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 Let the Wedding Bells Ring

Updated Published
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ashoka chapter.

   Edited by: Stuti Sharma

In this capitalist materialistic world, it goes without saying that if you are rich you can do pretty much anything and get away with many things. Something one would do if they have a lot of money and wealth is separate themselves from people who have less of it, and for that, they would spend money on things that are not as affordable for less rich people. These can range from something as mundane as the kind of ingredients they use in their daily meals and clothes, to how they spend their money on events like weddings and birthdays and also on things like healthcare and wellness that are generally inaccessible to people if they don’t have that kind of wealth. They also have access to more resources, be it capital or human resources. As a result of all this, being rich also accords a status symbol for people. Of course, this has nuances, such as one’s position in the cultural and social ladder that is not directly related to wealth. Still, the point remains that being wealthier than the masses does guarantee a rise in status simply because one will get access to superior resources. It also guarantees the same even if one doesn’t already have access. As a result, many from the masses try to emulate the rich, not just for a guarantee of a rise in status, but also to increase their standing in their community (because let’s face it, most people care about what other people think). They do this by trying to dress like the rich (ripoffs of luxury brands being an example of this), increasing their social and cultural capital, extravagantly conducting events like weddings, and so on. These can be seen both as a form of resistance against the ways of the rich by attempting to democratize it and as a continuation of the same archaic ways of doing things. In this piece, I am going to focus on big fat weddings and talk about certain aspects of them that annoy me.

As far as I understand, a marriage is a legally and socially sanctioned alliance between two individuals and their families while a wedding is for everyone else. Why else would people spend copious amounts of money to make the venue look like it’s straight out of some fantasy land, get expensive clothes made just for that one day, never to be worn again, and have a party for the guests? Although this may come across as pessimistic and I may sound like I am jealous of people for spending so much money on a single event, what bothers me about this is that the money that was spent on a wedding could have been used for other things which would have more benefits in the long term, like education for example. In many patriarchal cultures, a woman’s worth is seen in her marriage, so when a girl gets married, a lot of money is spent on it to show that it’s a celebration for both her and the families involved. In a time where independence and education are desirable for women, such spending on their marriage does not make sense to me. Coming from India, I have heard cases where my female friends have a separate fund set up for their future wedding, but not for their education. Even in many progressive families, the wedding of a woman is treated as a milestone to justify lavish spending on a wedding. This is essentially a repackaging of patriarchal standards, even if the money is borne by the couple getting married and not the family. 

A justification for having big fat weddings is by citing “culture” and “tradition” as reasons for them. A “traditional” wedding in many cultures involves many rituals that are performed by the bride and groom and their families- performance of such rituals is seen as an imperative for the marriage to be accepted among the members of the cultural group the people come from – be it religion, ethnicity, caste and class. Many of these rituals require spending money on components that make the ritual what it is, such as hiring a religious figure, religious/cultural relics, gifts, etc. Some rituals don’t need extravagant spending, but still, it is important to talk about the place of rituals in big fat weddings since many of them claim to be coming from a place of “tradition”. In almost all cultures the world over, certain wedding rituals have been deemed outdated and problematic due to their symbolism which almost always have misogynistic roots. Take, for example, the ritual of “giving away” the bride. The idea of the bride who is a human as something to be “given” is like dehumanizing her – it feels like equating a woman to a commodity that is being passed from one family to another. A possible origin of this ritual might be in the distant past when women were only seen as beings under the guardianship of their fathers and husbands and not as individuals themselves. Performing such a ritual today, in my opinion, seems like reinforcing that very idea wherein their “guardianship” is being passed from one man to another. Another ritual that has come under scrutiny for its problematic nature is dowry. While it has disappeared in most of the Western world, it continues to exist in countries like India despite having laws that make the practice an offense. In India, for example, dowry continues to be practiced under a different name- gift. By changing the language used to refer to it, people have been able to avoid scrutiny for following the practice. However, the idea remains the same. While dowries in the past were seen as a form of inheritance for women who did not have any other legal right to it in their family property, it became another thing that came with the bride to be taken by the groom and his family. This distortion has led to many cases in South Asian countries where women get abused and even killed for not bringing “enough” dowry with them. Examining wedding rituals in a South Asian framework also adds the dimension of caste to it. Certain wedding rituals are specific to certain castes and depending on the position of the caste in the hierarchy, they can be interpreted as either a marker of caste pride or as a result of subjugation by the upper castes. Such rituals done by those belonging to the “upper castes” have been scrutinized by anti-caste activists and writers. When we are trying to move past caste hierarchies and markers of caste, why should such rituals persist? It should be noted that these rituals also overlap with the misogynistic ones.

Although I have written things that are just my rant, I understand that a lot of these (barring certain practices like dowry) boil down to a matter of individual choice. Whether or not to follow certain rituals and practices is up to those involved in a wedding/marriage alliance. I also know that people sometimes alter certain rituals in a way that is something applied to both the bride and the groom when it was not like that before. But thinking about them and even just about weddings, in general, is something that we should start with when we talk about feminism, gender roles and other systemic and structural hierarchies in society. Ultimately, weddings and marriages do reflect a society’s general stance on these matters and so, they need to be included in such conversations.

Chinmayi is a student of Ashoka University and is a writer for the same chapter of Her Campus. She is interested in music, politics, history (mostly queer and feminist history), queer theory and feminist theory. She is also vocal about feminism, LGBTQIA+ rights, caste related issues, animal rights and can go on long rants about these issues. She also loves to talk about animals and will show pictures of her dog to anyone she talks to.