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.
Recite the “This Too Shall Pass” Mantra
Time is transient, says poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. Create your own mantra: “This too shall pass. In a few hours I will be free from the torments.” Have faith in the ephemerality of the moment. Unfortunately, this one does not work for me. The bad taste of social interactions at weddings tends to linger in my mouth for days. Wedding parties are often a place where a woman’s individuality is reduced or erased because her achievements will be judged by (hetero)normative parameters. Are you a C.E.O. of your own company? Do you have a Ph.D? Did you work your ass off to gain a prestigious position in a male-dominated field? None of them matter. At wedding parties you will always be someone else’s wife, mother, or daughter. If you do not forget and forgive easily, skip this trick.
Talk to People, Especially Women, About Their Jobs
Constantly checking your phone is an easy way out, but instead of seeking refuge in detachment, why not try engagement with a difference? Look around you. Some women might be busy with their kids and you quickly dismiss them as ‘the Other,’ the defenders of Cinderella weddings, the high priestesses of heteronormativity. You see yourself as a lone wolf, a different animal in the crowd, and you begin to develop a higher-than-thou attitude because you are equipped with feminist theories. You suffer, yes, but perhaps they suffer, too. I once approached a distant relative who was trying to get her toddler to sit still and eat. She did not show any interest in talking to me (perhaps she was also thinking that I could not find subjects other than kids and families), but I persisted. I found out that she had just finished her Master’s in Germany, and the realization that she had another life other than what appeared quickly fostered a new bond. Women do not often get questions about what they have achieved. Start asking, and you would feel good, too.
Do not Try to Change the Music
Do not waste your talents to make things better to fit your standard. If you disagree with the bride’s makeup artist, hold your tongue. All brides tend to look the same, anyway. Even with too much coverage they will not be mistaken as mochi cakes and get eaten alive. Music is often the biggest failure. The wedding band simply insults your taste and intelligence. Do not try to stop the band from playing cheesy music to save the wedding. You are not Theodor Adorno, for God’s sake. And do not even try to write an article about “best wedding songs according to my sophisticated taste.” Why would you want to improve something when its logic is flawed from the very start?
Make Yourself Useful in a Non Traditional Way
Get busy by engaging in non-traditional tasks. Weddings maintain and depend on the construction of gendered spaces (women help with beauty stuff, men smoke outside). Stay away from mirrors, kitchens, wardrobes, and all spaces associated with the feminine. Instead, check if the elderly folks need assistance. Make sure that those guys from the catering company receive proper tips (think of the cheap labor involved in this big business). When my cousin got married, people prepared cars to take them from the house to the mosque, but somehow they forgot the drivers. I volunteered to drive the bride and groom to the mosque. That made me the hottest wedding chauffer around.
Negotiate but Create Boundaries
If you wear jilbab and the uniform for the “wedding committee members” is a tight kebaya, create your own modest outfit with the same color. On the other hand, if the uniform requires you to wear a jilbab, it is your right to refuse wearing the jilbab while respecting the committee by wearing something more modest (no, we do not need your killer cleavage, no). Some people can don the jilbab and take it off flexibly, and that is great, but for some others, donning the jilbab carries some ideological weight. Compromises do not need to translate into total conformity.
Bring Unusual Books/ Toys for the Kids
Children hate weddings, too. They might enjoy running around the room, but with those little ties or whimsical dresses that are too demanding for the tropics, their joy will not last long. You could read them a feminist bedtime story or a book about environmental problems while making “personalized” comments, “Oooh look at those expensive flower decorations! Do you know where they will go to after the wedding?”
Be the Kickass Lady with the "Rantang"
With regards to the global climate change and financial crisis, food waste at weddings is a major issue. One solution: bring your rantang or containers for leftover food. Ask around to see if people want some. If not, bring the containers home. Walk out of the venue with your head up and, like a cowboy in Western movies, look at the horizon victoriously with your gun – I mean, containers – in your hand. The Cinderella wedding might have wounded you, but you can still come out as the warrior because you are the kickass lady with the rantang!
Write Your Own Wedding Speech
If you are a woman, it is most likely that you will never be invited to give a wedding speech. In most Indonesian Muslim weddings, the wedding speech takes place before the ijab qabul, usually delivered by an ustadz or a respectable patriarch in the family (father, grandfather, uncle). In many traditions, the bride is hidden in a special room and the speech is often addressed to the groom: “My child xxx (name of the groom), you must fulfill your duty as a husband to guide your wife.” Based on the patriarchal logic, a woman is vulnerable and emotional and therefore she is in constant need of a guidance. Imagine me hearing that. If that is heaven, I’d rather be a satan’s slave and burned in hell!
Unfortunately, my immediate reaction is usually less satanic: I would laugh and start talking to people around me, expressing all kinds of disobedient acts. While the laugh of the Medusa is potentially disruptive, perhaps we can do something more fruitful. Before or after the wedding, write your wedding speech and post it online for anyone to use. This includes various things to anticipate after the wedding, from the loss of one’s sense of self to verbal and physical abuse.
Bond with the Bride
With increasing conservatism in Indonesia, brides often end up in the most horrible places after the wedding. They might be pressured by the husband and the in-laws to adjust their career in order to fit the husband’s, have a baby, leave their jobs, take on new identities. These pressures are often unforeseen, obscured by Cinderella desires. If you know the brides personally, take them for coffee a few weeks, or months, after they are sober. There is nothing you can do about the wedding, but perhaps it is not too late to start a more reflective conversation.
Intan Paramaditha is an Indonesian fiction writer and an academic based in Sydney. She loves writing about disobedient women. Her new book is Gentayangan: Pilih Sendiri Petualangan Sepatu Merahmu (Gramedia Pustaka Utama, October 2017).