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[Guest Post] I’m Not An Unwanted Gift: The Problems With Being Given Away

2012 January 26

I write this article with the full caveat that I am a princess-loving, giant-dress-craving reader of copious wedding magazines and probably not what people would instantly think of when they think ‘feminist bride’. Most people would think of someone like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Bride, for example. They wouldn’t think of someone who made a beeline for the veils at her first wedding show and who is collating, not a mood board, but an entire mood album to show suppliers the things I like.

Black and white photo angled from below showing a bride and her father walking down the aisle. They are seen from behind so their faces are not visible. Photo by Flickr user Phil Hawksworth, shared under Creative Commons.But feminists come in many shapes and sizes and while the froo-froo shit doesn’t bother me in weddings (although really, someone tell me why you would spend money on wedding favours instead of booze?), there are a couple of traditions that I’m having trouble swallowing. I’m talking about being given away. This is actually really stressful for me, because I’m torn between duty/love and wanting to remain true to myself. It’s tradition that the bride’s father gives her away. Sometimes, if he isn’t available, it’s her brother or uncle, or her mother. In Jewish tradition it is both her parents. And I sodding hate the entire idea.

It’s only in recent years that we primarily started marrying for love. Back in Ye Olden DayesTM, people married for financial security, or because their families had arranged it. Brides came with dowries of land, money, and/or resources and grooms came with significant presents to her family. To show that the head of the family (the dad) was satisfied, the bride would be handed over on her wedding day by her father to show that she was no longer his property and was now the responsibility of the groom’s family.


The very thought of this makes my skin crawl. I don’t understand why I can’t walk down the aisle myself, head high as I approach my future husband – my own agency, my own choice, nothing to do with being someone’s chattel. I even like the idea, becoming more common in America, of meeting your betrothed at the entrance of your ceremony venue, having a private moment and then walking in together. You are, after all, entering the married state together, so why not the church or hall?

But. There’s a but. In that I know my dad has always planned on walking me down the aisle. I mean, it’s not like he’s been fantasising about it since I was seven, but it was taken as fact that that’s what I’d have. And while he’s said to me he doesn’t mind what I do at my wedding and that he doesn’t even have to be invited, I can’t quite get to the point of saying ‘No, dad, I don’t want you to walk me down the aisle’. For one thing, he’s my dad and he’s been damn supportive of me, so making him happy with this one thing should be a compromise I’m willing to make. For another, I may need someone to lean on so I don’t wobble with nerves, or panic, or booze (fuck yeah, Dutch courage!). And part of me thinks ‘aww’ when I envision his face as he walks me down the aisle and I face my fiancé. We’re not having a traditional ceremony so there will be no ‘who gives this woman’ because no one does – so surely it won’t matter that much.

So with all these reasons, why does my stomach clench when I think about it? Why do I actively fret over this very simple, 30 second task that is dwarfed by the lifetime vows I’m going to make five minutes afterwards? Do what I want, and I have to deal with a hurt father and guilt – do what will make him happy and I feel like a fake. It’s a conundrum and one I’m not sure I know how to answer. I’m hoping wisdom and clarity will come to me sometime this year.

(Photo: Phil Hawksworth.)

  • Lizzie is getting married in 2013 and has already planned roughly 5,748 weddings in her head. You can find more of her musings, wedding-themed reviews and rantings at Wedding Belles UK.
14 Responses leave one →
  1. Alyson permalink
    January 26, 2012

    Could you do something to subvert the tradition? For example, have someone ask “who gives this woman” (or similar), which is answered by you or your dad saying that your family have raised and supported you, but you’re not a thing to be given and have made your own decision.

    • January 26, 2012

      It’s a cute suggestion, although I do wonder if it would call more attention to it and end up looking like a ‘fuck you’ to my dad who is, after all, paying for the wedding. I was thinking that maybe I could address it nicely in my speech (because I’m doing one, hells yeah) and then I could say something about leaning on my dad but still standing tall as my own women, they way him and mum brought me up to be?

      Wow, that sounds wanky. But it will sound better with champagne!

      • February 3, 2012

        Alternately, when the priest/pastor/whoever says “who gives this woman?” you could answer:

        “I give myself to this man, freely and without reservation.”

        Then again, I’m one of those girls who didn’t have a father figure, so I’ll be walking down the aisle all by my lonesome one day.

  2. Jenny permalink
    January 26, 2012

    Caveat: not married; not ever likely to be; estranged from father so wouldn’t have problem anyway; in short, totally not the person to be giving you advice.


    Assuming you’re in a position to frame the ceremony yourself, to choose the words and the language and the vows, could you not have your father accompany you down the aisle to symbolise his (and your family’s) love and support for you in life, now and always? And in the place where the “normal” vows might have “who gives this woman?”, have some form of words to that effect? Something like, I don’t know, “Who represents Guest’s family, to welcome Groom into our family and recognising the marriage?” or something. For complete symmetry, of course, you have the Best Man or someone answering the same question for the Groom.

