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Can you be a feminist as a 21st century bride?

01 Mar 2022

Wedding etiquette expert and founder of wedding stationery company Tree of Hearts, Lisa Forde, answers the question

Image: Nikki Gibson via Unsplash

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In a one word answer... absolutely! But I appreciate it can be a little more complicated than that.

Most of us will agree that feminism is about choice. Yes, you can be a feminist and shave your legs; yes, you can be a feminist and wear pink; and yes, you can be a feminist and still take your partner’s surname at your wedding.

But big traditional white weddings here in the UK do have some traditions which could be seen as outdated. Whether it’s wearing a white dress to represent your innocence, vowing to obey your husband during your marriage, or even being ‘given away’ by your father.

I’m sure you’ll agree you can still rock a white dress no matter what your sexual history, as being a modern woman is all about making your own choices – and your wedding means your choice. So where do these traditions come from and why are they being modernised by 2022 brides?


Image: Jakob Owens via Unsplash

Some would view the tradition of being given away by your father, for example, as outdated. Yet many of our couples at Tree of Hearts see it as a staple of their wedding day and still incorporate it into their ceremony.

Looking back, the notion of being 'given away' is based on ancient Roman traditions and the days of arranged marriages. At the time, women were considered property, so it symbolises the act of the father literally giving his daughter to a new owner – and usually for a price.

Of course, in the 21st century women aren’t seen as property, and there is no reason for a father to ‘give’ his daughter to another man, and definitely not in exchange for money! Yet it’s still a very common tradition 21st century brides uphold. Today it may be seen more as a sign of respect for your father or a way to include them in the celebrations.


Image: Soulseeker Creative Photography via Unsplash

Another similar tradition which some 21st century brides struggle with is taking their partner’s surname, which again, historically, is symbolic of the bride being given to a new family or owner.

Many of our 21st century couples choose to continue this tradition when ordering their wedding stationery, but others have adapted it to suit their own needs. For example, double-barrelling a surname to represent the joining together of two families or even mixing names together to create a brand new family name.

However there are some elements of a traditional ceremony which many agree should be taken out. Take the vow ‘to obey’. There’s absolutely no reason in 2022 that a bride should vow to obey her groom, unless he vows to do the same. Even the Duchess of Cambridge didn’t include this vow in her wedding to the future King of England. 


Image: Derek Thomson via Unsplash

The beauty of marriage in today’s world is there is no right or wrong answer, it’s all down to personal preference, which I believe is at the heart of the feminist movement.

Women have choices and can make their own decisions. If you want your father to walk you down the aisle and you want to take your husband’s name, then you absolutely should. If you want to keep the name you were born with and walk yourself down the aisle so everyone has a fabulous view of your dress, you should.

The best way to be a truly feminist bride in the 21st century is to do whatever you want. If you love tradition, keep it; if you don’t, forget it. 

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