Friday, April 9, 2010

Dear Jezebel

Dear Jezebel,

I think it's worthwhile to consider that your recent spate of wedding articles are missing a huge opportunity to talk about the real complications of weddings, far beyond the judge-y articles you've been writing about weddings and budgets. It's easy to attack the $28K average wedding cost figure. It's easy to poke fun at Bridal Expos. It's easy to create a post where commenters pile on and rip apart couples and their highly personal choices about weddings (though I do think Dodai made the best, most honest attempt to sort through the challenges). And, since Jezebel is a Denton-owned, pageview-centric operation, I understand why this happens.

However, I think there's a serious case to be made for looking at the more subtle complexities of the wedding industrial complex, of the "blogging industrial complex" (as some of my weddingland girlfriends have begun to call it), of the economies of handmade weddings, of the pressures of "indie" wedding/DIY planning, of our weddings as an expression of our values, of weddings as a viable economy for artists and women-owned businesses, of the gender expectations associated with weddings and marriage, of the real costs and decisions inherent in these wedding related issues, and of the meaning of marriage itself. So many of your incredibly intelligent staff have recently planned/are planning weddings/marriage that it's shocking to me that there's not more talk about the hard-but-interesting stuff.  You have a real platform to talk about weddings differently, apart from the standard woman-bashing narrative. There's a real case to be made that the disdain with which some of your writers have approached women's choices about their weddings indicates a real lack of respect and buy-in to typical gender stereotypes and trashing of a traditionally women-centric domain (speaking of, there's a real groom sea-change happening too, some for good and some for bad. But it's interesting, nonetheless).

I think recent comment sections have indicated some of that same frustration with the flippant articles, or the less-than-analytical articles, or the comment section ugliness. I love Jezebel. Though I comment infrequently, I've been around since the beginning. And now, as I've started to plan my own wedding, this is the first time I've been viscerally turned off to what I've seen, primarily because it's not a fair or thoughtful approach to everything out here. And also because you have a real chance to open your audience's eyes about the alternatives and feminist conversations surrounding weddings, much like Jessica Valenti did with her recent wedding.  There are incredibly smart people blogging about these challenges and providing a serious antidote to the Kn*t and its ilk. And it's not just Offbeat Bride (which is great for the openminded perspective, even if I'm not goth or rockabilly, or whatever).  A Practical Wedding is my go-to daily must-read, but I genuinely feel that individual bloggers talking about their weddings are providing a real third-rail antidote to the madness as we find a space to talk about our issues with each other (my blogroll has some great examples). The rest of the world dismisses us as Bridezillas, regardless of what we do or say, and the space apart has been imperative in keeping my sanity and working out my egalitarian, community-centric, wedding and marriage process.

It's not just me. I wrote a post yesterday that already has 45 comments (and received tons of behind the scenes emails) about how angry we are with wedding articles - specifically referencing Jezebel - and how dismissive they are of the real wedding challenges. It's not just me. It's a lot of thoughtful, feminist, writers and readers who are really turned off right now. We're your audience. And we're battling with the same challenges as anyone else planning a thoughtful, values-driven wedding. We're planning weddings, not elopements, for a reason.  And there's a reason these things cost money. And we're struggling with our choices every step of the way and with the expectations heaped on us from every corner. It would be nice to think that our normal safe-space reading on the internet (Jezebel) could be a little less judgmental and a little more open to the challenges and complexities too.

Becca


p.s. It's not just me. Anther Damn Wedding wrote a similar post here, published minutes before mine.
p.p.s. I emailed this to Jezebel. Because if influential, feminist-leaning sites keep getting it wrong, what hope do we have for ever shifting the mainstream cultural conversation?  

29 comments:

  1. This makes me exceedingly happy. I feel like this is the first step towards tangible change.

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  2. thank you for this, becca. beautifully said. i'm going to send this to my future sis-in-law (she writes for Jezebel from time to time).

