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.
I love everything you write. But this is one of my favorites.
Thank you for sharing this, Hannah dear!
I loved this, Hannah. So very true and beautifully said. And I am so excited for you 🙂 🙂
I think we have…fundamental disagreements about feminism–there are several different schools of feminist theory, and while my alignment doesn’t seem to match yours, it is not required to! But I do want to point out that your closing statement is inaccurate, and I personally feel that it trivializes the female struggle for respect and equality. No every woman feels so strongly about the idea of a wedding dress–not every woman feels called to marriage, for that matter–and to say that a particular feeling or emotional response is required or unavoidable, no matter one’s philosophies or beliefs or character, strikes me as manipulative and condescending, not to mention dismissive of feminism and the struggles aligned with it (especially as being a homemaker does not exclude one from feminism, which is, in my mind, primarily about respect).
Perhaps you meant to say that the dress was a signifier of things to come, or you were saying that this experience with the female role models you love and admire was an integral part of the process of preparing for your upcoming nuptials, and the next chapter of your life. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I am happy that this was a joyous occasion for you! But if that was your intent, it was not clear, and I hope the manner in which I have pointed this out is respectful of you and your own personal context.
Hi Katie Rose,
Thanks for your thoughts! I’m sorry if I offended you with my enthusiasm or my manner of analyzing this dress search in light of an issue that I find interesting. Naturally, one of the reasons feminism is controversial is because of its multi-faceted nature and the way that it no longer fulfills any one definition. All I was attempting was to share thoughts that came to me after a semester where feminism was discussed at every turn. My goal was not to trivialize anything, but rather to express a sentiment that I have heard from many people — regardless of their views on feminism — when it comes to this clothing decision. If you are interested, there is a wonderful memoir about a staunch anti-marriage and anti-wedding dress “feminist” who goes wedding gown shopping and finds herself moved to tears over her reflection in a poofy sleeved girly gown. It is Jeanne Marie Laskas 40 Acres and a Poodle, and it is both hysterical and insightful.
You are a smart young woman, Hannah. I love that you called your mother and grandmother what they are homemakers. I have recently started using that word purposely. I don’t like “stay at home mom” What if you don’t have children at home anymore? I hate housewife, because the media has made that into a sham. I like HOMEmaker. A home is pillar of society and the homemaker is the foundation on which it is built. Keep telling it right, Girl!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Your blog was recommended to me, and I’m glad I checked it out. Have you ever read Alice von Hildebrand’s “The Privilege of Being a Woman”? I’m working my way through it now, and she dives very deeply into the issues you’re discussing…especially the problem of modern feminism, in that it takes all that is most beautiful about being a woman and says, “This isn’t worthwhile.”
Great thoughts–and congratulations!
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