Wedding Traditions Re-examined
[CW: Heteronormativity; violence; gendered language; sexism; rape]
The “best man,” like many wedding traditions, has a disturbing past that we rarely think twice about. Before digging deeper, I’d like to acknowledge that not every wedding has a best man, for many reasons. There might not be a wedding party or maybe there is, but it isn’t comprised of any men.
What is currently seen as an honor and sign of friendship, has a dark history that takes us back to 16th century Germanic Goths. The best man was considered skilled as the “best swordsman” and helped forcibly kidnap the bride from her home with his entourage if she or her family didn’t approve of the marriage. The best man and his crew were often heavily armed to fend off any attackers, and stood guard by the groom’s side throughout the ceremony and later outside their bedchamber door, in case she tried to flee or family attacked.
In modern weddings where there is a bride and groom, typically you’ll notice the bride standing to the left of the groom. This tradition stems from the idea that she may be there against her consent, so the groom needs to have his sword hand ready to defend any disapproving family members.
According to historians, the honeymoon was an extension of the ritualistic abduction and was intended for the groom to hide his kidnapped bride for months until her family stopped looking for her or she became pregnant.
It can be easy to shrug these origin stories off as letting the past be the past, but when there is violence in the roots of the traditions we uphold, they are worth re-examining. I encourage us to hold each other accountable by educating ourselves on these wedding traditions.
How would it feel to flip the script and stand on opposite sides during the ceremony, for those that have a bride and groom? What if we dismantled the language we use around formalities like “best man”? How would it feel to eliminate words like “best” and gendered labels and boxes entirely from these roles and opt for alternatives like “person of honor”?
As a side note, the groomsmen in this photo are delightful humans and not at all representative of the subject matter above.