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  3. Gosh thanks for posting on this!

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  4. Great work!
    This is a tough stereotype to fight against, because the "offbeat" sources we should be able to count on think they ARE being offbeat by berating the "typical bride." Well welcome to the real world where meaningful weddings co-exist with sanity, practicality, and kindness.

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  5. @Nina - I agree that it's tough to find a place for, as Meg has called us, the "betwixt and between" brides. We're not really Kn*t readers but we're not really Offbeat Bride readers either. It's why she started her space over at A Practical Wedding and it's what I think we're getting at in these personal blogs too.

    But I think it's important to distinguish between Ariel/Offbeat Bride and some of her readers, who are just so excited to find a like-minded community that they do what we do initially, ie define themselves in opposition to "tradition". But Ariel's always been really clear that Offbeat Bride is a place to celebrate your own personal unique, whatever that may be, and that weddings should be, more than anything, authentic. That approach was eye-opening for me when I started poking around the wedding web, and I truly appreciate Ariel and her staff's approach writing articles, selecting real weddings, and moderating comments/adding to the conversations.

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  6. Sorry, I didn't actually mean "offbeat" as a reference to Ariel's site! Her book was the first I bought before I even discovered wedding blogs and it was wonderful therapy for me. When I said offbeat sources, I meant sources like Jezebel and other non-mainstream sources. Places where we normally would find solace but in this one aspect we don't. I should have realized for us wedding blog-readers offbeat always refers to Ariel :-)

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  7. @Nina Ha! It's almost like our weird wedding acronyms here (STD, for example) don't *quite* translate outside. And as for this post/comment thread, we're entirely on the same page.

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  8. All right devil's advocate time. I liked that Bridal Expo story. It read like something Bowie would write. And I have seen way more scathing, judge-y stuff on people's blogs, probably including my own. I like the hard, but interesting, obv, but can't we sometimes just make fun of weddings?

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  9. @cupcake - we can definitely make fun of weddings, and I didn't attack any of those articles in this letter (though each had their weaknesses and strengths, for different reasons.) And I can see the fun aspect in going to bridal expo to rip it apart. In fact, I really liked when Tracy did it a while back, mostly because she looked at the real bullshit - weight loss products.

    But my issue is more with context. If they keep hating on the $28K figure and then implying that it's because of tropical butterflies and event lighting sales at expos, then it's utter and absolute crap. Because that's not what you get at a $28K wedding in NYC. And it's right to ask about the subtle inflation-of-want due to these events, but they should also have more posts then talking about the flip side and ripping that $28K-is-soooooooo-much-Bridezilla asshattery to shreds. But they don't. And I think there are a lot of interesting articles about why everyone attacks wedding expenses and the economics of wedding providers and everything I wrote above that Jezebel could do reeeeeallly well, especially given their wit, gender-focus, and all the recently married/engaged women on staff. But they don't. And there's something really wrong about that as most of their articles keep perpetuating the same tired, easy wedding tropes. And when half the comments are asshat attacks like the ones I wrote about yesterday (many from starred commenters who get preference), and a quarter are quietly defensive but-you-don't-know-that-it's-really-like comments, then there's something wrong. There's a side that's not getting presented that Jez' audience clearly wants, that can't really be done well in most media outlets, and that's worth talking about.

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  10. Thank you for both this post and the last post.

    I am incredibly fortunate to have a Really Good Job in an area of the country that has a moderate cost of living (i.e., people who make under $100K a year can buy houses if they want to, but $2 mixers are only found at divey college bars with watered down Beefeater, and that's only if you're lucky). HOWEVER, I also haven't received a raise in two years because of the economy AND my fiance is an out-of-work literature professor, with no prospects for 2010-2011. (Sure, we could move for a post-doc or an adjunct line, but see above about my Really Good Job in a moderate COL area of the country ... not a practical option for us. A tenure line, that's another story, but colleges aren't exactly handing those out like they were 3-4 years ago.)

