Hold Up: Is the Term ‘Bridesmaid’ Kind of Sexist?
Being a bridesmaid has always been a coveted spot for women. It’s right up there with the titular role of BFF. But what if I told you being called a bridesmaid was really the linguistic equivalent of frenemy? It’s hard to believe, but hear me out.
If we put our nerdy Noam Chomsky hats on, we’d discover that the term “bridesmaid” doesn’t fit modern lifestyles. It was created a time long ago when “maidenhood” referred to a single, virgin woman. That’s why the term “Matron of Honor” or “bridematron” exists. Matrons are, literally, married bridesmaids; meaning they’ve had sex, because society outlined that sex is only to be had after marriage. “Maid” specifically refers to a woman who is unfamiliar with the one-eyed monster and/or cooks and cleans for you.
Forgive me, ladies, but I think we should be defined by something other than our sexual status (not to mention our orientation). Men are not linguistically classified by whether or not they’ve had sex, and we should be treated fairly in both name and bedroom. We are no longer listless sexual wallflowers waiting for a man to marry us. We now have the choice to have tons of pleasurable, guilt-free sex these days regardless of a ring on our finger. And women’s professional and personal goals exceed far beyond cleaning up domestic muck.
With 95% of people having sex before marriage and with women working in more than just the service industry, the term “bridesmaid” is a complete misnomer. If women want to be fairly represented by the qualities of their modern lives, women need to adopt monikers that accurately represent them. Lean in, ladies; lean in.
Still not biting? Let’s take a comparative look at the appellations applied to women’s equal, men.
Consider the 19th century etymology of “groomsman,” a “male servant who attends to horses.” This is possibly from medieval times when the bridegroom kidnapped an eligible maiden (i.e. unmarried virgin) from the village yonder and consummated the marriage with the “bride.” The groomsmen would then tend to the horses and keep a lookout. (This is also one theory about where the term “honeymoon” originates. The bridegroom would keep the kidnapped bride hidden for one month or one full moon. Seriously.) If you go back even further, the root of “groom” is just German for “male child.” The name is completely devoid of a man’s sexual standing.
There’s a clear distinction between “groomsmen” and “bridesmaid.” Men are never given sexualized labels because they can be sexual and assertive (without judgment) any time they please. Historically, women have not enjoyed the same advantages. Take, for instance, the recent stories covering Purity Balls, where young girls promised to remain virgins until they married and fathers pledged to help them uphold that promise. Why aren’t young boys making similar promises? The sexual double-standards between men and women infiltrate both our bodies and language.
Designations based on sexual status have always been given to women. But what if the most dangerous monikers are the ones we weren’t aware of because we use them everyday, and often too casually?
What if by using these words, like “bridesmaid,” we subconsciously perpetuate the idea that it’s OK to describe women based on their sexual experience? Because by defining them based on their sexual status we’re submitting women to unfair subjective sexual standards that keep them locked underneath that glass ceiling. If women’s war on words aims to eradicate or reform the bad words, shouldn’t it also be accountable for the less obviously damaging ones?
There’s an easy and simple solution that I swear comes at no inconvenience or cost towards tradition. My solution only modernizes and positively elevates it to similar titles men share and eliminates any sexual connotations. Simply call your bridesmaids “best ladies.” That’s what they are, after all: the best ladies in your life that you want at your side on your big day. While ladies has its own etymological and gendered set of problems (you can’t win), at least it’s not hyper-sexualizing the status of women as intently.
True, using “best ladies” it becomes ubiquitously harder to differentiate the leader of the pack from the rest of the entourage. However, why continue the bridal caste system? Isn’t everyone in the bridal entourage there to help and support? Hierarchies favor those at the top and unfairly treat those at the bottom. “Best lady” encourages everyone to be an equal team player. (Plus, think about how streamlined, simple, and clean writing those ceremony program cards will be.)
I’m currently in my third bridal entourage, and my feminist-bride friend has decided to adopt this new term. Previously, when I was referred to as a “bridesmaid” (even before I knew it’s semantics), there was always something old, stuffy, and suspiciously gendered about the term. There was this implication that I was there to pick up the bride’s slack and be her workhorse, which would explain how Bridezillas often overtax them.
With being called a “best lady,” I have this newfound sense of pride in my role. I feel more confident, because I’m not being judged on my sexual or marital status. And like groomsmen, who seem to enjoy a much more relaxed workload, as a best lady I’m not treated like the hired help either. If brides are going to bestow such a sisterly honor to her friends, why not give them the proper, nondiscriminatory title they deserve? If brides and grooms meticulously squirm over every possible detail to create the perfect and pristine wedding look, why not eradicate the dirty words hidden in its culture too? So let’s #BanBridesmaid.
Katrina Majkut (My’ kit) is the founder of www.TheFeministBride.com. Her site hopes to inspire newlyweds with unique and egalitarian wedding ideas to fit their modern lifestyles, because the perfect wedding includes perfect equality. As a writer and artist, Majkut is dedicated to understanding and exploring social narratives and civil issues in Western marriage and wedding culture. She is represented by Carol Mann Agency in New York City. Please follow The Feminist Bride on Twitter, @FeministBride, Facebook, Etsy and Pinterest.