Friday, May 2, 2014

Say No to the Dress: According to Third-Wave Feminism

Third- Wave Feminism and Say Yes to the Dress

In today’s day and age, it’s easy to the think that we don’t need feminism. Feminism is a thing of the past and now that we have the right to vote and affordable birth control pills feminists are off duty. The TLC series “Say Yes to the Dress,” can tell us something very different. In the series, women from all over the country flock to Kleinfeld bridal boutique in New York City to find their perfect wedding dress. They have found the husband, now they must find the perfect dress! Through the perspective of Third-wave feminism this show, while highly entertaining, is problematic in the way in which it portrays women as emotional dress-obsessed brides whose culminating moment in life is their marriage. At the same time, the show reinforces our societies standard of beauty and those customers who do not fit this mold are saved for TLC’s sister series Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss. In addition, the series also shows how women are still dependent on the men in their lives, aka their fathers and husbands.
Third Wave Feminism, for those of you who don’t know, rests on the cusp of second wave feminism. Third-wavers believe that the fight is still not over. They believe that women are still oppressed and fight for more equality. Third wave feminism, unlike its predecessors, is for everybody and everything. It’s multifaceted and encompasses a variety of different dimensions of being a women in our modern society. According to Claire Snyder of George Mason University, third wave feminism is intersectional, multi-vocal, and inclusive and nonjudgmental, (Snyder, 2008). With this being said, third-wavers cringe at the way in which women are portrayed in mainstream media, including shows like Say Yes to the Dress.
Our favorite and most reliable news source, The Onion, featured a story titled “Woman takes a short- half hour break from being a feminist to enjoy TV show.” The story points out how Say Yes to the Dress portrays women as being whiny and irrationally emotional brides. In Season one episode eight “Emotions Run Wild,” Jillian, a bride comes in to Kleinfeld to find the perfect wedding dress for her marriage to a U.S. Marine. In the personal interview with Jillian she begins to cry as she states “I’m not exactly getting everything I want,” (Emotions Run Wild). She continues to note that the perfect dress is so important to her because it is something she can control. This shows a women being overly and somewhat irrationally emotional about a rushed wedding. Third-wave feminism works to redefine how women are portrayed in our media and this represents an instance that regresses the progress women have made in society to date. This in fact proves the stereotype that women are overly irrationally emotional which we all know is by all means not true.
The series also reinforces an ideal standard of beauty that many of us average looking women simply can never attain. While the series does not only feature beautiful women, those customers who do represent our ideal standard of beauty are praised on the show for being “a beautiful bride.” Those who do not live up to the ideals, or those who are seen as more overweight, are seen as challenges. Third wave feminism “emphasizes the importance of cultural production and critique, focusing particular attention on female pop icons, hip-hop music, and beauty culture,” (Snyder, 2008). This is why this aspect of Say Yes to the Dress is so problematic to Third-wave feminists. In Season 2 episode 10 “What a Bride Wants,” a beautiful petite bride is told “you look breathtaking” as she tries on a $27,000 bridal gown. Of course, the consultant is trying to butter the bride up so she can make a large chunk of commission off of that sale, but at the same time it is evident that not all of the brides are treated the same way. In a different episode featuring a bigger bride Randy, the fashion consultant, states “The moment those doors open and they step down that aisle, they realize there’s going to be hundreds of eyes staring at them and the pressure is on for them to look beautiful,” (Cinderella comes in all sizes). This reinforces the idea that there is a certain standard for women, especially for women who are about to walk down the aisle. This is also evident in the fact that the bride in this episode “Cinderella comes in all sizes,” would like to lose about 20 pounds before getting married. Third-wavers advocate for body acceptance, which is the exact opposite the message that Say Yes to the Dress is sending to its viewers.
Say Yes to the Dress also reinforces the idea that love is a fairytale and that the culminating moment in a woman’s life is her wedding. In season 4 episode 15, “Princess Bride,” Randy, our favorite, says “I think that every girl wants to be a princess and I think this is their last chance to become this fantasy that they have dreamed about becoming since they were a little girl,” (Princess Bride). Randy’s quote again uses this rhetoric of the princess bride that all women, supposedly, strive to be as little girls. Subsequently, this makes women viewers feel as though they should also want this fairytale life and if they haven’t dreamed about this since they were little girls then there is something wrong with them. While third wave feminism supports the idea that a woman’s life doesn’t have to be spent dreaming about this fairytale wedding, it also supports and recognizes the fact that some women, in fact, do want to be a princess at their wedding. Third-wave feminism “encompasses the tabooed symbols of women’s feminine enculturation…and says using them isn’t shorthand for ‘we’ve been duped,’” (Snyder, 2008). Basically women should be free to want whatever they like, whether that be a fairytale wedding, or maybe even no wedding at all! How shocking! The point is that our media sources should not be telling us women what we should and should not want. It is our right to decide for ourselves what we want out of our lives.