    Anyway, I'm getting it on both sides - both internal and external pressure to not spend beyond my means for this wedding (and define "means", because that's a nebulous term), and also dealing with the fact that weddings cost money. Weddings cost more money when your fiance is one of five kids (some of whom are married with their own children), your mother is one of five kids, and your fiance's mother is one of seven kids. Yeah. Big families.

    Despite this, we've managed to get our guest list to a reasonable level, and we're clever people and know what we want and what we don't. We've found a lot of places to cut corners where we don't feel like we're sacrificing who we are or what we want our wedding to represent - if anything, some of these decisions have enhanced that. Even still, the food and beverage ALONE is going to shake out around $8-9K. It just IS. That's what it COSTS to throw a dinner party with an open bar (and if we did a cash bar, it would be around $6-7K ... I'd rather spend the extra $2K so my guests don't have to pay for anything). Actually, that's a hell of a lot cheaper than it is a lot of other places we considered.

    I could go on, but I recently wrote a post for my own blog on my feelings regarding this. Thanks for the inspiration, AND the reality check.

    (Oh, and my fiance and I are both putting our entire tax refunds into our wedding, too. It'll cover about 1/3 of the total cost, which is HUGE.)

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  11. Thank you for posting this. It is constructive, thoughtful, and speaks to an audience who is tired of feminist/pop culture sites just brushing the surface of what weddings are about. There's so much more involved, and so much more worth talking about. I get so disgusted when I see the self-aggrandizing, pat-myself-on-the-back comments on these sort of wedding articles; where posters compare their budgets in an effort to show just how "indie" or "diy savvy" they can be. It just gets tiresome, and becomes a turn-off from reading these sites.

    There's a lot of noise out there in wedding-land. Sometimes you can't just tune it out, which is why this letter to Jez is so meaningful.

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  12. I suppose I think of bridezilla as how someone treats someone else, not what they spend.

    I think Jezebell is trying to balance the WIC argument, which tells you you have to SPEND SPEND SPEND. While it is true that not all brides are spending $28K because of tropical butterflies and event lighting sales, the fact is many of us are spending more than we originally thought we would and we aren't spending it just on the bare necessities.

    I think we are able to justify that because oh, weddings are so expensive. We want our wedding to look somewhat traditional or pretty, and that costs money.

    But, we could have these wonderful memories you want so bad for cheaper. Why do these memories of spending time with our community have to include a full course dinner, an open bar, an expensive dress, expensive invites, expensive RSVP cards, expensive tablecloths, expensive suits, expensive bridal party gifts?

    Why can't we have wonderful memories of our community that involve homemade cake, or maybe cheap tamales, casual clothes, boxed wine, and evites?

    I understand the expense toward the venue. Renting a space is very expensive. But everything else could be streamlined, and I think as much as we fight the WIC we often do fall prey to it.

    I myself can identify at least $2000 in my budget that is pure frivolous. It has no reason for being there other than I felt justified in spending because it was for a wedding. Also, I wanted it.

    In sum, I am not sure how Jezebel could justify an article that says, but I had to spend $28K.

    As for stories that say, but I wanted to spend $28K, so I did, well, there are plenty of resources for that.

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  13. and here is what she wrote: "On the one hand, in this era of economic uncertainty, a family dropping lots of cash on a celebration (one wedding mentioned in the article had a $125,000 budget for flowers) doesn't make much sense — the couple could probably use a house, or a vacation, or, you know, cash.

    But on the other hand, if getting married means making a non-blood-related person part of your family, it's something you should celebrate with your family."

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  14. @Cupcake Wedding -- I agree that the WIC can sweep people up and get them thinking they absolutely need things that aren't of any actual importance to the wedding. That's why this online community has grown so fast -- many want an alternative to all that noise.

