Him: You don't even want to get married! Do all girls just naturally like planning weddings?
Me: No, you don't understand, I've had my wedding planned since high school because it was a *required class*! I've had the dress designed since then and even had a version of the dress made as my high school prom dress (which I still have in the closet, I'll show you later if you're interested). Obviously, if I really were to get married today, there would be some changes because I have some very different values since being a teenager (like not believing in marriage, for one thing, and being poly for another), but the reason why so many women have ideas for their weddings even before there is a prospective husband is because we're proactively coached in wedding planning.
Not everyone is forced to actually take a wedding class in high school. Some get it through their cotillion or sweet 16 parties or similar "coming out" parties that are really just mini-versions of today's weddings. Others just get it through their families. But I had sex ed every year from 6th grade through 12th grade, and eventually there's only so much biology to be taught on the subject. So they covered other related subjects.
One semester, our "sex ed" course was a self-defense class where I learned tae kwon do (not that I remember any of it, but I did flip a real assailant over my shoulder once, which was pretty cool). That class doubled as a P.E. credit. Another semester was a marriage and family planning course where we had to actually plan an entire wedding, down to calling venues to find out about how to reserve dates, developing color schemes, and making a budget. We were also randomly assigned various careers with certain incomes and had to plan a household budget with given criteria and limitations. The course ended the semester with one of those flour sack baby projects. And I also learned all the symbolism and significance to all those wedding traditions.
Did you know that the bride is supposed to have two bouquets? One of fresh flowers that she walks down the aisle with and then dries or freezes to keep stored forever and another fake bouquet to throw at the reception?
Him: What? You have to keep the bouquet?
Me: Yeah, along with the dress. That multi-thousand-dollar dress that you only wear once and then put in a box in the closet, never to see the light of day again. The flowers can get preserved and saved too. If you spent all that money on flowers, wouldn't you want to keep it too?
Him: I suppose. I just didn't know you were supposed to.
Me: So it's not a guy vs. girl nature thing, it's that I literally didn't have a choice. And even women who don't have a class to make them plan their weddings don't really have a choice. We're hounded by our family and friends, asked questions about our wedding plans that we have to answer, and when we're segregated into our respective gendered wedding parties, you guys are expected to go out and get rowdy while our "parties" are actually helping the bride prepare for the wedding. So even if I hadn't ever had that class, all I'd have to have is an invitation to a bridal shower or a close relative get married and I'd have been expected to help pick out dresses and florists and taste-test the cake and look at invitation fonts and discuss the hopes and dreams and expectations of the bride and her bridesmaids.
That bridal shower is pretty much all wedding planning and grooming. We give the bride wedding gifts that are supposed to help her with the wedding ceremony or the marriage after. The "games" we all play at these things are basically silly versions of wedding traditions that reinforce the cultural programming of weddings. Like dressing the bridesmaids up in toilet paper wedding dresses. That's dress designing reinforcement right there, even if it's silly.
Do you know the importance of choosing an invitation font? Or the seating chart at the reception? Or the consequences for having a more casual reception where there is no seating chart? How about the order of events? Do you know why, when you were a groomsman and you walked down the aisle with your bridesmaid, your linked arms were "wrong"? Do you know why that's important? And the cake, the topper for the cake is supposed to be saved too, frozen, and then eaten on your first anniversary together. Every little bit of the wedding and reception has to be planned out and it all means something.
Me: We are literally pulled into two different worlds and coached on different things. So, yeah, I have a wedding plan even though I'm ethically opposed to the government regulating my romantic life and philosophically opposed to most of the symbolism inherent in traditional marriage ceremonies (which, as I told Franklin, is subtly but significantly different from being "opposed to marriage" but it's too complicated to say all that so I summarize it as "opposed to marriage", but I'm not quite, not exactly). I have that plan because it's not really very likely to be socialized as "female" in this society without one. Even for us conscientious objectors or conscientious "modifiers", we can't be "conscientious" about it without looking into the whole concept of weddings and marriages and analyzing what we disagree with and why, both for our own introspection and also because we, as women, will be challenged on our objections so we have to really understand the subject in order to defend our position.
You guys just get to show up with a tux, or not. Even if you choose not to, you don't *have* to really examine why. You're guys. You could just be "a bachelor". But I have to defend my protest with reams of historical data, studies of sociological mores, piles of legal precedent or justification, and a degree in biology to counteract the false "evo-psych" bullshit that says I'm supposed to want to get married.
And even then, I'm still supposed to be able to describe the dress I would wear if I ever changed my mind.
Him: Huh. I didn't realize there was that much that goes into weddings.
Me: Yeah, it's not a "girl thing" in that we just like planning weddings. It's way more complicated than that. We don't really have much of a choice in whether or not we "like planning weddings".
In response to the inevitable "but I'm a girl and I didn't take any classes like that in school!" response:
I went to a private Catholic school, which held this class. But many public schools do have flour sack or egg baby projects so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they also have wedding planning mixed in there somewhere. Maybe in home economics class? I dunno, I'm told they don't have that class anymore, but they did when I was in high school, so it's not that archaic. Not yet anyway.
