Sunday 20 October 2019

Get me to the church on time... or on second thoughts, you needn't bother

It's marriage itself which is anachronistic. Royal weddings are no more absurd than anyone else's

JUST DON’T BE LATE: Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge (centre) arrives with Princess Charlotte (right) and bridesmaids for yesterday’s wedding ceremony
JUST DON’T BE LATE: Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge (centre) arrives with Princess Charlotte (right) and bridesmaids for yesterday’s wedding ceremony

Eilis O'Hanlon

Britain is a great country. They even put the word "great" in the name just in case anyone forgets how great they are. But oh lord, there's a fierce amount of deferential idiocy in Britain towards the toffs, and this weekend's royal wedding has brought it out of the woodwork again for the whole world to see.

From the common people sleeping in the streets all week to catch a fleeting glimpse of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their way to St George's Chapel in Windsor, to obsequious broadcasters practising their curtsies for the big day, it's been one long advert for the benefits of a republic.

I'm not saying the French had the right idea what to do with their aristocrats, because presidents can be problematic too, and there are certain advantages to having a royal head of state which would probably make it more trouble than it's worth to replace; but at least the Brits' neighbours across the English Channel don't now have to endure hours of someone's boring wedding videos on TV. The neighbours on this side of the Irish Sea weren't so lucky.

Admittedly, it's always fun to annoy diehard Irish republicans, who spend their lives pretending they don't really live next door to GB Inc, and will have spent the weekend in paroxysms of delicious indignation that RTE dared to show the royal wedding live on TV, despite the fact that the national broadcaster got the rights for free and might as well cash in by selling some advertising space. (Well, Ryan Tubridy's inflated salary has to come from somewhere).

Similarly, even those who have no interest in royal shenanigans as a rule might have been tempted to make an exception by heading up to Donegal to take afternoon tea in celebration of the event, just to defy Provo nutjobs on social media who intimidated local businesses into cancelling some harmless events they had planned for the day.

If your sense of national identity is so fragile that it's threatened by a bit of red, white and blue bunting, it can't have been worth much to begin with. It's not as if Ireland doesn't indulge in its fair share of patriotic kitsch. Royal weddings only happen once in a blue moon. Paddy's Day is an annual embarrassment.

That still doesn't mean we can't admit that the fuss over the royal wedding is a bit bizarre. I personally don't have any interest in the weddings of friends and relations. I certainly wouldn't be camping out in the street dressed head to toe like a walking Union Jack to get closer to the action of a total stranger's big day.

What's more curious still, though, is that certain aspects of the wedding ceremony, which ought to provoke negative comment in this day and age, still escape criticism.

Take the decision, made in the hours before the wedding, that Prince Charles, father of the groom - according to the birth certificate, if not internet rumour - would walk the bride up the aisle on Saturday. This was because Meghan Markle's father was unable to fly to England and do the honours, for various messy family and health reasons. News of this change of plan mainly painted Charles as the hero of the hour, sweeping in to save the day. Hardly anyone remarked on the curiosity of the tradition of a man needing to walk a woman up the aisle on her wedding day at all. Is there a danger that she might get lost on the way if she didn't have masculine guidance?

If it needs to be done, why shouldn't it have been Meghan's mother, social worker and yoga instructor Doria Ragland? She's the one who bore her daughter for nine months and, according to Meghan, did the lion's share of looking after her through her childhood. Even some of the crowd outside the castle were wondering the same thing. Why, well-wishers interviewed on the news even asked, couldn't Meghan just walk herself up the aisle?

Better still, why not just get rid of the archaic idea of "giving away" a grown woman on her wedding day?

A woman is not a dodgy toaster that someone bought on eBay. She's not the household pet. This practice of effectively handing over a woman from one family to another belongs to another era in which they were not regarded as equal to men. Its persistence as a tradition merely proves that the patriarchy is more insidious than modern-minded, feminist-inclined progressives might care to kid themselves.

Even in this day and age, breaking with tradition is harder than it looks. BBC journalist Sarah Smith admits that her decision to walk up the aisle alone - her father, former Labour leader John Smith, being dead, and her mother "not keen" - attracted more comment than expected.

Most women still allow themselves to be "given away". Most still take their husband's name. Most still give their children the father's name. These traditions are much more stubbornly resistant to change than those who fervently wish for them to die out might have suspected.

It's easy to laugh at the Brits for their fawning attitude to entitled aristocrats, while ignoring the sycophantic reception given by the Irish media to President Higgins. It's much harder to concede the oddity of quaint anomalies such as marriage itself.

As a young, left-leaning student, it seemed self-evident that it would only be a matter of time before these customs withered away. Instead, it's gone the other way. Weddings have become more important, more elaborate. Even gay people, who might have been expected to resist this headlong rush into conservative social conformity, have succumbed too, and want all the bourgeois trappings of matrimony.

Couples might not be spending as much on their nuptials as Harry and Meghan, whose wedding is estimated to be costing £32m, but they are splashing out more and more and, unlike the royals, they will actually have to foot the bill at some stage.

The main point is that if you think the fuss over this weekend's royal wedding was laughable, but still signed up when getting married for symbolic rituals such as marrying in church despite not believing in God, and marrying in the implied sexual purity of a white gown despite being neither Madonna or the Madonna, and allowed yourself to be "given away" while claiming to be a feisty, independent woman, then you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Don't get all superior about Harry and Meghan just because people have willingly sat for hours watching their marriage, while your captive friends only endured your wedding because they were too polite to tell you how bored they really were.

Sunday Independent

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