    I also agree that people, no matter how hard they try, can fall into a cycle of buying things because it's "for the wedding." This is human nature, and it extends to all areas of life. I myself have rationalized the purchase of a new trinket because I had a bad day, or new clothes just because I'm taking a weekend trip.

    I think the problem here is in assuming at that the "bare minimum" (which varies SO MUCH from person to person depending on where they live, how many guests they invite, whether they decide to feed them, etc.) is the correct, non-WIC way to do things, and that anything that goes over that amount is just the WIC talking.

    We could all argue for DAYS over what constitutes the bare minimum of a wedding. Hell, why bother even giving your guests the cheap tamales? Is feeding them REALLY necessary? And why invite all those fools anyway, when your parents and your best friend are really the only people who NEED to be there?

    The WIC doesn't control my mind, I do. And the things I choose to spend my money on are my conscious choice. I think when we boil it down to arguing over what’s really necessary in a wedding, we're losing out on a real opportunity to talk about making intelligent, conscious decisions – both in our weddings and in our lives.

    While the Jez article sounded like something I myself may have written six months ago, I don't feel like it was offering an "alternative" to the WIC so much as it was more of the same of condescending, judgmental sh*t. That section of the article you quoted pretty much encapsulates issue at hand -- that the flowers don't "make much sense" because the couple could use a house, or a vacation, or cash." OK, fair enough. But here’s the thing: WE DON’T KNOW THESE PEOPLE. If they’re as loaded as they sound, $125k flowers are a drop in the bucket for them. They may already have three houses. Who knows?

    This is where the game gets dangerous, because we could take the “doesn’t make much sense” argument and apply it to each and every one of us. Hell, I could use the money we’re spending on the wedding for a vacation! Or keep it as cash! Why the hell are WE bothering to get married, when we could use that money for other, “responsible” choices?

    This is where it has to stop.

    The patronizing “ya’ll are crazy” tone of many of the average wedding articles we come across has to stop. How is it helping anything? How is painting the average woman as psychotic, wedding-obsessed shrew helping anything? It only serves to make people assume that brides can’t be taken seriously.

    That’s why I want a change of conversation.

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  15. Thank you! I like the term blogging industrial complex. I'm engaged and planning a wedding. Very early on, my FI and I decided that there was no way we were spending anything even close to the average cost for our wedding. We want a family and a house and we have bills and school loans. We don't have too much financial help from family, but a lot of help in doing things and making small purchased here and there.
    So I turned to wedding be, a practical wedding, and a bunch of other blogs about wedding planning. It seemed like it just presented the other extreme - perfect DIY projects for EVERYTHING to give you the perfect anti-WIC wedding. Well great, what help is that to me. I am not crafty. Before my engagement I had been in Michael's maybe 3 times for photo frames.

    I'm just a normal woman marrying a normal man trying to have a family oriented, simple but somewhat traditional wedding really, really cheaply. There just aren't too many people talking about that. I can just imagine what everyone (from WIC to DIY to indiebride) would think about my chairs for the reception. The big, plastic, forest green ones that came with our building.

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  16. @diana if we get the venue we have our heart set on, we're using their ugly black plastic chairs. And I know Cupcake Wedding collected ugly-chair wedding pictures at some point to remind herself that it will be okay. So many of us who have had to negotiate practical vs emotional vs budgetary limitations went with the ugly chairs too. You'll be rocking those forest green plastic chairs in good company.

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  17. @cupcake wedding - I think what made me in particular so mad about the Jezebel post is the tone the engaged writer from NY took regarding the $28k figure. The comment, that 'oh - I can feed all of my friends for less than that". Of course you can, all of your friends. Not your fiancee's friends, or your families, or your parents friends. Oh - and if you live in NY (even Brooklyn) where are you going to put those people? Oh right - you need to rent a space, and get a liquor license (or use a place that does) and rent chairs, and tables, and linens, etc. And I'm sorry - you cannot do those things in the 5 boroughs for $19k, you simply cannot, unless you have like 25 people out to brunch. Which, if that is what you want, fine. But there was just a willful disregard of what things cost in a big city, which is to say, a lot! And there is this attitude that a $28k wedding in NY is some huge extravagant Plaza affair. Which, its not. I plan those for work. Those big fancy NYC weddings you're thinking of when you hear $28k for a wedding actually cost roughly $125k. Welcome to the NYC markup.

