Bride-Centrism in the Wedding Industry
Woodland Events is celebrating Pride Month! All of our blog posts this month will be focused on celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and the fact that same-sex marriage has now been legal nationwide for five years this month!
However, given the current circumstances in our nation surrounding the murder of George Floyd, we’re also recognizing that pride month was established in part to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, a movement against oppressive policing, led by a black transgender woman named Marsha P. Johnson.
This isn’t just a month to celebrate. It’s a month to remember the many lives lost throughout this civil rights journey, to peacefully protest the inequities and injustice experienced by minorities, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people, and to raise political awareness of the ongoing issues faced by our global, national, and local communities.
This one is for my fellow wedding professionals on one of my biggest pet peeves about the wedding industry. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may have seen me touch briefly on this topic last year on my blog post, Shaking Up Heteronormativity in Weddings.
I cannot tell you the number of times I've had coffee with fellow wedding industry professionals and said something to the effect of, "I'm working with a couple who are having difficulty with [insert problem here]," only to be asked, "Oh, the poor thing! Have you tried [suggestion for solving said problem] for her?"
Did you catch the problem with this simple scenario?
I was talking about the couple (without specifying whether the couple included a bride) and the response became all about an imagined female partner. I call this phenomenon "bride-centrism" or sometimes "bridal obsession", and it exists across the wedding industry. I'm on a crusade to change it, and you should be too.
Why is Bride-Centrism a Problem?
1) Not all weddings have a bride.
We live in 2020. Five years ago, same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States. It's a simple fact that in this age, not all weddings will include a bride.
What are two men or non-binary partners planning their wedding to do when they are inundated with bride-centric language and attitudes in magazines, vendor websites, Facebook ads, and wedding shows? It can all be incredibly exhausting for a couple!
2) Both partners are getting married.
Even for a cis-gendered heterosexual couple, many grooms love to have a say in the wedding planning process, but because our industry is so focused on the bride, they often feel that their opinions won't matter or that that they won't even be heard.
The wedding is and should be a celebration of the couple and their love story, not just a bride. It's important for us to always remind ourselves of this.
3) Many people don't identify with the "bride" label.
Many modern women simply don't identify with the traditional model of a bride. That image of a prim and proper ultra-feminine princess with a floor-length gown and earrings that perfectly match her bridesmaid's ombre dresses makes many ladies go 🤮.
We've definitely seen a shift in culture to an offbeat bride that traditional bride-centric attitudes simply will not appeal to.
4) Bride-Centrism has deep roots in patriarchy.
To be honest, there have been times when I'm speaking out against bride-centrism that I second guess myself and think, "Wait, maybe weddings should be bride-centric. So much of our society is built on a foundation of patriarchy and men are given priority in almost every aspect of life; in the workplace, the home, religious institutions, and more. Can't women just have this one thing? Can't brides be the center of their wedding? Is shifting away from bride-centrism anti-feminist?"
But then I remind myself that weddings themselves have patriarchal roots where brides are thought of more as property than as equal partners. Why does a bride's parents traditionally pay for the wedding? Because it has roots in tempting a groom's family with a dowry sufficient enough to make an offer to marry their son to her. Why does a bride's father give her away at the end of the aisle? Because historically, this was seen as a transaction to transfer property from the bride's family to the groom's.
The bride-centrism of the wedding industry was born from these historically patriarchal roots and embracing the full couple instead of just the bride is actually an important part of helping the wedding industry embrace inclusivity and feminism.
5) The marriage matters too.
Too often, I've heard phrases referring to a wedding as "the bride's special day" or "the best day of her life".
These phrases are inherently flawed and even damaging. Just as the beauty and fashion industries convince women from a very young age that they need to be a certain size and shape, the wedding industry tells them that their wedding day will be the most important day of their lives.
This messaging is what has lead many women to say, "I've been dreaming about my wedding since I was five," and leads most men to say, "Just do whatever she wants."
But this messaging is the furthest thing from the truth. Of course, as a wedding planner, I believe that a wedding day is important and special, but it's not the most important day of any one person's life...or even of a couple's. The marriage, and specifically, the joys, the sorrows, and the lifetime of partnership that comes with that marriage, is indeed far more important than the wedding day.
What can I do to fix it?
I'm glad you asked! There are some simple steps wedding professionals can take right now to begin the process of shifting away from bride-centric business practices. Here are some concrete examples.
1) Remove bride-centric language from all of your business processes.
If the words "bride" or "groom" appear on any of your checklist templates, spreadsheets, planning documents, or marketing materials (except when explicitly describing a photo of a bride and a groom), change them.
Change "the bride and groom" to "the couple". Change "the bride" to "Partner 1" or another non-gendered term. Until your client tells you they want to be called the bride, you really don't know. Perhaps they want to be called "celebrant" or simply "partner". I always ask each member of the couple what they would like to be called in a questionnaire I send out before our initial consultation.
2) Remove gendered language from all of your business processes.
I've met with dozens of other wedding planners nationwide, comparing planning checklists and business processes. 95% of those planners have had things like "Women's attire" and "Menswear" in their checklists, despite the fact that many women these days are opting to wear a suit instead of a dress. About 80% include notes in their timeline templates about where "the ladies" will be getting ready, despite the fact that many wedding parties these days have mixed gendered parties across the aisle (using my own wedding as an example, I had a best man and two groom's ladies and my wife had a man of honor and two bridesmaids).
I encourage you to opt instead for terms like "dresses and gowns," "suits and tuxes," and "partner 2's attendants". Comb through your materials and anywhere you see gendered language (ie. "men," "women," "his," "hers," "flower girl," "best man," etc.), try to find gender-inclusive alternatives.
On the note of gendered language, stop assuming anyone's gender until they tell you what it is. Just like their title, until they tell you your gender, you'd don't know what it is.
3) Speak to and fully include both of your clients throughout the planning process.
As part of my planning services, I've gone with several clients to tastings, venue tours, and vendor meetings, and even though both members of the couple are present, the bride is often treated as the primary decision-maker and the groom is almost always ignored.
Before I go further, you may be thinking, "But Todd, grooms just don't care that much about the wedding!" While that is sometimes the case, it is usually a result of a groom buying into the messaging they've heard from the wedding industry for years that it's all about the bride. Change our messaging, and over time, we'll start to see a shift in the groom's mindset. In the meantime, invite grooms into your conversations instead of pretending they aren't there, and I promise that 4 times out of 5, they'll have an opinion.
When I meet for consultations with straight couples, I spend about 80% of the meeting making eye contact with the groom, and even explicitly letting him know that I want his opinion on my questions too. This invitation usually results in the couple sharing approximately equal opinions on each item we discuss. It's pretty powerful. And in the rare instances when the bride still does all the talking, I kindly let that couple know that I'm not going to be a good fit for them as a planner.
4) Stop having "Bridal Shows" and "Bridal Expos".
Invite couples to find their vendors together at a "wedding fair" or "wedding expo". Again, grooms have an opinion that you are effectively muting by something as simple as a name for your event.
Let's all work together as wedding professionals, vendors, advertisers, and publishers alike, to ditch bride-centrism and gender norms and pave a path toward more inclusive weddings. Sound okay?
I'd love to know your thoughts about this post and any other ideas you have about how we might shift away from bride-centric business practices! Let me know in the comments or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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