Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking Pride in Our Weddings

Early in school, I learned that, even if my teachers appreciated my intelligence, the other students didn't. Knowing the right answer might get me a gold star in class but it also got me ignored on the recess yard. And so, I figured out that schoolyard politics were safer if I downplayed my test scores, my grades, my SATs, and pretty much any academic or extracurricular accomplishment. I noticed that my brilliant friends somehow lost their wittiest edge around their boyfriends. I learned that many women were rewarded romantically for when they hung on their boyfriends' words but not necessarily when they interjected too many contrary opinions. In other words, I learned that I was supposed to keep quiet.

The act of publicly claiming our intelligence and accomplishments is a gendered act. Whereas men are oftentimes rewarded for bold ideas, I've often found that women who celebrate their brash smarts and myriad accomplishments are subtly punished. We're somewhat less datable because we're "threatening." Women are "supposed to" be nurturing, supportive, coalition builders whereas popular concepts of masculinity celebrate strength, bold action, and individual initiative. Men are taught to intellectually strut. There's a reason that women still earn about 11 percent less than men with the equivalent experience and work histories, and much of it could be bound up with salary negotiations, or not knowing how to effectively demand our worth. Asking for raises is complicated because, at some level, we've been taught not to brag about how amazing we are, which is absolutely imperative in making our case for salary negotiations. But it's also complicated because women who negotiate are often perceived more unfavorably than those who continue being nurturing, supportive and agreeable about the status quo.

This is certainly a simplification of modern North American gender expectations. And I know a discussion of how women often downplay their accomplishments, salary negotiations, and gender isn't what you necessarily expect from a wedding blog, but bear with me here, because I think it's relevant to our weddings. It's relevant because the act of planning a wedding is culturally undervalued, in part because it's dismissed as "women's work" and in part because none of us are standing up and cheering for our wedding-related accomplishments. We've learned to keep quiet. And, much like with our temerity in salary negotiations, our accomplishments therefore remain undervalued.

Last week, Petite Chablis wrote about a recent job interview, in which was asked about her conference planning experience. She replied by describing her skills and her experience planning small workshops. When the interviewer asked her to describe anything she'd done on a larger scale, she immediately thought of her wedding. But she didn't immediately mention her wedding, because she was smart enough to know better. But then she was brave enough to actually stand behind her incredibly relevant accomplishments and take pride in her wedding planning experience:
"I immediately froze in horror. Oh. My. God.  I just mentioned my WEDDING in a JOB INTERVIEW.  I am so not getting this job. I could hear the skepticism in the interviewer’s voice.  “So … you’re organized because you planned your wedding?”

But I gamely soldiered on, explaining that the event had had almost 150 guests, that I’d made spreadsheets accounting for all RSVPs and meal choices and dietary restrictions, and that the caterer had called us the most organized couple she’d ever worked with.

If I had to take it back I’m not sure I’d mention the wedding again, based solely on the skepticism in the interviewer’s voice.  But I got the job.  And damn it, in retrospect I kind of resent that skepticism and I resent myself for thinking that my experience planning a 150-person event somehow didn’t “count” because it happened to be a wedding. The truth is, I’m now starting to plan an event for my job and the lessons I learned while wedding planning really are helpful."
Well yes, of course these wedding planning lessons are helpful and relevant for a conference-related job, as anyone suffering through wedding planning can attest (and you should really go read the rest of Petite Chablis' post here, because she shares some very smart lessons-learned from her wedding.)  We're all taking a crash course in event planning and learning first-hand why "event planner" is a professional category. But we're generally still too embarrassed - logically so, given how weddings and bridezillas are depicted in popular culture - to publicly take pride in our massive accomplishments here.

Make no mistake, planning a wedding is a huge accomplishment. If I told you that I was coordinating a multi-day offsite event with catered meals, shuttle buses, out of town logistics, event design, a marketing campaign, entertainment, equipment rentals, and collateral materials for 150 people, all for well under $30,000, most people would be impressed... because it's impressive. And if I told them I was managing wildly competing event visions from various Event Advisory Committee members, someone would nod sagely and buy me a stiff drink. In fact, I've done this sort of work for 200-500 attendee corporate events on which I have actual staff support and boss feedback, so I know it's professionally impressive. But it's only impressive until I mention the word "wedding" and clarify that the "Event Advisory Committee" is comprised of us and our parents, at which point most people would dismiss me as a flighty spendthrift woman with tulle-for-brains.