Last, Say Yes to the Dress represents the idea that women are dependent on the males in their lives. There are countless episodes where the brides fathers pay for their daughters ridiculously expensive wedding gowns, and there are other episodes where brides bring in their fiance’s to help them pick their wedding dress. In the opening credits of Season 4 Episode 16 “Daddy’s Little Girl,” viewers hear things like “he is the rooster in the hen house,” “father knows best,” and “pleasing him can be a challenge,” (Daddy’s Little Girl). Just these few statements in the opening credits of the episode are enough to reinforce the fact that while women have made such great strides, they are still subordinate to men and that there is a need to please them. Third-wavers feel as though men and women are equal, in fact, “third-wavers feel entitled to interact with men as equals,” (Snyder, 2008). They also see “gender equality as inextricably connected to the struggle for socialism,” (Snyder, 2008).
While Say Yes to the dress is a highly popular and entertaining show, it is problematic in the way in which it reinforces societies stereotypical ideas about women. Like the onion article said, us third-wavers will just have to take a short thirty-minute break from being a feminist to enjoy Say Yes to the Dress.

Works Cited
Gallagher, S., Greensfelder, A., (Producers).  (2007). Say Yes to the Dress (Television Series).
Bethesda, Maryland: Half Yard Productions.
Snyder, Claire. (2009). What is Third-Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay. Signs,
(2014, January 22). Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being a Feminist to Enjoy


  1. I really liked your post, because it made me think critically about a show that I usually just mindlessly indulge in—mostly to see dresses I will never be able to afford on women who are spoiled and don’t deserve them (but we all have our own opinions). I really like how you incorporated third-wave feminism into this and explained it really well for those, like myself, that were not familiar with the concept prior to reading your post. Now that I have the knowledge about what the third-wave feminist believe, I can see why they cringe when women are portrayed like so, in the media today. I enjoyed the section of your blog that talked about the fairytale wedding ideal that Say Yes to the Dress embodies and reinforces throughout each show. While many girls hope to feel so beautiful and like that of a princess on their wedding day, this does not mean that EVERY girl should have to feel like they have to have a wedding or strive to have that fairytale. Honestly, as long as you’re choosing to spend the rest of your life with someone that treats you the way you deserve to be treated and makes you happy, that’s all that matters; not that your dress was perfect or that it was just the way you imagined it being. I really like how you talked about how third-wave feminism supports this, because at the end of the day they support women having the FREEDOM TO CHOOSE to be whatever they want and do whatever they want. I think that the freedom to choose is what many women have been fighting for in the past decades. However, I think our media has a way to go as far as backing off of women and not always forcing what we should be or how we should look down our throats, but hey, keep on keepin’ on, ladies (we’ve made it this far)!

  2. I agree with Courtney I also mindlessly indulge in this show and would have to say there are few shows I do this in but the few reality television shows I watch definitely do mindlessly indulge and not think of them critically like other programs. I also enjoyed your post because it allowed me to think and see Say Yes to the Dress in a critical manner. I can definitely see why third-wave feminists find such a problem with programs like this. It does send the message that women should want this big, gallant like, princess wedding when I know plenty of women happy with a small and simple wedding. It also gives the message that the women are subordinate to men because of the dad's and fiances and this is also very unrealistic there are plenty of women who work and can afford their own wedding with the help of their husbands but not solely because of it.

  3. This is a show I used to sit down to watch in order to admire gorgeous wedding gowns. The drama and overemotional brides always bothered me, and this blog really puts into words what exactly about this show makes me uncomfortable. i think this was an interesting take on this show, and I agree with most of your argument. This show absolutely perpetuates the idea that women must fit certain criteria to be beautiful and to really even qualify as a woman. You make that interesting point when discussing that all little girls dream of being princesses and if they don't they're somehow wrong. Overall I like this argument, and I wish more people were aware of this.

  4. This article and the point it tries to make are the reason most women have left 3rd wave Feminism in the dust and never looked back.

    You find it problematic that some women actually want a man and get excited about their wedding? Really? That's a problem to you? Why? There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.

    A long time ago, women were forced into gender roles. The 1st and 2nd wave successfully eliminated the forcing aspect of this. Women can now decide their own fate and choose to be whatever they want. There is not a single right men have that we don't.

    You are literally trying to take women back to the 1800s when they had no choice when you tell them that they can't do this or they shouldn't do that.

    Feminism fought for women to be able to have a choice but the 3rd wave is only okay with those choices if they fit the 3rd Wave's new warped, preconceived gender roles of what women *should* be doing (i.e. working, not getting married, not finding men to be with, not raising children, etc, etc.)

    You and your kind are no better than the bigots who thought women should only stay home and raise kids.


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