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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We're Not Doing the Garter Thing

Wedding garter. Image source.
I had the following conversation with my fiance:

me: "We're not doing the garter thing."
Hendrix: "What is 'garter'?"
me: "It's this little thing a woman wears around her leg... [indicates with hands on leg] ... and at the wedding reception, the bride sits down in a chair... in front of all the guests... and then the groom comes... and puts his hand up her dress... while everyone is watching... and pulls out the garter."
Hendrix: "... That sounds like some kind of pervert thing."

(Basically, to someone from another culture who's hearing about this for the first time, that tradition sounds super messed-up. And I hadn't even told him the part about throwing it to a group of men.)

First of all, in writing this post, my intention is not to criticize those of you women who did this at your weddings. There are a lot of wedding traditions that are based on very patriarchal, misogynistic ideas, and sometimes we choose to do them anyway. I'm going to talk about why I think the whole "garter thing" is incredibly effed-up, but if you chose to do that at your wedding, I don't think you're bad or sexist or whatever. I'm sure you had your reasons. I have a problem with the tradition as a whole, not with you. (Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world, and all that.)

The garter tradition is, at its core, a performance where the groom plays the role of an aggressor, full of passion and desire, and the bride plays the role of a passive object who waits for him to do it to her, to come and overpower her and take from her and emerge victorious in front of a crowd of onlookers. The man plays offence, the woman plays defense, and the man wins. I know that in reality it's consensual and unrelated to the couple's actual opinions on male and female sexuality, but that's the story they are acting: the man is the one who wants it, he initiates and she lets him do it.

In the weddings I've been to, I've seen brides suddenly look very awkward when the garter performance is happening. See here's how it works: Somebody makes an announcement at the reception for everyone to gather and watch the garter tradition. A chair is brought out and put in the middle of the room, and the bride sits down, surrounded by all the guests watching her. She sits down, and then what? She has to wait. She waits for the guests to all come over and find a place to stand. She waits for the announcer to talk about what's going on. She waits for somebody to track down the groom and get him to come over. During this time, there's nothing for her to do. She just has to wait for it to happen to her. And I've seen that look on a bride's face- like "I wanted to do this, but now that it's actually happening I feel so awkward."

I've seen grooms get really into their "aggressor" role. One guy put his whole head under his wife's dress, and pulled out the garter with his mouth, while we all cheered at how sexy and scandalous he was acting. While his bride just waited for it to happen.

It's effed-up, this image of female sexuality, where the woman doesn't have any desire, she just passively lets the man do things to her, and everyone cheers and calls it a success when he conquers her.

Let's re-imagine the garter tradition, but with the bride in an active role instead of passive. (Note: Though we're talking about a wedding with a bride and a groom, don't forget that same-sex weddings exist! And it's totally possible to be a bride and not wear a dress.)

Okay, how about this: The groom sits in a chair, holds his hand out, and doesn't move. The bride comes up to him, lifts her dress, and shoves her hips up onto him, to push the garter onto his hand. He holds on to it and then she pulls back so the garter slides off. We cheer for her success in giving it to him.

Or this: The bride sits in the chair, just like in the normal garter tradition. But this time, when the groom puts his hand up her dress, she thrusts her hips at him. They both move around a bunch, enthusiastically consenting, both working toward the same goal (passing the garter to the groom).

Or how about this: The groom stands there, and the bride shoves her hand down his pants- in front of all the guests- and searches around until she finds some kind of little trinket, and pulls it out. Then she throws it to a crowd of women.

It feels obscene to imagine those things happening in public, in front of a crowd of your closest family and friends, doesn't it? So ask yourself this question: Why is it a completely normal wedding tradition (and people will think I'm weird for refusing to do it) to have a performance where a woman is the passive recipient of a man's aggressive sexual desire, but it's unheard-of and inappropriate for a woman to publicly play a role where she shows strong sexual desire for her husband?

The second problem I have with the garter tradition is the exhibitionist aspect of it. But back when I was in purity culture, I was sure I was going to do the garter tradition. Because in purity culture, a wedding is an incredibly exhibitionist event.

Think about it: In purity culture, the most important thing about a wedding is that the couple is suddenly allowed to have sex. And make no mistake: when I say "the most important thing," I really mean that. Sure, purity culture advocates will deny this; they swear up and down that OF COURSE they're not saying that sex is the most important part of marriage, OF COURSE they're not teaching that you should get married just to have sex. But I challenge you to go read any purity culture book or article and find each time the words "wedding" and "marriage" are used. Over 90% of them will be in sentences along the lines of "don't have sex before marriage" or "on your wedding night, you will finally be able to give yourselves fully to each other." In purity culture, the most important thing about a wedding is that the couple is suddenly allowed to have sex.

And therefore, for purity-culture followers, their wedding sends this message to the world: "HEY EVERYBODY! We haven't had sex yet, but we totally will tonight!" A purity-culture wedding is an extremely, extremely exhibitionist thing. There are even people who follow a stricter version of purity culture, who make a big deal out of how their first kiss is going to be the one up there at the altar in front of a crowd of people. (And if you want to see a saving-our-first-kiss-for-the-wedding couple really going at it, there are videos for that. ... Eww.)

I went to one wedding where the ceremony included a line about "he's very much looking forward to finally being united with her in body." Wow, TMI. (Why do they have to shove their heterosexuality down our throats?) But I don't really fault the couple for including that in their ceremony. I don't see it as an attempt to brag about their purity-culture success. I think it's because when you believe pre-marital sex is a sin, then sex is a hugely important part of what your wedding means to you, and it would be almost dishonest to not mention it during the ceremony. (It's pretty common for Christian weddings to include euphemistic references to how the couple is totally going to have sex for the first time tonight.)

Back when I was in purity culture, I totally wanted to do the garter tradition. Because I imagined that OF COURSE before the wedding I would be super-pure and not do anything as sexual as letting my partner put his hand up my dress. When the officiant says "I now pronounce you husband and wife," that's the moment all those sexy things go from "forbidden" to "a beautiful gift from God." I didn't want to wait til the reception was over. If there's a chance to do something sexual right there at the reception- even if it's in front of a huge crowd of people- then damn I'm doing it. That was my reasoning. In purity culture, a wedding is a way of broadcasting to the entire world, "WE ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE SEX NOW." Of course it's natural for that to be followed by the groom removing an undergarment from the bride, in front of the whole crowd of guests. Of course.

So no, Hendrix and I are not doing the garter thing. I might wear a garter at the wedding, or I might not. It's none of your damn business. We might have sex on the wedding night, or we might not. IT'S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.

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