While I understand the impulse to shove our wedding work under the proverbial rug, keeping quiet only further allows our culture to diminish these accomplishments. It further allows people to think that our momentary breakdowns about decor are proof that women are weak and can be broken by silly things like centerpieces,  instead of looking deeper at the way this second job (ie planning a wedding) finally got to be too damn much and how escort cards can just be the final straw in a haystack of impossible expectations and undervalued efforts that finally broke my wedding planning back.

We should be bragging. We should be strutting. We should be taking pride in our weddings as massive accomplishments that speak to our creativity, our thriftiness, our prowess (or at least newfound experience) at diffusing tense family discussions,  and our complex logistical know-how. Planning a wedding is huge, and not just because getting married is a huge emotional step and process. It's huge because planning a wedding itself is a huge responsibility, challenge and accomplishment. And I, for one, am tired of downplaying just how huge this is.

In the past few weeks, I checked off a major goal on my life list: my work was honored in print. And it didn't just happen once, it happened twice. In the first instance, I was interviewed by an industry trade journal. The article just came out and I read it over and over, marveling at how impressive my professional projects look in a news story. The journalist even wrote back to let me know how "quotable" I was and that she expanded the article to accommodate our conversation. In the second instance, I was contacted by Southern Weddings Magazine to tell me that they wrote about my blog in this month's issue: they included A Los Angeles Love on their list of "the best and brightest prospects in the blogging world." The listed me, ME!, in with Brooklyn Bride, Snippet & Ink, Merci New York, Non Pareil, and Utterly Engaged in their list of top blogs for the Modern Bride. My blog is in print, on the shiny glossy, beautifully printed pages of a stunningly curated national wedding magazine that is trying to re-imagine the visual inspiration and landscape of today's wedding magazines. In one case, my professional work is being publicly praised and, in the other case, my passion-project work is being publicly praised. In both cases, I am still a little bit in awe and feel the shock of my raw accomplishments laid bare, with no real ability to pretend they don't matter or to quickly talk past any reference. Because the references are there, for anyone to see, in print.

I started this blog because I wanted an outlet for my writing. I started this blog because my soul needed something more than the technical aspects of my job to keep me personally nourished and fulfilled. In my job, I am driven to create projects that will move the country from imported diesel and onto clean energy alternatives (really, that's my day job.) But in my life, I was driven create something with words that mattered on a personal level, and hence this blog was born, just as I was embarking on our wedding planning journey. And now I'm at a strange parallel point where both are getting publicly recognized.  And I'm at the strange point where both are possibly "resume worthy." And yet, for a moment, I hesitated to include both on my updated resume. Like Petite Chablis, I know that weddings aren't culturally valued. But also like Petite Chablis, I'm going to be brave enough to claim this accomplishment. Because our weddings are accomplishments. And well-written blogs about weddings are accomplishments. And getting printed in Southern Weddings Magazine is a huge accomplishment.

I am ready to take pride in my wedding, and I hope you're ready to join me too. Because this process really is huge and we all truly deserve three hundred and five pats on the back. At least.

32 comments:

  1. Hear hear!! Planning an event like a wedding, with all the details and multiple vendors, is TOTALLY a huge accomplishment and not always easy to do, hence the "wedding planning" industry, which exists because many brides don't have the time or desire to plan it themselves! I love your stance on this issue and the women's studies major in me loves your connections to the deeper gender issues at hand. Bravo for writing this!

    Oh, and major CONGRATS on your two print recognitions, that is huge!!

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  2. Congratulations on your well-deserved recognition!

    I hear what you're saying about planning a wedding being an accomplishment. It is really hard, as difficult as a professional event but then with all the family issues and emotional stuff thrown in as well. I started my blog as a safe outlet to talk about wedding planning as much as I wanted without having anyone start judging me for being too obsessed with wedding planning. I cringe when I hear myself join in conversations with friends with some example or story from wedding planning because I'm afraid they're beginning to think that all I can think about and all that I'm doing is planning for a wedding.

