A Feminist Guide to Surviving Wedding Parties

Magdalene, Monday, 25 September 2017 

By : Intan Paramaditha 

Weddings can be an unfriendly planet for feminists. I believe that every time a Cinderella wedding takes place, a feminist dies a little.

Oh, no. Surely we do not want dead bodies on the floor – not with the guests around. The in-laws will be mortified! How to handle this dying act? Well, grab your emergency kit, clap your hands and say this out loud, “I don’t believe in fairy tales!”

Let me clarify a few things before we continue. First, I define “Cinderella” weddings as weddings that project Cinderella logic; they are elaborate and expensive, glorifying the institutionalized heterosexual union as the ultimate goal for men and women (well, mostly women).

These weddings are like big-budget Hollywood movies from the Reagan era – lavish, frivolous, screaming conservatism – only that this is probably worse than the Reagan era. This is the age of global precarity; the interweaving of economic disappointment and the increasing flow of labor beyond national boundaries has resulted in prejudice, xenophobia, and desire for higher walls. Whether Cinderella weddings are ethical in this dark time of global capitalism is a pressing question.

Second, by stating my objection to Cinderella weddings, I do not mean that I oppose marriage, whether heterosexual or same-sex. I have been asked many times whether I believe in marriage, and here is my answer: marriage and the abstract concept called ‘love’ must be seen as separate entities; marriage is not love being materialized and therefore it must be discussed without romanticizing institutionalized heterosexuality. Marriage is a legal contract with social, economic, and sometimes political implications, and everyone has the freedom to marry, or not marry, without facing restrictions or discrimination based on their gender, class, and sexual orientation. The point is that the marriage institution must be constantly scrutinized to ensure that it protects the right of the individuals.

We can of course delve into debates on marriage and heteronormativity, particularly the question of whether we contribute in normalizing marriage (“normal,” as queer theorist Michael Warner has reminded us, is troubling). However, we can save this topic for another day and return to our focus: the Cinderella weddings. Weddings always reflect larger socio-political contexts. In contemporary Indonesia, weddings mark the period when the marriage (oh, what a suitable metaphor!) between neoliberalism and conservatism, especially within the Islamic framework, is proven to be more resilient than ever.

The current national discourses of marriage consist of diverse but interrelated events and issues: a judge proposing a virginity test before marriage; the highly commodified public discussions of “malam pertama” (the wedding night), which suddenly regained importance (I thought we agreed, back in 1998, that it was a big nonsense); a ridiculous obsession over Raisa’s wedding followed by sexist talks framing her as the property of her husband; social stigma against women who prioritize career and education; dreadful campaigns for early marriage, pushed by conservative groups and exploited by the media as well as various elements of the wedding industry.

This is a very messy time for issues pertaining to women, gender, and sexuality in Indonesia, and views about marriage are implicated in the mess. What does it mean, then, to celebrate a Cinderella wedding? How to attend one without being complicit to the conservative values that it exudes? Unfortunately, while we can avoid going to the church or mosque, weddings are often inevitable, especially if your loved ones (sisters, brothers) or close relatives are involved. In order to make Cinderella weddings a little bit bearable, please allow me to share the following tips. I promise there will be no acts of dying.