Nothing takes longer to die than an idea. For decades now, feminists have been questioning and criticising the weird patriarchal traditions of weddings and, while everyone is fairly united that the idea of a man giving away his daughter to another man is fucked up, it’s still the dominant practice of any wedding I’ve ever been to. Even during the most feminist ceremonies – where the bridesmaids all gave speeches and wore trousers – the bride was still serenely delivered to her new husband by her smiling father. In cases where the dad isn’t around, the bride is usually given away by someone else: a brother, a stepfather, an uncle. Hell, even Joey walked Phoebe down the aisle. I’ve read a few pieces about women who went down the aisle solo, but am yet to actually meet one in real life. There’s something about this old, weird idea that is baked into our DNA.
It’s that knee-jerk emotional reaction, I think, that has gripped the media so much when it comes to Meghan Markle and her father, Thomas, who may not attend her wedding to Prince Harry on Saturday. Right now, media attention around Markle has reached such a fever pitch that any information – from “her fondness for green” to the sale of a Meghan mug – is news.
So, with so much non-news around the place, the fact that Meghan’s father may not be attending the wedding is a nugget of real news that is sending the press wild.
“Meghan pleads with dad,” screams the Daily Mail’s front page, while the somewhat less emotive Sun goes for “Meg Dad won’t go to wedding”. Almost every front page appears dazzled by the news, gaping at the horror of a bride without her father.
If the tradition of giving the bride away really is so baked into our DNA, why can’t mothers give their daughters away?
Which is upsetting, particularly when you consider that the story is only happening because of the media’s involvement so far. Speaking to the ever-classy TMZ, Thomas admitted the photographs that recently went viral– most memorably, of him reading a book called “Images of Britain” – were staged. According to him, after months of being hounded to and from work by the paparazzi that branded him “disheveled and reclusive”, he attempted to repair his public image for the sake of his daughter’s reputation, accepting money from a paparazzi agency to do so. This he now “deeply regrets” and, shortly afterwards, Thomas Markle suffered from a heart attack. He now says he will be abstaining from the wedding, to not embarrass Meghan further.
Obviously, it’s completely possible that Thomas Markle is lying and just wanted to make a quick buck off his daughter. It is equally possible that this story is truly as heartbreaking as it sounds: that a man, bamboozled by his child’s newfound status in the most famous royal family in the world, attempted to help by accepting help from the wrong people. That his failed attempt came from a place of deep class shame and an urge to rewrite an image that was decided on months ago.
Again, both of these things are possible. It’s possible that Meghan Markle asked him not to come, possible that a million other discussions are happening behind closed doors, probable that we will never have the true answer of what is going on with Thomas Markle.
But what is clear from the media is this: that the pressure for a woman to have her father present at her wedding is greater than the pressure of any dress, any venue, any ring. If you can’t have your father, then some significant male figure in your life should be on your arm, a message of: “See? Multiple men volunteer to take care of me. Surely, I must be the most loved woman of all?”
And if you have someone who you’d love to “give you away”, as it were, then great. I know that if I get married, I – touch wood – will be sincerely hoping that my father will be able to walk me down the aisle. But I’m not naive enough to think that it’s something every woman should or even want to have, and to carry on implying that it’s the most natural way to get married is offensive and downright bizarre.
But if the tradition of giving the bride away really is so baked into our DNA, as the alarming headlines around Meghan Markle’s dad suggest, and if the idea truly is as hard to kill as it seems to be – then why can’t we amend it? Why can’t mothers give their daughters away? While not common, it does occasionally happen and would confront the fact that, in most ceremonies, mothers are given no role, no symbolic act, no tradition of their own outside of the buying of a hat.
The 24-hour news cycle around Meghan and Harry’s nuptials may be grating, but there’s no denying that it’s a wedding that will serve as a time capsule for future historians on how we viewed tradition and ceremony in the 21st century. There’s something refreshing about the idea that it’s a wedding that could change the status quo on a father’s role.