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  3. @KWu And, yet, the same anxiety isn't there about work-related issues. I'm a week out from a major 250-person, multi-day conference that I'm organizing on my own, and, trust me, it's just about the only think I can think or talk about. And, yes, it means I'm pretty boring (and maybe annoying), but no one thinks it's shallow.

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  4. This is awesome! And totally ties into the APW post a bit ago about how "women's stuff" is "stupid". I guess I'd been part of the people sneering before, thank you very much for making me check myself!

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  5. Congrats, Becca! Take pride! Strut!

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  6. Exactly. If I could "rec" this post, I would! Awhile back I wrote an article for Offbeat Bride about the misuse of the term Bridezilla. There was a paragraph in the original post on the private forum about how this kind of work is usually expected of a professional event planner, and as most brides are not professional event planners, it can get really, really hard. We're expected to be able to do something that an entire well-paid professional group does *for a living*, and do it without complaint, issue or problem, AND be humble about it. It's ridiculous.

    That paragraph was edited out of the article on the main site (the article was just too long - understandable) but the sentiment was there!

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  7. Congratulations Becca! You are very deserving of the recognition. Both for your job and your passion-project blog. I'm really happy for you.

    And we all should revel in the skills we are developing during this wedding planning process. They aren't something to be shrugged off. We should indeed be proud.

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  8. Wow. Two AH-mazing accomplishments - so happy for you and congratulations. Though I will fully admit that I am slightly choked up with a giant amount of jealousy. However, I couldn't be bitter about your success if I tried. But jealous? Oh yesssssssssssss......

    And as for speaking up? Oh. My. God.
    As a seasoned professional, I have found that there is a very clever skill a woman must perfect if she is to be regarded as:
    Competent
    Capable
    Unemotionally Driven

    That little thing is tone of voice. After YEARS of beating my head against the proverbial wall of Stupid Men in Charge, I've just about mastered it.
    Being quick witted is another added bonus, but lots of women are afraid to be this way because of all the gender role issues you mentioned above. It goes hand in hand with the inability to toot yer own horn!

    But back to tone of voice - many women tend to go into the shrill mode when in a debate or heated discussed. We use our hands and move around. We flip our hair in disgust. We sigh and roll our eyes. No good. No good at all. I've practiced setting my jaw, lowering my voice, sitting on my hands and maintaining constant eye contact. In particular cases, I'll actually intentionally take a step closer to the person to close the gap. I read somewhere a decade ago that if you are across a table, or an object is between you and someone you're in a discussion with, to move around that object to get next to the person you're communicating with. It removed a physical barrier, thus potentially the non-physical barrier you are trying to bypass.
    You would be AMAZED at how these little things can get people to do the things you want them to do. It almost feels like intimidation on my part and it probably is. But you know what? Fuck it! That's what's been happening to women in the workforce for decades. Women are highly creative problem solvers, excellent communicators and completely relevant and required in any working environment. How can anyone think otherwise? Sadly, lots of people in charge do. I've pissed off a LOT of people over the years, but in the end those same pissed off people are the ones who sing my praises.

    And just as a side note, I will admit that I get bitchy at certain times of the month. But does anyone out there know of a guy who does not ever have a bad mood? I mean, my dad gets into these bitch-modes where he actually leaves the house. If you confront him with his bad mood, he'll say, "I don't have MOODS." Uh, au contraire, mon papa. Men have moods. The difference is that at least we know when they are coming and when they'll leave and why they are there in first place. Men? They have NO excuse.
    OK, sorry for posting in you comment section, but this was a fabulous post that got me all fired up.
    Congrats again!

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  9. @KWu - I know exactly what you mean. I think a lot of us started these blogs so we had an outlet where our wedding planning doesn't seem "crazy." and yet, that's all a bit ridiculous, isn't it? Because we ARE spending a lot of our time planning a wedding, so it's normal for it to come up, but we're not supposed to talk about it.

    @Katy - Good luck with the event... and the wedding. And great point about it seeming "shallow" when we talk about weddings but not similar professional accomplishments. It's not shallow, it's TIME CONSUMING.

