Wedding season is upon us in full swing! Several weeks ago, my wife and I attended a wedding. It was a blast, as any wedding should be. The bride and groom are both wonderful people. There was food, drink, and dancing. What more could you ask for?
Like most weddings, the festivities included the bouquet toss and garter toss. If you’ve been at a wedding reception in the US, you have more than likely seen this ritual. To begin, all the single ladies are asked, encouraged, then cajoled onto the dance floor to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”. The bride throws the bouquet in the air, before a mixed multitude of eager and reticent single women. And according to wedding lore whichever single lady catches it is the next to be married. This is a ritual in which the DJ has near complete control over, and often times this person is a stranger working the crowd for all they’re worth. How can this ever go wrong?
For the next phase of this custom the bride takes a seat, and her groom slyly removes the garter from her thigh. Now the single fellas gather on the floor and the groom tosses the garter. In this particular instance it was wrapped around a football, rather than shot as a sling shot. A single guy catches it, and (in the final phase of the ritual) now he must place it on the leg of the bouquet-bearing single woman. There are usually cheers, and perhaps whistling, surrounding the activity.
At this particular wedding, a couple of guys in their late twenties hoisted a 14 year old boy into the air to catch the garter. There was cheering and high-fiving, and I confess, I thought it was funny. Then it came time to place the garter on the leg of the young woman with the bouquet, who was at least a decade his senior. This is when stuff got uncomfortable. The boy slipped the garter over her ankle. Then he continued up her calf with enthusiasm, milking as much cheering from the male voices in the crowd as he could. Then he passed her knee. The young woman’s eyes went wide as he continued sliding the garter up her thigh! Once the boy was a third of the way up her thigh, she looked to the groom (a generally decent guy, I insist) who was laughing with the rest. She put a hand out towards the boy to stop him, but he didn’t stop sliding that garter until he was two-thirds the up her thigh and well under the hem of her dress. (And how vociferously could she protest when the crowd was cheering their approval?) The crowd hooted and hollered (especially the groomsmen), the 14 year old boy offered her a handshake which she reluctantly accepted, and he sauntered off the dance floor. The young woman, on the other hand, walked back to her table visibly uncomfortable and ashamed. The sense of violation was plain on her face.
My wife and I walked away from an otherwise enjoyable night feeling queasy and angry that this wedding game had played out as such, (my wife in particular was horrified and furious, feeling sick to her stomach) and that no one had intervened. More importantly, the whole scene had been encouraged, right down to the DJ telling the boy “Jimmy, today you start becoming a man.”
We indulged this custom at our wedding too… It was my idea, and my wife was willing to indulge me, even to the point of surprising me with a Superman garter. When a minor nabbed the garter, we insisted the teen who caught it choose a friend over the age of 21 who we were confident would be respectful of the woman who caught the bouquet. It was a decent contingency plan, cooked up on the fly out of sheer necessity. And yet, the game was played.
And as I watched this teenage boy slide the garter with gusto up her bare leg, I felt my own sense of shame and remorse. At our wedding (not quite 4 years ago) a small crowd of teenage boys looked on as I removed that Superman garter (using my teeth no less…). These young guys composed my small group at church and many I had known since they were 12. What message did I send them? What did I hope to prove? That I was cool? That since I had been open with them about my commitment to abstinence until my wedding night that then I could go ravenously wild in public?
As we were trying to unwind in our hotel after this recent wedding, my wife commented that it would be abhorrent if a group of women encouraged a 14 year old girl to caress, or even touch, the abs of a young man in his mid-twenties. There would be an outcry, and the young man would under no circumstances be tacitly expected to allow such a spectacle. Yet, this boy was encouraged to “go for it!” Had she protested, resisted, or removed herself from the game, I suspect that would have been frowned upon. After all she caught the bouquet! It’s like entering a social contract, right? And women catch the bouquet first, so whoever catches it has no idea who the “lucky guy” will be. If the garter toss happened first, at least then these women would get have some consent in who touches them.
Have you ever watched the single ladies as they’re ushered on to the dance floor to catch the bouquet? The majority of them look completely disinterested or even reluctant. I suspect this is because they know that one of them will have to expose a fair amount of leg in public and let a stranger place an undergarment on said leg as a high as his pleasure may be. Here’s a reminder that garters are an undergarment.
If any of the guys from my small group read this, I am sorry that I set such an example. You all deserved better than that, as do the women you may pursue.
And to everyone else, when we celebrate at weddings, what are choosing to celebrate? Rest assured, at a celebration of two lives becoming one before God and their community, no one should feel violated or humiliated. As a Church, we need to reconsider the garter toss.