power differential between them. These conversations may reveal social justice and other values, particularly in their vision for their wedding as a whole.

But, almost invariably, when a couple is not 100% culturally Anglo-Australian I have to assure them that what the media feeds them is neither a legal nor a cultural requirement in this country.

This is a conversation I keep hoping will become unnecessary. But it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon. So we all need to do better.

Thanks for reading! Please get in touch if you have a story that illustrates a mismatch between assumptions about the traditional white wedding and your cultural reality or values. The beauty of an online blog post is that it is easy to add to.

Related information

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                        have the best ceremony ever
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