    @30-Something Bride - you are always so smart about professional things. It really is all about tone of voice, staring them down, and methodically ticking off how you are incredible for the company. And being willing to piss people off... which is really hard to learn how to do when you're also supposed to be a "people pleaser."

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  10. congrats, becca! you deserve it! and, it's refreshing to hear it's ok to take pride in the wedding planning process. it's an ordeal and it's all consuming, but if you honor yourself throughout it, you really learn a lot, and we should be proud.

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  11. Wanna hear me say something you don't expect me to say? Sigh, here goes. CAREFUL with adding it to the resume. I tried that, and it hurt me big time. Blogging, particularly wedding blogging, is not respected in the regular world (yet). And it hurts you on resumes, because their is a perception that if you write online you can't be *trusted.* You can bring it up in interviews (maybe...) but unless you're applying for a social media related job, in my experience it will loose you the chance to interview. F*cked up, right? Also pretty true. We can chat more on email if you'd like.

    I'm learning how to bring up my work in cocktail party settings even, and it's hard. It's taken a lot of concerted work. In my experience the only way to avoid being belittled is when asked the first confused question, "Professional blogger, whaaa?" you have to rattle out AS MANY terms they don't understand as you can in one sentence: page views, leveraging your audience into monetization, CPM, trust capital, building a platform, possibilities of new media, personal branding, optimizing multiple revenue streams, BAM. If you do that, you'll start to bring them to their knees. If you don't, you're screwed.

    It's a f*cked up world. The end. And yeah, I hear your point loud and clear.

    And congratulations again :)

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  12. @Meg - I agree that I have to be careful and that it would only go on certain resumes. Because all resumes are curated to some extent anyhow. But yes, I'm taking on more marketing/communications/social media initiatives at work, and I'd say that discussing this blog has helped prove - to a female VP - that I was up for the job. But only once I discussed plans for *using* what I've learned here to better leverage our outreach campaigns.

    It's a fine line. But every time one of us walks it intelligently, it's better for everyone else. And blogs like yours - thriving, successful businesses and online communities - really do help legitimize what the rest of us are doing too.

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  13. You summed up perfectly how I felt when I was planning my wedding. I felt like I had to downplay the whole thing so I didn't come off as a "silly little bride" despite the fact that 1) I was excited and happy to do it, and 2) I had worked as a corporate event coordinator and I missed doing that work. Thank you so much for writing this post and putting into words what I couldn't! And congrats on the ever-so-awesome accomplishments!!

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  14. Great post, and congrats on the recognition. Wedding planning reminds me all the time of the symposium I worked on last fall, but I don't get the same feeling of pride from it. Damn patriarchy.

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  15. First, congratulations on all of the well-deserved recognition! The recognition you have received for your smart, eloquent writing is certainly something worth talking about. Obviously, it would need to be marketed properly to the audience you are addressing, but you already know that.

    Building on what Louise was saying, I have found that when I spend a lot of time with my kids, I start inadvertently using a "feminine" language that does not translate well to my professional job. I had a boss tell me not to get "emotional" because I had used the word phrase "not fair" as short-hand speak for "We should not agree to these terms because this will give our opponent an inequitable advantage that will prevent us from completing the work we need to complete for X reasons." You see, kids understand concepts of "fair" and "taking turns," but I sometimes find it hard to shed the Mommy-speak when I walk in the door of my office.

    Which is to say, Louise is right on the money.

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  16. Yes, yes, and yes to everything in this post! The most disheartening thing about the view of wedding planning bias from our own woman peers within the workplace. It really bothered me to hear women (some of them married!) use derogatory language against brides or wedding planning while inquiring about my own plans a few years ago. I really grew to loathe the tone behind the "sentiment."

    Congrats on your accomplishments!

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  17. Thanks for the shout-out -- and huge congrats on the trade journal interview and the Southern Weddings article!! The publicity in both cases is incredibly well-deserved.

    And thank you, Becca and Louise and everyone else, for the lessons in speaking up and being a professional. I've been dealing with some stuff at work and this was just what I needed to read today!

