Friday, February 26, 2010

The Bridezilla Phenomenon

I was married two years ago, and going through the process of planning a wedding helped me to finally figure out a confounding cultural phenomenon: the Bridezilla. Why do otherwise sane and sweet women sometimes become domineering, selfish, angry monsters before or during their weddings?

We all want to feel that we are being heard, that we have a voice. We want to be agents of our own lives. We want, in short, to have power. Many women are routinely denied this basic human need. Women are taught from the beginning of our lives to deny our own happiness and independence in favor of making others happy. We are too often relegated to the back seat, made invisible, ignored. As Myra and David Sadker discovered in their famous study "Failing at Fairness," teachers in elementary school call disproportionately on boys and give them more praise and help. "...girls get less time, less challenge, and less help. Reinforced for passivity, their independence and self-esteem suffer."

This happens in every institution and in every day interactions. Several years ago, after purchasing my own home with my own money, I was having a washer and dryer delivered. My (male) partner at the time happened to be present as the delivery man wheeled the machines in and installed them. The delivery guy asked questions and talked about the appliances, all the while addressing himself to my partner. My partner tried to redirect the man's attention several times, saying "It's her house, I don't live here," and "Talk to her, it's got nothing to do with me." The delivery man just couldn't do it. He continued to talk to my partner, acting as if I didn't exist.

Women endure these kinds of interactions so frequently, many of us don't even notice them. We internalize the message we get day in and day out: My opinion doesn't matter. I don't matter. I'm nobody.

Then comes the wedding. Suddenly, the tables are turned. As my current (male) partner and I went through the process of picking out a location, a band, decorations, and all the other little decisions we had to make, he was often treated as if he didn't exist. My opinion was the one that mattered. In fact, people often openly spoke about how little weight the groom's input actually carries. When my musician partner called some musician friends to ask them to play at our ceremony, the band leader was very uncomfortable talking to my partner without me. He said to my partner, "I really need to talk to the bride. Brides care about this stuff a lot more than grooms do."

So here's my bridezilla theory: Many women, denied access to power and told all their lives that their input is irrelevant, get drunk on the sudden shift a wedding provides. They are now treated as if only their opinion matters. They are queen bee for a time. Knowing that this is short lived, they make the most of it. Unconsciously of course, these women are going to wring as much as they can out of the experience. I have certainly not done any kind of scientific study, but in my limited observation it seems to be the women who have most internalized the messages that women's real value lies in appearance and the ability to attract and keep a man, who go the most nuts around their weddings.

So bemoan the bridezillas all you want. Until we start treating girls and women as if their voices mattered as much as boys' and men's, the phenomenon will continue.