Before Christmas, I went wedding dress shopping for the first time and I decided that I wanted the first day of shopping to be with these two ladies, my mother and grandmother. I have thought a lot about being a woman this semester, as it seems like every class in grad school ultimately comes back to women’s issues. Before this semester I lived in ignorant bliss, but now I am thoroughly aware of the many ways that the male establishment has been keeping me down. And with this revelation, I have been thinking about what feminism means, as I have never classified myself as a feminist of any sort, given my affinity for the hearth and kitchen. Yet when I think about two of the most prominent women in my life, I can’t help but wonder if the mainstream feminist view is robbing women more than any male institution by denying us the right to be content with traditional places, roles, and feminine strength. My grandmother has always been a “homemaker,” but that title does little to reflect the instrumental role she has played in my grandfather’s success as an author, teacher, evangelist, and jetsetter. It doesn’t reflect the hundreds of people who have furnished their homes through her bargain shopping and second hand innovation, or the surrogate grandmother and mother that she has been to many international students, seminary wives, and new mothers. And my mother has always been full time homemaker, and part time nurse practitioner, which once again doesn’t come close to describing what she does every day. In between treating patients at work (or talking them through illnesses in the Wal-Mart parking lot, Kroger check out line, dry cleaner’s, on the phone as she gardens, etc.) she has also turned 10 swampy thorny acres into a lovely home, trained the world’s worse horse, thrown the best parties, and petitioned for numerous political causes. Moreover, she has instilled in me all that a lady should know like setting a table correctly, hostessing with grace, changing out of “work clothes” into “house clothes,” writing thank you notes on lovely stationary, getting stains out of things, and talking to people you don’t like with politeness and southern charm. Both my mother and grandmother have embraced being a woman, a very feminine one, a traditional one, and that has made them no less strong and in control of who they are, a key distinction that I feel many feminists overlook.
There is no experience more appealing to all that is feminine than wedding dress shopping. These stores are designed to make you feel like a princess, and thus overlook the grotesque amount that you are spending on a piece of clothing. The salesladies force you into dresses, using all sorts of unnatural means to suck in, pull over, smooth, expand, etc, these dresses into some semblance of fitting. Then they toss on a veil, praise you into silence, march you in front of gilded mirrors, and have you step up on a pedestal. And then, if you are like myself, you cry, and you know that you have found the right dress, and then your mother cries and seals the deal. Shopping for wedding gowns turns every woman into a babbling pile of satin and girl, feminist or not.