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Challenging Tradition & Gender Inequality in Wedding Speeches

Before I talk about why I think it is important that we encourage more women to speak on a wedding day, I need to start this post with a disclaimer…

That is to say that no one, absolutely no one, should be forced to speak in public if it fills them with dread and ultimately ruins their ability to enjoy a day. That goes for fathers of the bride, best men and grooms themselves. Tradition be dammed 😉

Which also leads me to questioning what tradition should mean to us in the first place.

Challenging Tradition

Customs and traditions are passed on from generation to generation, they are a way of linking us to our ancestors and our heritage and they should illuminate something meaningful for us all. But this is precisely why they also shape shift – as a tradition should be relevant; so that it doesn’t become nothing more than a meaningless echo in an empty hall.

So, back to why more women’s voices should be heard on a wedding day…

It has always seemed a little strange to me that on such an occasion women are generally encouraged to look glorious, but to say nothing. This goes from the bride, to the bridesmaids and through to the female family members too. Whereas the men are encouraged to be eloquent, funny, thoughtful and most of all……to speak on behalf of the women… Why do we do this?

Over the years I have recognised that although your wedding day is about you both and about love and why you have chosen to marry in the first place, it is also deeply woven in gratitude. It truly is a day to be thankful and most importantly to be able to do this out loud.

In our busy and increasingly separated lives, the opportunity to gather all of our important people in one space in time; to look out over our shared community and see the support and love that surrounds us –is a ridiculously special, unique and hard-earned moment! So we should stand up and be thankful. With our own voices. Not simply with the voices of men (no matter how much we love them) doing it for us!

If you google many websites for the template of who traditionally speaks on a wedding day you will starkly see that it is strictly held in the environs of men. We should be saying thank you to all of those who have spoken in the past, but now it’s 2017….let’s mix it up a bit. Here is a little run down and examination of the traditional spoken roles.

The Father of the Bride’s speech

Traditionally where the dad reminisces on his relationship with his daughter and welcomes their soon to be son (or daughter) in law into the family.

Modern possibility – where father AND/OR mother reminisces on their relationship with their daughter and welcomes their soon to be son, or daughter-in-law into the family. (Equally a sister, brother or other family member can do this, whoever feels the most comfortable standing up and speaking in public!)

Modern Alternatives

Recently I attended a reception where the mum and dad stood up together. They shared their memories of their daughter, bantering back and forth from one another in a way that captivated all of us guests. (Nu Bride: I love this idea) They spoke of their shared responsibility and their shared pride. They welcomed the groom and his family into theirs. They sat down and I felt like something remarkable had just been witnessed. And then I thought why should that be remarkable?? Surely it should be commonplace.

At a ceremony I conducted last year the bride’s parents had separated when she was 10. They had been amicable for the sake of the children, but not really ever had any proper contact again. Until the bride asked them BOTH to do a speech. She felt very uncomfortable only asking her dad to speak on her behalf when in actual fact her mum had been the primary care giver for so much of her and her brother’s and sister’s lives. What transpired was completely inspirational. They met a few times to put their speech together. They remembered that the best thing they had done together was have their children. And they delivered a speech, one after the other, which was so full of love and respect that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The occasion of their daughter’s wedding had transcended their own issues and everyone was the richer for it.

I’m not suggesting that this can work for everyone – a wedding is not therapy! But by looking past expected tradition and making choices that are personal and mean something to you, you will be surprised at what can transpire.

It is also worth noting that I have also attended a number of receptions where the groom’s mother and/or father have spoken too. Reciprocating the welcome to the family and also sharing a little insight into the childhood of the groom. This has been utterly charming and seems completely appropriate in the equilibrium of things.

The Groom’s Speech

Where traditionally the groom thanks every one for coming, expresses his love for his wife and generally forewarns everyone that his Best Man is prone to flights of fantasy and lying.

Modern Possibility

Where the Bride AND the Groom, or bride AND bride get to be thankful for the people in their lives and each other!

This to me feels like it is changing as I type. More and more brides would like the opportunity to stand up and say their own thank you’s. More ladies look forward to saying “My husband and I…” and more often than not, many grooms are delighted to have their wife standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they celebrate together all of the amazing people in their lives.

More than one bride has thanked me for encouraging them to speak, saying that even just the process of sitting down to think about what they might like to say was a deeply reflective and rewarding experience.

Best Man’s Speech

Where traditionally one of the Groom’s dearest friends either roasts and/or elevates the groom.

Modern Possibility

Let one of the bride’s friends do the same too.

I always look forward to a best man’s speech. It is the part of the day where reverence is not expected. It is usually full of insight and whimsy. When done well, it often moves one to tears as the armour like buffoonery comes off to reveal a deep-rooted, warm and open-hearted friendship.

The best man’s speech is a huge ask, because it does come with SO much expectation.

I adore that more and more frequently, Grooms have a couple of best men, each playing to their strengths. Your closest friend might shrivel up and hide at the thought of public speaking whereas your university partner in crime who is now a lawyer, or an actor, or a writer or just a wonderful showman is better suited to the job of speech and so that is what he will do. Expectation aside, it doesn’t have to be an outstanding piece of oratory, it’s just really nice to hear friends talking about their friends.

And so, the bride should be able to enjoy that too!

Also, as a side note, I have yet to see a bad best woman’s speech. What I have seen is an astonishing deep-rooted sexism! “You were really funny, for a woman” should be simply, “you were really funny”.

“I didn’t expect you to be funny, but you were” is another ‘compliment’ I have heard guests say to the best woman afterwards.

I would like to think this isn’t really because of an innate sexism, but because people just don’t expect a best woman’s speech yet and so are taken by surprise. We need to work hard to make these female voices normalised on a wedding day.

We don’t live in the times where a woman is simply the property of a man any more, to be passed over to and spoken about rather than to. So let us make our spoken traditions reflect that!

In summary, we don’t really need the same tired old clichés, the nods to the ‘mute one’ who at least looks pretty today, the jokes that ‘her indoors really wears the trousers’, we have the opportunity to rewrite the script (literally) and to stand up and be heard.

We must seize the opportunity to be grateful out loud and celebrate those of our friends who are good with words…whatever sex. I hope never again to hear from inside the cubical of toilets at a wedding… “thank heavens the celebrant was a woman, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a single female voice today”!

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