Though I typically rely on motion pictures and television to give me a real rollercoaster ride, emotionally speaking, sometimes I also get my kicks reading the opinion page.
So it was this week when I saw Kelsey McKinney’s op ed, “A feminist defense of bridezillas”, prominently positioned upon the New York Times homepage.
The title alone was enough to give me a surge of adrenaline; as soon as I clicked on the link, I knew I was in for a white-knuckle ride: “Just as a competent, civil presidential candidate was called a ‘nasty woman’ and little girls who show leadership skills are scolded for being ‘bossy,’ ‘bridezilla’ is specifically designed to condemn a woman who puts any energy and authority toward trying to achieve entirely reasonable goals.”
(Be sure to mark the “Hillary Clinton reference” square on your Contemporary Feminist Bingo card. Use of term “slur” in context of use of “bridezilla”? BINGO!)
McKinney went on to state that the considerable expense of modern weddings is another reason we should lay off on the ‘bridezilla’ talk: “the final bill now typically hovers around [US]$35,329. Turning that budget into a multipart, multihour experience is a job not unlike being the CEO of a small company.”
At this point I was hoovering popcorn like I was watching the latest Michael Bay disaster. Eventually we get to the inevitable “reclaiming” of “bridezilla” (please file with “nasty woman”, “bossy”, “frightbat”, and any other laser-cut Etsy femmo slogan badge of your choosing), and finally a call to treat brides who display bridezilla-like tendencies as capable, professional women.
I’ll let a storied internet superstar say it for me: no, no, no.
We don’t have to claim everything – every institution, every choice, every sexist epithet – as potentially feminist. As I’ve said before, and I fear I’m at risk of saying a million more times, declaring any act as feminist simply by virtue of the fact that one is a feminist runs the risk of turning contemporary feminism into Charlotte on Sex And The City yelling “I choose my choice!”
I understand that it’s nasty to call (most) brides “bridezillas”, given that like most of us they’ve absorbed centuries of propaganda about The Big Day and they Just Want It To Be Perfect. There are also groomzillas; I get that some men (some very powerful men) are praised for being “honest” when they crack the shits in public where “bridezillas” are called selfish or bossy for wanting to double check the royal icing colour samples.
(McKinney clearly doesn’t refer to any LGBTI-zillas although at least in the USA, for the time being, same-sex marriage is legal. An Australian attempt to rehabilitate the bridezilla trope, at this time, would be almost immoral.)
But As Feminists, we need to interrogate these institutions deeply rather than call for certain cultural phenomena that emerge from them to be read as expressly feminist.
Rather than saying “Treat brides like CEOs!” because weddings cost tens of thousands of dollars, why not dismantle the expectation that weddings need to be big-bucks bonanzas? Why not see late capitalism as a feminist issue? Why not question the act of marriage itself??
There’s no quicker way to have the scales fall from your eyes about the wedding industry than planning one yourself, as I did back in 2008. The marriage, as any of my highly entertaining accounts of dating in the intervening decade will indicate, didn’t eventuate – but the wedding planning experience was a money-leaking hellride through the worst excesses of capitalism. I still have cold sweats about it.
My then-partner and I were determined to have a small-scale, “budget” wedding, but before we’d made it past a very basic ceremony the total cost had soared past $5000. It only got worse from there. There’s truth to that adage that the very word “wedding” causes contractors and suppliers to whack a 300 per cent surcharge on everything.
(ASIC reckons the average Australian wedding costs $36,200; Bride To Be’s “Cost Of Love” survey in 2015 revealed a cost closer to $65,500. In an era of housing instability and general existential woe, either of those estimates border on the obscene; even outside of the aforementioned, there is literally no reason on earth to drop $65k on a party.)
Whatever my personal feelings about marriage itself after that experience, I’m certainly still not immune to the influence of the wedding industrial complex. One of my Sunday rituals is devouring the New York Times’ ‘Vows’ section (in the aftermath of which I feel a shame akin to Homer Simpson after he’s busted eating flowers).
Again, as feminists (yes, even those who have been sketching their wedding dresses since the mid-’80s) we have a responsibility to consider the lives of all women, and at this time in Australia not all women are legally free to marry.
(I would also prefer the countless millions that will be flushed down the toilet marked “postal vote” to instead be put towards frontline services for suicidal or homeless LGBTI youth, and I pray that a swift “yes” vote will start funnelling attention and funds towards such areas.)
Though I have no real interest in marriage (much less a wedding), until all people are free to choose whether or not they believe in marriage or weddings, I feel it’s only fair for those of us who can legally marry to abstain from thinking about processional and recessional hymns and whether peonies will look better than cabbage roses in late April.
When you look at the broader implications of wedding culture through a feminist lens, there are far more pressing issues at stake than whether or not it’s mean to employ a certain term to describe brides.
And for god’s sake, when it comes to all the feminist issues out there, let’s not make one of them “bridezillas”. As everyone’s favourite MS Word paperclip once said, is this really the hill you want to die on?