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  18. I think Meg is right, but we (as in the community) gotta start somewhere. We're lucky to have brave, honest and intelligent women paving the way.

    Hooray!

    p.s. I'm going to go celebrate my skills in planning my wedding and take the night off. :)

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  19. hell yes. congrats on the Southern Wedding list and being featured in print, that is badass. I love this post...I get so weird and wonky when I mention that I write a wedding blog...I always mention it with skepticism and wait to see what the reaction is...like I just mentioned I'm a Scientologist or I like to experiment on people..yeah. Thanks for the boost.

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  20. @Lizzie - someone needs to write that post: "Talking about Wedding Planning is Like Saying You're a Scientologist" beacuse I know exactly the nose wrinkle you're talking about. Like you said something that smells bad.

    It's a freaking wedding. It smells like roses, sweat, blood and tears. Get over it.

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  21. Many congratulations! Your sincere and heartfelt writing were meant to get you printed eventually. It's so true that wedding planning really is an accomplishment - the planning involved in a large wedding makes it one of the biggest projects of your life.

    You should also take this blog as a point of pride. The honest revelations and observations have obviously touched people in so many unexpected and lovely ways.

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  22. Woo-hoo! Congratulations on your successes! You f*cking rule!!!

    The parallel recognition of both your professional and passion-fed work at the same time is so nice and balanced. My hope for you is that you eventually find ways to bring them even closer together (not that we don't need passionate people focusing on clean energy - especially here in Cali - God knows, we do! But I hope you find a way to bring the insightful, personal, CONNECTING voice even more into your work - or your clean energy even more into the blogging - so that it becomes all of one piece, and utterly deserving of top resume spot. When our passions and lifework align, nothing can stop us!

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  23. @30-Something-Bride

    SO true about tone of voice and body language being doubly important for women who want to be taken seriously at a professional level! I still keep some hand gesticulations, but they're firm, toned down and used in a way that a good presenter would use to make his or her point (if you've ever seen Dan Pink's TED talk, that's the kind of body language I try to emulate, and I find that it works).

    It bothers me that men can get emotional about a topic and they'll be seen as "passionate" and "driven" but women will be seen as "shrill" and "obsessive". It chafes my butt to no end, but it's true, at least for now.

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  24. Big hugs and congratulations Becca! And I'm loving the comment string especially form 30-Something- so so true!

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  25. Sending you a well-deserved congratulation. Just saw Cathy Horyn, the NYT fashion critic. She's gotten a rep for being "angry," turns out she just takes no guff. Damn we've been fighting this battle for a long time.

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  26. THANK YOU for this post!!!

    While I was planning our wedding (in 9 months), I was also a full-time student, a nanny, and a research assistant in two psych labs. And somehow I found the time to plan a very elaborate NY wedding for 150 people.

    While I was talking to our band manager, she told me that she had never spoken directly with a bride, only with their wedding planners. I am so proud that I handled it all myself. That I negotiated all the contracts, coordinated all the details, paid all the bills, did all the research, designed the whole thing, made the bridesmaid necklaces, wrote a personal letter to every single guest, made all the programs, and did tons of other constant little tasks. I did have a little background, but that didn't make it any less work.

    On top of all that, I navigated two parents who haven't spoken since the last time they sued each other and a mother who was literally having a mental breakdown. That takes some serious finesse.

    I am proud of all of it.

    When it actually happened, the day was worth every second of time and energy that I put into it. But getting to that moment took WORK.

    So shout your message from the rooftops, Becca. Planning a wedding is one hell of an accomplishment.

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  27. *clap clap clap*
    Well-written, and congratulations on your award in Southern Weddings Magazine, that is fantastic!!!
    I loved reading this, because I had a full-time job, part-time grad school, and I was planning our 150 guest wedding all by myself. No planner, not much help from the boy, me. It was damn hard.
    Keep up the great posts, congrats again!

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  28. Congratulations! Well deserved. I love reading you blog and so glad to hear so many others do too. Thanks for sharing your honesty!

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  29. Congratulations and YES! you should be proud of your accomplishments. It is time we all stood up and be proud of our accomplishments.

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  30. Amen sista.. walk proud.


    sara
    http://www.momentsofelegance.com

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