  3. hellison permalink
    January 26, 2012

    When my sister got married a few months after my father’s death, my v. traditional mother was having qualms about being the Walker Down the Aisle, while sister was adamant no-one was giving her to or from anyone, but the priest doing said it wasn’t so much Giving Away as being support for the bride; there wasn’t any of the ‘who gives this woman’ stuff either, so that made more sense and kept everyone happy.

    It is a tricky one, the thought of being handed over like a shiny present would not be for me either, but it would be nice to have someone to lean at on the way down!

  4. January 26, 2012

    I haven’t decided what I am doing yet and mine’s in May! I think I’ll just walk down on my own (well, with bridesmaids) – I think these days the walk down the aisle is nothing more or less than a catwalk run of LOOK AT OUR DRESSES THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT. Surely boring men in trousers will only detract from this.

    I’d be only too happy to let either of my parents walk me down if they express a wish to, but I can’t figure out any relevant symbolism for me of walking to or from any part of the ceremony room with or without any bridal party members – I am already living as married and have been for some time, it’s not a step from or to anything in particular for me, it’s a celebration (first and foremost) and some legal admin to neaten up some finances (I would like to be his next of kin please and can our future children please inherit our stuff in a convenient way). As far as family ties go, they’re already made!

  5. Ailbhe permalink
    January 26, 2012

    He could walk you most of the way, but hand you over to eg a bridesmaid or your own little sister for the last little bit, taking the handover out of supporting you on the long walk in front of a thousand eyes. I was glad to have my mother beside me walking out in front of people, and it was an incredibly short registry office aisle.

  6. January 27, 2012

    Being given away, and being walked down (up?) the aisle, are different things. When I got married last year I specified on our ceremony forms that I would not be given away, but I still walked in with my Dad. I agree that being given away is a horrible idea, but I wanted to involve my Dad in a special way in the ceremony, just as I tried to involve most other people there.

  7. Emily permalink
    January 27, 2012

    For me, there were two separate questions – being walked down the aisle and being ‘given away’. I was adamant that I wasn’t being given away and that question was struck out of the script for the wedding day. Ugh, no.

    However, my dad did walk me down the aisle and it was a really good thing for both of us. It gave him a distinct role in the ceremony. It meant that I spent some time alone with my mum as I got dressed and then with my dad before we walked into the wedding. In a day filled with busyness and people, I really remember and treasures those little quiet moments. It didn’t make me feel like a gift or a chattel (although I get that the symbolism could be read that way), it felt as I was surrounded by people who loved me and were proud of me.

  8. January 27, 2012

    I was given away by my Dad when I got married (Although, he asked me why I wanted to get married and that I was too young to be doing so…at 30)
    If I’ve ever ‘belonged’ to anyone, other than myself, it was my Dad. We were close, we were alike. I don’ t think you necessarily compromise principles if you do things, little, inconsequential things, that make you or other people happy.
    I also got married in a cathedral, I’m a card-carrying athiest. It meant nothing to me, other than it was a pretty building with nice acoustics. But getting hitched there made the in and out laws (who are goddishly inclined) happy, so why not? Didn’t infect me with god cooties. My Dad died this Christmas. I went through a massive box of pictures, some of the dearest Iwere the ones of he and I walking down the isle together, partners in crime. I think we kinda belonged to each other, sod tradition, we made it our own ‘thing’. You can too. Have a great day, whatever you decide:)

  9. Frances permalink
    January 27, 2012

    I’ve been thinking about this loads as well (not that i’m engaged or anything…) I like the idea of bride & groom walking in together but I know my dad will want to walk me down the aisle. What about the groom? Perhaps he could be walked down the aisle with this mum? Like a symbol of your families joining together.

  10. Lizzie B permalink
    January 28, 2012

    Thanks guys, these are all really helpful. I like the idea of separating being given away and the walk down the aisle – I think I’d been mashing them together in my head because the dad normally ‘hands’ you over to the groom and I hated that symbolism, but maybe I can make a nice point of handing myself over to the groom. You guys rock!

  11. Bacon permalink
    January 29, 2012

    As a recently married feminist I feel your pain. The argument I had with my mother over my desire to not wear makeup lasted for four months and was eventually lost. A lot of the marriage tradition is just completely horrifying, and being ‘given away’ is not to be tolerated.
    However, I really found it useful to have my dad on my arm, because otherwise I’d have swayed drunkenly down there at an alarming rate, so I can heartily recommend having him there if you can possibly find a way to couch it in acceptable terms.

  12. May 21, 2012

    Been thinking a lot about this too recently. I didn’t know my dad growing up and his role was filled by my grandfather. Now I’ve got in touch with my dad and we get a long really well and have settled in to a “traditional” (in the best sense) father/daughter relationship. Aside from the fact that I’m not going to let anyone GIVE me to anyone else, if I was to be walked down the aisle I now don’t know which one I want to do it. The idea of walking down the aisle with my fiance sounds good, but I don’t want to upset the father figures. Eck.

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