A couple of weeks ago, I posted on and there was a lively discussion about the icky practice of planning your wedding before you have someone to marry. I still find the whole thing disconcerting at best, but I also don’t think that people who do it deserve some kind of weird passive-aggressive punishment oriented around taking away the power they exert over their lives. These segments about the “flash” wedding on “Good Morning America” are clearly supposed to be light-hearted and romantic, but it ends up serving as another reminder that “romance” in American culture—at least wedding-oriented romance—is really just about distilling and preserving old-fashioned patriarchal notions restricting women’s autonomy. That women are expected to be obsessed with weddings and treat them like the best day of their lives just makes the entire process ickier.
Jessica Coen at the link covers the basics: The groom not only does the big public proposal feminists already hate because it makes say no a near-impossibility on “Good Morning America”, he then springs on her that they have to get married in 30 minutes. This is framed as “romantic”, and since it’s “romantic”, one is supposed to swoon instead of ask questions like, “By making sure she never has a moment alone with you between the proposal and the wedding, you sure make it hard for her to express any hesitation she might have to make a lifelong commitment.” Maybe she has no hesitations, but it’s considered generally impolite and bullying to push someone into making a dinner commitment without giving them a chance to politely decline, a courtesy that really should be extended to women making bigger commitments.
It’s really not even about this particular woman—though the fact that she’s only been dating him for 7 months and he highlighted how he rushed her into other commitments like vacations relatively early on just makes the whole thing more uncomfortable—but about the underlying message of the entire segment, which is that it’s flattering and romantic to have the levers of control over your own life taken away from you. Of course, there’s the obligatory asking-the-father’s-permission thing, a trend that couldn’t be more obvious in its attempts to rewrite treating women like property as harmless romanticism. Then there’s the two male hosts badgering her even as she’s trying to absorb what’s happening to her. And, as Jessica points out, this all ends up taking away the one part of the traditional wedding process that the bride is traditionally allowed to control, i.e. the wedding planning. Apparently, the less power over the situation a woman has, the more “romantic” it is. The next upping of the “romantic” ante will be arranged marriages.
All this, on the day after the annual hated romance holiday of Valentine’s Day, makes it all the more clear that “romance” as understood in our culture is in real tension with love, and clearly means to replace it. Romance is competitive and mercenary, all about who has the biggest engagement ring or who has the biggest bouquet sent to her at work. Love is egalitarian and personal, about the bond you have with another person that is uniquely special and thus doesn’t lose or gain value compared to other people’s relationships. Romance is all about idealizing sexist traditions aimed at getting a woman to subsume her identity into her husband’s, from the requirement that he be the one who proposes (i.e. determines if and when marriage gets put on the table) to her taking his name after being given away by her father at the altar. Love, on the other hand, is about respecting and cherishing a person for his/her unique self—if you love someone, you don’t want them to give up the very identity that made you love them in the first place.
Love, as I noted before, clearly has subversive power. No wonder a hierarchical society prefers romance instead.