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  18. I'm not sure what to say other than that I'm SO glad this discussion is happening, and I'm so honored to be a part of the larger meta-issue of trying to change the way weddings and brides are portrayed online.

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  19. THANK YOU!!!! I sent a response as well, and hope more do the same!

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  20. My mind just blew up. A-mazing blog post with words and thoughts I think about but can never seem to voice accurately. I have been reading your blog awhile (but am behind on my rss reader, oy!) and have to say even though I'm a happy married women to the best wife ever (no, I'm not biased or anything) I feel like your blog posts just make my day. I feel like 'YES! Someone gets it!!"

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  21. This may seem a silly comment, but I see people justifying their wedding spending to others all over the place, here right now, on Jezebel and on Offbeat Bride. I don't understand why anyone would have to justify their spending to anyone other than themselves and any others involved in financing such an event - I mean to make the point that whilst I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to voice their opinion, that should not mean other people feeling as though they need to justify decisions which they have made for themselves (which is as much about being confident in your decision sometimes).

    Perhaps a little off topic.... apologies.

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  22. @Chloe I don't think your post is entirely off topic, because a lot of the judgment we get is budget related. And no, we shouldn't feel the need to justify our expenses or explain our personal rationales. But, what it's near-impossible to understand until you're in the thick of planning yourself, is how d*mn judgmental everyone ELSE is about our wedding budgets and how we then react in response. It comes at me weekly from loved ones, articles in mainstream news/culture outlets, and comment sections of blogs. So no, we shouldn't have to justify. But I've become so knee-jerk defensive and exhausted by the judgment heaped on me about wedding budgets (and everything else wedding related) that I'm not surprised to see comments reflecting the same on Jezebel, Offbeat Bride, and yes, here. My post on April 8 probably hints more at the "why" of the justification comments.

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  23. @becca:

    ohmygosh, YES.

    i don't believe it's fair for Jezebel (or any other site) to take such cheap shots at weddings in general...

    i mean, as a wedding coordinator, i consider it a part of my *job* to encourage brides and grooms to pursue their particular vision of what makes them happy.

    if that's wacky hats and a bright orange dress,
    COOL.

    if that's a traditional service with hymns and THE WHITE DRESS, hey, that's rad, too.

    do i encourage the couple to consider sensible budgeting and cost-saving methods? of course! but only so far as they wish to take that advice.

    honestly,
    a wedding is about commitment and what makes a couple feel most like themselves--so can a feminist be walked down the aisle in a white dress? if s/he wants to do so, why the hell not?

    all that to say,
    happy wedding planning to you, lady!
    i hope it all goes beautifully!

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  24. @Lola

    While I get where you're coming from, I feel the need to point out that all those weddings featured on OBB are not meant to act as any actualization of feminist, sustainable, alternative, whatever [blah blah blah] theory. They're just meant to be weddings! Real weddings for real people planning weddings to look at and not only glean inspiration, but also (and I think, more importantly) feel not alone.

    I believe the reason Ariel has been so successful is because she acknowledges that not everyone's ideologies mesh, and that's OK. She exhibits weddings on OBB that she thinks will resonate with her readers, and the swath shown (while generally "indie" in nature) is pretty damn wide.

    It's hard to sell out when your intentions were never to uphold some "feminist" niche. She might consider herself a feminist, but OBB is not a feminist site specifically. It is a wedding site that celebrates feminist celebrations, along with queer celebrations, goth celebrations, and otherwise "offbeat" (ha) celebrations.

