A Feminist Twist on Wedding Traditions

By Heather
wedding traditions feminist alternatives

In my last post, I gave a brief overview of what it means to have a feminist wedding.  Essentially, it could have been summed up in four words: “It’s up to you!”

I want you to keep that in mind as I write this post.  Promise??? Okay good, now we can get started!  As I delve into the less-than-progressive origins of some of our favorite wedding traditions, I’ll also suggest some alternative ones that are a little more on the equal side.  But again, you and your future spouse can always enjoy the traditions for tradition’s sake, it’s your choice!




1. Giving the Bride Away

  • Origin: Typically, the father of the bride would “give her away” to her husband at the wedding ceremony, signifying a transferal of ownership. Originally, the bride was treated as property to be transferred among men, and usually had little to no say in the matter.
  • Alternatives: If your officiant plans to ask some variation of the question “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, state that you give yourself freely.  Walk down the aisle with both parents (or other parental figures), share the spotlight with your future partner, or strut your stuff solo!


2. Vowing to Obey One’s Husband

  • Origin: The groom would state that he would “love and cherish” his future wife, but the bride was required to “love, cherish, and obey” her future husband, since she was viewed as his property, and therefore, under his control.
  • Alternatives: This has pretty much been removed from most ceremonies nowadays, but feel free to cut it out entirely if your officiant hasn’t already done so.  However, if you would like to include it, make sure both partners are vowing to love, cherish, and obey one another in the name of equality.


3. Having the Groom Read Vows First

  • Origin: In the traditional “question and answer” vow format, the groom will respond first to each question, followed by the bride. If the vows are first read by the officiant, then repeated by the couple, it is called the “responsive” vow format, and the groom repeats the vows before the bride.
  • Alternatives: If you plan to use the question and answer format, take turns saying answers first.  For example, if the bride answers the first question before the groom, have the groom answer the second question before the bride on the second question, and so on and so forth.  For the responsive format, or if you plan to read your own personalized vows, you can switch things up by having the bride go first.


4. Wearing a White Dress

  • Origin: After Queen Victoria wore a white dress in her own wedding in 1840, white became the gold standard. A white dress became a symbol of the bride’s virginity, purity, and innocence.  This tradition isn’t as inherently anti-feminist as those previously described.  The “issue” stems from the double standard concerning virginity for men and women, as men were not expected to put on a display of their purity in the same way that women were.
  • Alternatives: Wear whatever color you would like!  You should feel beautiful, powerful, and comfortable in your wedding attire, so don’t feel the need to stick to a tradition that doesn’t suit you.




5. Limiting Speeches to the Groom, Best Man, and Father of the Bride

  • Origin: This pretty much boils down to the fact that men held the power at the time this became an established tradition.
  • Alternatives: If you feel comfortable, speak up at your own wedding!  Don’t just leave it to your husband to speak for the two of you if you have something you would like to say.  Also, have more women speak up at the reception like your mother or maid of honor.


6. The Garter Toss

  • Origin(s): There are a few different origin stories for this one:
    • Back when consummation of the marriage needed to be proven, the groom would toss an undergarment outside of the chambers of the newlyweds as a sign to the witnesses that the bride had been “deflowered.” (And you thought brunch the day after with your family was awkward.)
    • Snatching a piece of the bride’s clothing was also supposed to bring good luck, so the bride would toss the garter in order to escape the droves of grab-happy guests.
    • More recently, the groom will remove the bride’s garter in front of the wedding invitees (usually in a pretty cheeky way), then toss it to a group of single men. Whoever catches it is supposedly the next one to get married.
  • Alternatives: Well let’s just first be thankful that you don’t need witnesses to prove consummation anymore. As for alternatives, you could cut the garter toss out entirely if you and your partner don’t feel comfortable with it.  Or, if you still want to give the single guests (it doesn’t just have to be men) a garter to catch, you could simply use a ceremonial garter that isn’t actually worn by the bride.  *Plot twist* the bride could cheekily take off the groom’s tie or other article of clothing and toss it to the crowd.


7. The Bouquet Toss

  • Origin(s):
    • Similar to the garter toss, the bride would toss her bouquet to the guests to avoid being grabbed at, since having a piece of the bride’s wedding day ensemble was seen as good luck.
    • Now, the bride tosses the bouquet to a group of single women, and whoever catches it is supposedly the next one to get married.
  • Alternatives: Again, you could cut this one out to avoid ruining your bouquet or having to buy a second one to toss.  You could also invite everyone on the floor, and toss a small gift card or something else as a wedding favor.  Instead of tossing a bouquet to single women, you could give it to someone who is very special to you, someone who was instrumental in the planning of the wedding, or to the longest-married couple at the wedding.


Again, one of the key elements of feminism is the freedom of choice, so there’s no one way to have a feminist wedding.  If you love these traditions, then keep them!  If they make you cringe, change them!  Simply do what makes you and your future groom / bride feel happy and empowered.

Look out for my next post, which will discuss what to expect when planning a “feminist” wedding.

Until then, are you keeping these traditions or changing them, and if you are changing them, what are you doing?  Let me know in the comments!

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