How to Have a Feminist Wedding, According to Liz Susong

A feminist wedding might sound like an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "soft rock."

But Liz Susong, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Catalyst Magazine, is attempting to change that perception with her new publication, which is arguably the first to deal with feminist weddings, and prove that wedding bells don't have to sound the death knell to your feminist values.

Susong got her master's degree in gender studies and found herself doing something that made her feel "complicated": planning a wedding.

"For a huge, billion-dollar industry, it remains stuck in these 1950s gender ideals and very restrictive beauty norms, with high expectations for consumerism, kind of creates competition among women to plan the ideal event as well, and continues the rhetoric that the wedding is the best day of a woman's life," Susong said in an interview with ATTN:. "The peak of her life, because she's wanted by a man."

But, she said, "On a personal level, I love a good a party and the idea of all my friends and family being together. ... But then I sort of felt ashamed of that because of the values that the industry upholds."

Susong created Catalyst after meeting a like mind in co-founder and photographer Carly Romeo. Susong called Catalyst "a rigorous political project"; it is now in its third issue.

Here are Susong's five ways to have a feminist wedding, with an important caveat. "We don't want to put any feminist measures on your wedding or want to create new measures of what it means to be feminist or a good person," she said. "We are just basically trying to open up a dialogue about what it means to live and love and marry in this moment in time as a progressive person and with a dialogue itself that feels feminist."

1. Think about the symbolism in most wedding traditions and its meaning.

You might opt not to wear white, since historically this was a sign of purity, based on waiting until marriage to have sex.

"There's so much symbolism within the wedding planning process that is very traditional, so there are so many different ways that people try to challenge those norms and expectations," Susong said. "Everything from having a bridal shower and getting gifts — it's a dowry, essentially — to the engagement ring symbolizing women as property whereas the man doesn't wear one."

2. Rethink that walk down the aisle.

Traditionally, when a father "gave away" his daughter to her future husband, it was a business transaction. An alternative would be to walk down the aisle alone, with both parents, or with your partner, as Susong did at her wedding. Or you could opt for something more radical. "Carly, my co-founder, didn't even have a wedding," Susong said. "She had what she called a 'love celebration.' There was no aisle. It was essentially a party.”

3. Read egalitarian vows.

You could take a cue from Amelia Earhart, who banned the word "obey" from her nuptials. Susong and her husband read feminist theory during their vows. Or you can take this advice from one of the Catalyst blog posts: "During your ceremony, everyone will be in the same place, fully focused and listening to what you have to say. Take advantage of their undivided attention by including readings, songs, or rituals that speak to you."

4. Select socially conscious vendors.

This could mean choosing a fair trade wedding dress. "Beware the consumerism of weddings," Susong said. She advised "being aware of the labor economy behind the stuff that you are buying."

5. Don't view your wedding as a competition.

"There's this competition among wedding professionals and people getting married to have this picture-perfect wedding that could be featured on a blog or in a magazine," Susong said. "So we are trying to actively challenge what images are accepted into blogs and magazines."

Catalyst is doing its part by trying to feature "more gay couples, people of color, and real people with real bodies," Susong said.

For people tying the knot, one way to relieve the pressure of wedding planning is to focus less on all the details and money spent on the wedding and more on the love story and the emotional tone of the celebration.

But wait, is it even possible to have a feminist wedding?

If the notion of a feminist wedding still seems paradoxical to you, you're not alone. In the second issue of Catalyst, Susong participated in a feature "Are Feminist Weddings a Myth?" in which she argued for the possibility of having a feminist wedding, while acknowledging that people who believe that marriage is an institution that carries "too heavy a burden and [is] anti-feminist in its nature” have a valid viewpoint, too.

"[As] feminists, we are constantly engaging in these systems that have all these historical burdens, and we make small, disruptive choices all the time that challenge the system," Susong said. She added: "None of us can completely remove ourselves from the systems that we live in."