But, as I mentioned, we do have cotillions and bat mitzvahs and other religious or social practices where wedding planning sort of sneaks in there. Much of our "wedding training" is pretty subversive. A lot of us go to religious or cultural classes in addition to our public school education. I went to Catechism as a Catholic (religious Sunday School), for instance. The Filipino Catholics had cotillion training that I only learned about after I joined a Filipino church and was invited to someone's cotillion, where I discovered it was basically a wedding reception where they dismissed the importance of the "groom" entirely except to be arm candy for the girl whose party this was. She held "court" and everything.
But many, as I said, just learned about wedding planning through attending the pre-wedding events like the bridal shower. It's sort of an informal tribal-school learning session, where the bride is the main attraction and the elder women all gather around to assist and then instruct the younger women and girls on doing the legwork. I can't tell you how many times I sat at someone's kitchen table with a sponge and a stack of invitations, stuffing envelopes and listening to the older ladies all talk about the wedding and the symbolism and the etiquette and fielding off demands from the grannies to know what *my* wedding will one day look like.
So even before high school, it's not like my mother quizzed me on wedding rituals, but I absorbed a lot of this knowledge just through cultural osmosis by being around other women going through their wedding preparations. Which I was required to do as a "girl" as my mother, and then later myself personally, was invited to participate and celebrate in weddings, because the wedding activities were all segregated, with women attending bridal showers and pitching in to help and men attending bachelor parties and pretty much nothing else. Really, sometimes my upbringing looked like a movie from the 1950s without the poodle skirts.
Plus, as I mentioned, even when women do opt-out of the cultural expectations, a lot of the time they still end up knowing about weddings precisely because they chose to opt-out. Either they really looked into the subject and what they saw informed their opinions, or they started looking into the subject for their own weddings and got overwhelmed and just said "fuck it" and deliberately ignored the rituals. Either way, the guys still mostly had the luxury of just showing up without really having to learn much about the process they were either participating in or eschewing.
It should also be noteworthy that people who follow me online are kind of a self-selected group, particularly a group of those who break gender norms, and when I speak of gendered social programming, I'm speaking of cultural trends where it should be obvious that some individuals (especially those who follow me) would be on the outsides of the bell curve. Obviously I wasn't alone in going through these gendered normalization practices. I grew up in one of the largest cities in the world and was raised in one of the most populous religions in the world. While weird to my current friends and followers who follow me pretty much because we're all weirdos in these ways, my experiences growing up were still very common and are typical examples or illustrative of the sorts of experiences that shape the culture in which I live.
In the comments of someone else's share of my post, someone said they were glad they didn't grow up like me. I have a response to that which I think is kind of important. I'm noticing a lot of borderline horrified reactions, and I think that's kind of missing the point.
The point of my tale was not "poor me, I was forced to learn about weddings". The point was "poor men are excluded from this process and women are expected to pick up the slack so here is yet another example of culturally enforced gender discrepancy of emotional labor".
The learning of the wedding process wasn't the criticism. In fact, I believe I benefited from the learning process and that maybe classes like these should be taught more often - just without the gender role enforcement or heteronormative structure. Imagine what kind of cultural awareness we could be teaching our youth in classes that examined popular cultural traditions like weddings in-depth and challenged the students to understand why those practices are used and why they might want to keep or reject any given practice by having them plan and explain their own hypothetical weddings! Imagine how the entire wedding industry might have to change as a result of an entire generation of youth growing into marriagable ages where they have already examined and challenged the gender roles embedded in weddings and already examined the interconnected economic consequences for participating in the wedding industry! Imagine the generation after the "millennials" seeing the economic disaster that their parents are currently facing and learning about how we got to that point and how it affects even day-to-day decisions and larger decisions like the structure of our relationships, and then applying that knowledge to their own creations of their own relationships and futures!
There are much worse things than expecting children to learn and understand the culture in which they are expected to participate as adults.
Here's my comment:
I am glad to have grown up as I did. I learned a lot about my own culture, so that when I choose a different path, I have a very in-depth understanding of what I am choosing, what I am rejecting, and the whys of it all. I have a deep understanding of our cultural history and all the connections made over time and across cultures as imperialism and trade created influences on our own culture.
Knowledge is a good thing and I was fortunate to have grown up with people who embraced knowledge. It wasn't enough for my family and teachers for me to just adopt, say, wedding practices without understanding them and it wasn't enough for them to let me get to the stage where I would have a wedding without learning all the work involved in putting one on. My schools and the elders in my life wanted us to be prepared for adult life. They didn't want us to build these giant, unrealistic dreams of fantasy weddings, they wanted us to know how much they cost and how much work goes into them. They didn't want us to go out into the real world without understanding how checkbooks and credit cards worked and how much of our pay would go to essentials like rent and utilities.
I was better prepared to enter life as an independent adult than most of my friends who went to schools that didn't offer such instruction and I had a better understanding of why we culturally did the things we did than those same peers. No, the sad part is not that I learned all the stuff that I learned, but that men don't also learn these things and aren't expected to shoulder any of the burden while women are expected to know and do all this on our own (whether the women were given instruction as I was or not). As I told the person in the original story, if I ever was to have a wedding, my future husband would be an equal partner in the wedding planning because he would be an equal partner in the marriage. But thanks to culturally enforced gender roles, if I want an equal partner in this, it'll be up to me to educate him to the point where he *can* be an equal partner, and that's the part that is the problem, not that I'm already schooled in how to put on a wedding.