The Sexist Undertones of Wedding Marketing

Laurie Vazquez, a 36-year-old marketing manager in New York City, had decided to keep her last name after she got married in June. But not everyone seemed to be on board with these plans.

Before and after the wedding, the Knot, an app she used to plan and share memories with family and friends, and WeddingWire, a site that provided wedding vendors, both repeatedly sent emails reminding her to change her last name.

“They stressed me out,” Ms. Vazquez said. “They were so close to the day of, and I had millions of other things to worry about.”

She unsubscribed to the emails. Then once Ms. Vazquez designated that she was married on her Facebook profile, she began seeing ads for baby products on the social media platform. “They made an assumption about me,” she said. “I know the societal trend for young women in their 20s is to start family planning quickly after they get married, but that’s not me.”

As technology has evolved, wedding festivities have spilled over onto websites, apps and social media. Most couples now post photos with specific hashtags, request gifts using online registries, and share event details on wedding-planning sites. Yet while these tools may be the future of weddings and wedding planning, many users feel they’re stuck in the past when it comes to women.

“The wedding industry’s appeal to outdated name-change practices, not to mention notions of ‘tying the knot,’ confirms how out of touch they are,” said Chrys Ingraham, a professor and chair of sociology at SUNY Purchase.

Even hashtag generators seem to have a sexist slant.

“I wanted a hashtag, but it was all like ‘husbands’ name,’” said Amy Lewanski, a 29-year-old marketing coordinator and writer in San Diego. Typing “John Smith” and “Jane Doe” into ewedding.com’s hashtag generator, for instance, yields #DoeToSmith, #BecomingSmith, #SmithJokes4ever, and #YouHadMeAtSmith among the first five results (the other being the more neutral #JaneAndJohnForever).

And then there are Instagram bridal accounts like @greenweddingshoes and @junebugweddings, among hundreds of others, that share photos of extravagant dresses, settings and décor, which some brides feel adds pressure to an already stressful time.

“These bridal accounts are focusing more on what a woman is supposed to look like rather than on the emotion of the day,” said Nomi Pratt, a wedding photographer in Greenville, S.C. “Social media has made brides feel as though they should fit into a mold of ‘the perfect bride’ who is skinny, hair is perfect, makeup is without smudge, and flowers are larger than she is.

“Instead of being fully present in the moment and full of emotion for their spouse, they’re worried about getting the perfect Instagram photo.”

It’s not just social media encouraging brides to stay on top of their appearances. The Knot provides a checklist for women users with items like “figure out your wedding style,” “save wedding dress photos,” “make a beauty plan,” and “meet with hairstylists.” Grooms who sign up for the Knot receive checklists as well, but they do not include references to hairstylists or beauty plans.

Lauren Grech, who runs the New York event management firm LLG Events and is an adjunct professor at N.Y.U.’s event management master’s program, finds none of this surprising. “Apps were created to cater to the female audience,” she said, “because women were traditionally the ones most involved in the wedding planning process and in purchasing items for their first home.”

Companies are evolving their products in response to user feedback about those old-fashioned values and gender roles.

Melissa Bach, a senior director of public relations for the Knot Worldwide, which also includes the WeddingWire, said the company recently made some updates to its website, app, social media and emails. This included, she said, changing the phrase “bridal party” to “wedding party” and showcasing photos of same-sex couples. Last year, the Knot also changed the name of its proposal site from “How He Asked” to “How They Asked.”

“While we’ve taken many steps toward being more inclusive, we know that we’re not perfect and there’s always more we can be doing to be better,” Ms. Bach said.

Traditions have been gradually changing. A 2015 New York Times survey found that 20 percent of married women had kept their last names. Ms. Nickel also noted that in the last five years, “grooms in male-female weddings, particularly millennial grooms, are more involved with wedding planning.”

At the same time, Ms. Grech said, “companies, publications and apps are making significant strides to be all-inclusive, couple-centric, and an accepting place where all types of couples are welcome.” She said the Knot and the registry site Zola have become more L.G.B.T.Q. inclusive. For example, rather than searching registries by “bride’s name” and “groom’s name,” these sites now simply ask you to type a first name and last name. They also allow users to select items that say “Mr. and Mr.” or Mrs. and Mrs.” instead of just “Mr. and Mrs.”

Lindsey Nickel, a business coach for wedding planners, believes people working in the wedding industry can help combat sexism.

“I think it’s really important for wedding vendors to not assume anything,” said Ms. Nickel, who also runs the Lovely Day Events wedding planning company, which serves Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Napa and Sonoma, Calif.

“For example,” she said, “don’t assume that the bride is going to take the groom’s last name; don’t assume that the bride’s parents are paying for everything; don’t assume that the groom is only going to help with the D.J. planning; don’t assume there will be a father-daughter dance or a mother-son dance.”

Friends and family can be less stereotypical, too, Ms. Nickel said. Rather than write “she’s so beautiful” and “our gorgeous bride” on social media, they can praise other qualities, she said.

“Very rarely do I see social media posts that mention how friendly, smart, good at planning, or kind a bride is,” Ms. Nickel said. “It would be so easy for people to include personal characteristics not just about looks.”

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