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  25. Holy cow, did I just respond to a comment that doesn't exist anymore? Go mod go! ;)

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  26. @Lindsay: sorry but I deleted Lola's comment. This is a moderated forum and I won't allow comments that include personal attacks. She had some reasonable points for a discussion here, and I welcome her to return with a more civil approach to her disagreement. I have no problem with strong opinions, even if they run counter to mine.

    And to respond to your comment in particular, thank you for a well reasoned response to some of the original commenter's complaints.

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  27. I dunno...I read the Jezebel piece not so much as a personal attack on brides, but rather as an attack on rampant consumerism. It's not really about weddings or brides or your special day or whatever. It's about the fact that as a society, we 1) spend way more than we need and 2) we often feel like spending just for the heck of having more and better stuff. I planned a wedding in NYC in 2009. I remember being overwhelmed by the materialism of our wedding culture -- indie, mainstream, whatever. It just seems like it has become about burying the day in a lot of stuff. We can criticize the WIC all we want, but at the end of the day we are fueling it with our own dollars. Doesn't matter if you buy it all at Michael's and make it yourself, either. That time = money. I thought the Jezebel piece raised a really important question...what's the point? What are we spending for? Finally, I disagree that its tone was anti-feminist in any way. As a woman, I feel more respected when people treat me as if my choices have to be justified.

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  28. @Ella - I'm not criticizing a single article at Jezebel. I'm criticizing their recent coverage in general, which never presents the complexities of wedding planning in a reasonable light and DOES undercut womens choices about their wedding with a subtle hipper-than-thou approach to weddings. Also, I think the wedding talk about budgets is entirely unrealistic from a staff of women who know better, because so many of them are trying to plan weddings in NYC. Is $19,000 a staggering number? Yes. Is is enough to get you an open bar, simple wedding in NYC for all your friends and family? Ha. No chance in hell. There's no event lighting or butterflies or high-end expo linens at a $19K wedding and it disingenuous at best to make it appear that we're being materialistic and overreaching with our "national average" budgets in NYC (and other major cities.)

    I think it's entirely fair to question Bridal Expos, and think Tracy did a great job looking at the weight loss product pushing last year. And I think these conversations are important to have. But Jez' overall coverage plays into the woman-blaming narrative (because subtly, these expenses are all crazy brides fault), doesn't examine the real costs/questions/creative alternatives/movements AWAY from materialism/valid choices surrounding our wedding choices, whatever they may be. Jezebel goes for easy pageviews here, and never really looks at what's happening in the "indie" wedding world - which has a lot of interesting economic implications for women, handmade economies, and new sorts of bullshit pressures. It's mixed and complicated, as are our choices surrounding weddings. But the comment bashing shows that there's a lot of knee-jerk "your wedding is so expensive, I'd never do that for one day" nonsense attack in the comments because Jez baits it in their posts. And there's a lot of justifiable defensiveness from women who have whethered those complexities. And looking at those complexities would start to respect us and our choices, constraints and realities in a much better way that their "weddings are consumerist carnivals" superficial approaches right now.

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  29. Yes, you're right that being "hipper-than-thou" isn't helping. But what I think is totally not addressed in any of these conversations about the "complexities" of wedding planning is that wedding planning is NOT a hardship. Talking about this issue as if we are being done an injustice by the wedding industry and we need to "fight for our rights" is just silly. I'm not saying that you do that but I think that a lot of the tone around wedding blogs is really not at all self-conscious about the fact that complaining about the stress and pressure of wedding planning comes across as entitled. Do I think that it isn't fair that women in this country have more pressure than men when it comes to weddings, and that women have to bear the weight of societal expectations around weddings? Yes. Do I think it's a social injustice? Hell no. I like what this couple did with their wedding: it's not about complaining about the WIC or thinking you're so "sassy" because you did your own flowers, it's about recognizing where you really want to put your energy:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/fashion/weddings/20VOWS.html

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