Writing last month’s column was a bit of a challenge I must admit. I spent far too long on it, but being such a sensitive topic, I think it deserved the time and energy. It focused mainly on the idea of representation and how we as photographers had a responsibility to equally represent the people we work for. This month, we get to the second section of our brief discussion on equality – gender roles and the bride-centric wedding industry.
When Kristen and I decided to get married, we were both really excited about preparing for it. We had similar ideas for what we wanted – an intimate and beautiful event in a garden under the night sky with tasty food, plentiful beverages (mostly of this delicious non-alcoholic fizzy variety!) and some cheesy Sri Lankan dancing music. We spent many hours hand making nearly every detail (including our own invitations) and it was consistent with us as people. Like most other things in our relationship, it was something that we were invested in equally and we both had opinions on what we liked and didn’t like. And by having opinions and ideas, I wasn’t one of those grooms who was trying to hijack “Kristen’s special day” nor was I someone who was apathetic. I was just a normal person who loved my partner and wanted to have a day to celebrate that. And I know I’m not the only one.
But the reality is that the wedding industry tried its hardest to make sure I wasn’t involved. In addition the two stereotypes I mentioned above, you’d be made to think the role of groom is generally not of much significance, he just has to turn up on the day. Your can see website after website and magazine after magazine focusing on just the bride – the words that are used (often only the bride is mentioned, not the groom) and the images that are featured. I’ve also heard some really sad stories, such as grooms going with their partners to sample the services of suppliers and actually being outright ignored by the supplier with the implication they are simply there to pay the bill. Another story included a newly engaged couple that were heading to a ‘bridal fair’ together (not a ‘wedding fair’ I noted) and when they arrived, they realised that the woman was given free entry while the man was required to pay to attend.
It’s ingrained in many cultures that it’s the bride’s day; she needs to look beautiful and have the wedding of her dreams. Shows like Bridezillas, Bridalplasty and Four Weddings demonstrate the ugly repercussions of these attitudes (even if they are staged to a certain degree). Notwithstanding, all of this bride-focus is somewhat ironic considering that marriage throughout much of its history has treated women as being insignificant and considered property to give away in exchange for wealth, power or simply as baby machines. I believe that our current focus on a bride’s “beauty” and the lack of visibility of men in the wedding planning are left over elements of that history. This isn’t something I’ll get into in much detail; there are plenty of other great critiques and discussions on the history of marriage elsewhere.
Anyway, back to the point, which I think is quite obvious – it take two people to get married! It’s pretty damn exciting to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and I think that excitement applies to BOTH people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. And there’s plenty we can do to be accommodating of this. For example, when I get an enquiry via my website, I request that the person contacting let me know the name of their partner and in my response, I address both people. I also use non-gender specific wording in my website, information documents and booking forms as not all weddings are between 1 man and 1 woman. If I ever organise a catch up with a potential or already booked couple, it is with both people, never just one of them. These are such simple things to do but doing them will help you attract couples that have similar value bases and keep you inside your window of tolerance (more info about this in an earlier column right here). It goes without saying that a marriage is about both people, why would the wedding be any different?
All of this makes sense personally, but it’s sometimes a challenge from a business perspective. If I post a photo of a bride by herself on my FB page, it will get more views and likes than if I post a photo of a groom. No matter how amazing his outfit is or how awesome he looks, the bride photo wins, always. I guess we still have a way to go but feel like the tide is slowly turning as I’m starting to see more and more suppliers and websites being accessible and inclusive and doing things like using non-gender specific language and featuring diverse content. And when there is specific mention that a site or supplier provides a service for couples getting married, rather than just for brides, my heart is happy and they’re the ones that I support in whatever way I can.
All of this may just seem like we’re changing a few words and pictures here and there, but it’s much more powerful than that. Equality really is better for everyone, there’s a lot of evidence to back that up, and beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do.