“Who Gives This Woman to Be Married to This Man?”

The entire congregation gets teary to see a dad give away his little girl. Oh how we enjoy those old rituals even though we see things differently now. They are an instant reminder of all the love and care and sacrifice that got the bride to this day.

Traditions – especially those shared by a community – keep people connected to their culture, their roots and each other. They are familiar. They put values front and center. We know we belong to something bigger than ourselves. 

Seeing things in a new way doesn’t erase the old ways. Rituals, language and music are but a few of the ways cultures continually reanimate the past. So – what are the roots of the ritual of a dad giving away his daughter? Let’s look back to the day when people first discovered the concept of paternity. Right there we can see the genesis of many of our patriarchal traditions. Laws, customs and other systems were designed to ensure that men can answer the (new) ultimate question, “Whose baby is that?” Wombs became something akin to civic property. Dads felt compelled to protect their daughters’ virginity, not just to be sure that a baby interloper didn’t inherit any family wealth, but also because society expected that of dads. To save face, men had to make it their business.  

Perhaps national flags should have carried an image of a caged uterus. 

Yes, we have come a long way – but ….! In the U.S., culture is still doing its darndest to protect its uteri (yes, I looked it up). Just look at how our language today makes it ever-so-clear that women who don’t practice chastity risk being marginalized. Shamed. Discarded. Words like slut, easy or even whore are all spoken with a sneer and dripping with judgment. What shaming words do we use to ensure that young men stay chaste? Just kidding. There aren’t any. I know, men have to deal with their own cultural expectations – perhaps as restrictive and controlling. We can explore more about those concerns later.  

I still love all (okay, most) of the ceremonial rituals even though they are often tainted with some deep human weakness – because there is a bigger good. People need to come together to reflect on the fragility of life and the importance of caring. And until societies develop new and ubiquitous shorthand and icons for that, I will run my way into any wedding just to breathe in the goodness, experience the bonding and cohesion. Like a double shot of oxytocin. Cheers.

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