Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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How to have a feminist wedding in church

The feminist threshold

Laura Bates, the founder of Everyday Sexism Project, is getting married: congrats! She has written in the Guardian about how to have a feminist wedding. Basically, it is an example of the personal being political. Laura Bates writes about her personal choices, which she has every right to make, but many feminists would lament that she did not go far enough in demonstrating her feminist credentials. A close feminist friend showed me the article and described it as retrogressive and non-radical. I feel somewhat more forgiving, as the article is much more one woman’s very personal choices and wrestling with deeply ingrained sexism of this traditional rite of passage.

I have been celebrating weddings as a priest of the Church of England for the last fifteen years, in Darlington, West Wiltshire, London and Oxford. I’m a man priest and a feminist (not too common a combination, sorry!) and I believe that it is easily possible to have a feminist wedding in church. The Church of England will not be offering same-sex marriages any time soon, but will probably get round to it in time for your gay children to enjoy the grace of this sacramental union.

Here is my how-to guide to feminist weddings in the Church of England.

Know the difference between folk tradition and liturgy

When most people think of church weddings they think of white dresses, bridesmaids, bouquet, giving away and all that kind of stuff. Absolutely none of this is required in a wedding in the Church of England. Even Laura Bates agonized about having to say she would ‘obey’ her husband, only to find her local rector tell her that the requirement to promise obedience was long gone (actually for a few decades longer than her rector told her).

Here is the key thing: there are things that the church legally requires for weddings, and then there is a lot of folk tradition and unrealistic expectations that is heaped on top of it, like burying an expertly baked cake under a gallon of squirty cream!

Liturgy is the words and actions used in church services (and a whole lot deeper than that too). The Church of England’s most recent set of liturgies was published in the year 2000, and is called Common Worship. You can find the wedding liturgy from Common Worship on-line (you can also download a complete PDF with all the marriage texts). Anything that is not specified in that is optional. So no white dresses, bouquet, bridesmaids, obeying or giving away, unless, of course, you want it.

Put down the wedding books — that are just about keeping the charade going — and read the wedding liturgy. The church has designed it to be gender equal by default!

There is also a financial advantage to knowing this: the church’s fees for weddings are set nationally and are not really all that steep. The huge expense of church weddings lies with all the expected but non-mandatory trappings. The central act of joining hands before the altar comes with a price tag of a few hundred pounds paid to your local church.

Cutting back on the folk traditions surrounding and suffocating weddings with patriarchal symbolism is an exercise in managing expectation. If you are a feminist, yet, like Laura Bates, feel that you cannot marry without some of the traditional trappings, then that’s really OK. It is tough to go against the expectations of a society, your family, and even your own emotions. Just make your feminism clear in other ways, and demonstrate that no patriarchal symbolism is intended. Continue reading

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Hi, honey, I’m home!

The era of evening- and weekend-only daddies should have gone out with the flatcap and trilby, but, no, fathers on full-time jobs plus overtime are increasingly the norm. The thing is the majority of British dads actually want to be spending more time with their kids. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Fathers, Family and Work Report, published last Wednesday, says that 62% of dads surveyed want to spend more time caring for their children.

The aphorism goes ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’. So, if all these dads want to be caring for their kids more, there must be a way of doing it. But I’ve the sense that this view has been gaining ground for the last decade, or more, without getting very far. The revolution in fatherhood has only clocked up one major victory so far: two weeks’ paternity leave, at a minimum of £120 a week, secured for the brothers in 2003. Continue reading


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Book review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

This article was first published by cycads.

Left Hand of Darkness

Left Hand of Darkness

A few months ago, Alicia asked me why science fiction was such a boy thing and what is the point of the genre. I cobbled together an answer about science fiction being used to create a narrative space removed from the here and now into which pertinent questions and ideas can be tried out. Science fiction might not be science, but it does have an experimental edge. As for the boyish enchantment of the genre, I imagine that it has something to do with love of grand ideas and machines rather than human relationships and emotions. Then I remembered reading somewhere about women’s science fiction, and yet still feminist science fiction. A quick web search led us to Feminist SF, and I recommend a browse.

I have long been a fan of Ursula Le Guin, since reading her Wizard of Earthsea at primary school. I was enrapt by her bringing imagined cultures and worlds to life through her writing: a skill, I later learned, was informed by her understanding of anthropology. Quite apart from EarthseaThe Left Hand of Darkness is considered a cornerstone of feminist science fiction: not only does Le Guin conjure up a fascinating world in which to immerse the reader, she also asks us to think deeply about sex and gender. Continue reading


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Men and feminism

I am a man, and I am a feminist. That’s a combo that has many men, and not a few women bewildered. After all, the majority of women in Britain feel uncomfortable calling themselves feminists, and men feel that such a stance is like sleeping with the enemy (which in no way should make them seem not to be heteronormative, Red-Blooded Males!).

Bill Bailey: feminist extrordinaire

Bill Bailey: feminist extrordinaire

At Christmas, I gave my girlfriend a couple of books on women and Islam as presents. Someone commented saying ‘Are you one of those Germaine-Greer types?’, to which she replied ‘If you mean to ask if I’m a feminist, then yes I am’. This was met with laughter — half nervous, half disbelief — as if she had declared herself a cyborg out to destroy humanity!

Our society has done a fairly good hatchet job on feminism, making many believe that feminists are dangerously subversive lesbian man-eaters, who, at the very least, are out to spoil our fun. The odd thing is that society is also broadly in agreement with many of feminism’s ideals, be it wage equality and equal opportunities or reproductive rights (unless you’re Roman Catholic) or criticism of casual misogyny. Continue reading