1 Discursive Structures that Construct Weddings in The United States

Autumn Stearns

As Rivkin and Ryan pointed out, “A discursive formation…expresses the beliefs of a social group, or articulates rules and ideals regarding kinds of behavior…Foucault’s work draws attention to the fact that many assumptions in a culture are maintained by language practices that comprise a common tool both from knowing the world and for constructing it”(54-55). Weddings in the United States are constructed by social rules and language practices from religious, in this case Christian/Protestant, people, who are primarily men. Back in the day, men saw women as objects, both for money and for personal needs (stereotypical housewives/cooking, cleaning, bearing children). Fathers would “give” their daughters away to the groom in return for money/valuables, title/class, and/or exchange for goods. Men would expect the women to be virgins until marriage because their purity was important for their religious lifestyle.

Rivkin and Ryan also state that “[w]e must also question those divisions or groupings with which we have become so familiar…these divisions…[are] reflexive categories, principles of classification, normative rules, institutionalized types…[which] are facts of discourse that…have complex relations with each other…”(91). Why are weddings they way they are? Why do many still follow the traditional ways of getting married? This post will examine these questions.

The first thing I think of when I hear the word “wedding” is a big poofy white dress. I’m talking princess-style big. I attended three weddings last year and each bride had on a similar white poofy dress that she’d only wear once, that cost well over a couple thousand dollars. A bride has to wear white because…well, because…it’s tradition, right? The tradition of the white wedding press is from a religious perspective—women are to remain pure, virgins until marriage, because premarital sex is a sin. Don’t even get me started on the fact that grooms/men don’t have to be pure, we’ll save that discussion for another time, but this “tradition” is still in act today. Though, it is not as common as it was a century ago. But, for many religious folks, it dictates their lives, and some, rushed their weddings, Vegas-style, without the Vegas.

The tradition of the old English rhyme “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe” tells a history of weddings that many overlook, just so they can keep the tradition going. The rhyme includes four objects that bring good luck, at least they did for the first few that ever followed the rhyme, and throws a sixpence in there for a hint of prosperity. All of these objects are to be worn on the bride’s dress, or with her as she walks down the aisle. These small objects can dictate a wedding style, or throw the bride over the edge searching for the perfect objects to fit each category. Let’s break each object down. Something old was to ward off the evil eye and to protect the couple’s future children from it. The evil eye was the cause of infertility. In more recent days, something old is just a family heirloom or something a bride’s mother wore on her wedding day. Something new was an object that would bring future optimism. Something borrowed was to be from a successful and happy couple because an object in their possession would bring the couple luck and it was believed that their good fortune would rub off on the newlyweds. The old-fashioned object was usually an undergarment of a friend’s that had a happy marriage and heathy children. Lastly, something blue was to deflect the evil eye because blue stood for purity, love, and fidelity. It was usually a blue garter worn underneath the bride’s dress to ward off the evil eye (The Knot).

One of the most infamous pictures I get in my head when I think of a wedding is a father walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away.” How possessive and controlling does that sound? Hello, we’re not in 1680 anymore. We’re not trading our daughters for sheep or for a sketchy money deal. She’s not an object!

All of these wedding practices are still widely accepted and used on a daily basis in American weddings. We have been constructed to keep the old traditions going, even if we don’t necessarily understand what each object or symbol means. Although it is becoming more popular to skip the whole “big wedding” ordeal and go straight to town offices, skip the whole “purity” thing as not as important anymore, and although LGBTQA+ are “allowed” to get married now, these practices are still in use and are controlling numerous weddings. These practices dictate what a wedding is and how it is traditionally done. Many weddings are still being socially constructed by 1600s men who are extremely religious and prudish.

Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed., Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

The Knot. “Here’s Where the ‘Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue’ Tradition Comes From.” Theknot.com, The Knot, 27 Aug. 2018, www.theknot.com/content/wedding-traditions-the-meaning-of-something-old.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Autumn Stearns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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