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The meaning of "I do"

Dernière mise à jour : 11 mai 2021

I hate weddings. Not marriages, the social base of many societies, which I respect. I actually sincerely respect the union of two people, regardless of their gender or how they chose to live. After all, as Lennon and McCartney said, "all we need is love". But what really exasperates me is the collection of images associated with weddings, materialized in sumptuous ceremonies whose meanings seem to be lost in the meanders of the modern lifestyle.

To be very honest, what makes me furious is a certain romantic vision of marriage conveyed by films, soap operas and novels in which the woman appears as the eternal applicant before a stoic male. The very one who, desperate, throws herself to catch the bouquet at the marriage of her friends and who, with trembling emotion, awaits the proposal made by a self-sufficient man. This proposal represents, in this imaginary construction, the symbolic pinnacle of female's happiness, an extremely foolishness when we know that, objectively, the woman is the one who has the most to lose in the still current models of western common life. A life in which the domestic tasks are exercised mainly by her (statistically proven), accumulating a double (or more) working day. And this chimerical vision is mystified by opulent feasts embodying the most beautiful day of our lives, the ultimate happy ending, a rite of passage from which the characters lived happily ever after. In advertising language, I would say that it is misleading advertisement.

Life in all societies, moderns and primitives, is punctuated by rituals which, in their functionalist aspect, should attribute meanings to social life. It is precisely this sense that seems to me to be often neglected in the most diverse manifestations, which pushes people to mechanical practices becoming a kind of social obligation that has nothing of a ritual symbology. The meaning attributed to an act was a recurring subject in my anthropology classes, and its absence also received a name: compulsion neurosis, a psychoanalytic pathology that Social Studies have borrowed to characterize the behaviors that people adopt without knowing exactly why.

However, I recently discovered a historical fact that reconciled me to weddings. I learned, from the French historian Michelle Perrot, that the marriage ceremonial is part of the story of women's social transformation, when she ceases to be an object to become a subject. This moment would be, moreover, the main stage of this metamorphosis, thanks to the role exercised by Christianity which, despite its traditional machismo, imposed the idea that men and women were equal before God. From there (XIII century), the consent of women in the sacrament of marriage was required. Until then, young ladies were forced into marriage with the one imposed on them for the most diverse reasons (patrimonial, family name etc.), of which sentiment was obviously not a criterion considered, much less that of women. Consent then became necessary, women had to say "I do" before the highest authority, represented, in those years, by the ecclesiastics, to confirm that their act was deliberate. The female consent brought with him the marriage for love, a great historical novelty, a direct consequence of the advent of the subject woman.

After reading this interview a few days ago, my vision of this ceremony was reversed, from traditional and conservative became modern and liberating. By historical ignorance, I judged a ritual negatively when, in practice, its social function was transformative. This confirms the importance of the meaning attributed to our actions, even - and perhaps especially - those that have been automated by we all. At the same time, we cannot deny that since then the world has evolved and with it the social institutions. I wondered, without an answer, what would be the meaning attributed to this ceremony today. As far as I'm concerned, I still don’t like wedding dresses.

Interview with Michelle Perrot in Les Hors-Série de L'Obs, " Peut-on échapper à la domination masculine ? " n° 102, July 2019.

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