Till death do us part … Amazing wedding pictures!

Date: January 1, 1970
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These images depict unconventional wedding day poses in which women take up positions that both challenge and entrench perceptions of their role in society.

This article may be used to:
1)      Gain a general understanding of participants’ conception of marriage as well as its history and significance in African culture, and the gendered expectations of husbands and wives. What sort of relational dynamics exist in a relationship in which a woman allows her partner to sit on top of her in her wedding day pictures, or a man allows his new spouse to carry him? Should more be read into these photographs or are they merely entertaining wedding day poses?
2)      (With particular reference to the photograph of the woman carrying her groom) Prompt discussions about gender-specific roles in society and how these are being reinforced, challenged and perhaps modified as traditional culture gives way to ‘modernity’, equated with women taking on previously male-defined duties. Trainer’s notes
Culture and Tradition
While the most common acceptable standard of marriage in Zimbabwe is the customary union (in which bride price, lobola, is paid by a man for his future spouse), much importance is placed on civil unions with white weddings being highly esteemed as the final consummation of the eternal contract between a woman and a man. These unions are seen as a time for the merging families to celebrate as well as a means of legitimising the marriage bond before God in a highly religious (Christian) country.
Wedding photographs printed in the announcement pages of newspapers usually depict conventional poses with couples either smiling or flanked by their wedding party of bridesmaids and groomsmen. Therefore, to see the unconventional wedding poses shown on the front-page of a popular Saturday entertainment supplement provides a talking point, not only for the photographs themselves, but also gender issues relating to marriage and society in general.
Events versus Issues
While most wedding photos will not bring up too many issues of universal appeal, these two provide a platform for the discussion of issues pertaining to one of the most important events in adult life – marriage. They provide an insight into male and female roles in society and how they may be perpetuated or challenged in intimate man-woman relationships. 
The newspaper carrying these photographs displays a level of awareness of gender issues in society in that it has provided images with both a reinforcement of, as well as a counter to, gender stereotypes of men and women. There are therefore two very different images for analysis in this case.
Blatant stereotype
While photographs are open to various ‘readings’ and interpretations, the meaning most likely to be derived by audiences  from the first photograph  – that of the man smiling and sitting on his wife’s back – is that women are subordinate to men. This man, through his actions, only seems to be reiterating the point. (Notice how his new wife does not seem to be as amused as he is at being sat upon – why might this be? Are women still suffering under the yoke of oppression both physically and emotionally? Do participants feel that men use their physical power as a means of subordinating their partners? This is a good entry point to discuss domestic violence and intimate partner rape)
Challenges stereotypes
And yet while the first photograph seems to only depict negative prospects for this newly married woman’s future, the second photograph tells another story. Women, often the ones to be carried by their groom over the threshold, appear to have reversed the roles. What does this image suggest? Is the man who allows himself to be swept off his feet by his woman seen as progressive or submissive? Is this woman seen as being domineering, or is this act of carrying her man deemed another form of subordination in that she is being made to carry him? (Responses are likely to be diverse and the trainer must make allowance for all possible arguments, even those that might seem ‘unrealistic’)
Subtle stereotype
Because there are two separate photographs provided for analysis, comments and observations vacillate between reinforcement and challenging of stereotypical portrayal. The trainer might ask why the photograph of the man sitting on his wife is larger than that of the woman carrying her husband. This is sure to provide a talking point as it seems to subtly reinforce the values of the media in which more space is given to the image that reflects a culture of female subordination.
Discussion Questions
(Some of these are embedded in the general discourse above)
1)     Do you feel that general efforts towards gender equality are having a sway on marital gender relations? For instance, a wife, regardless of her class or rank, might sometimes still kneel down to serve her husband a meal or refer to him as the head of the home even is she is responsible for most activities that ensure the home’s upkeep. Should such norms change or would this be equal to defilement of both traditional and religious values?
2)     Why do you think that both photographs not have been afforded the same amount of space? At this point, a discussion about how the media in general do not portray males and females in non-conventional roles may ensue. Why is this so?
Training exercise
The trainer will provide each participant with four separate sheets of paper. Each participant will write out their thoughts on four separate topics – i) duties and perceptions of wives by society, ii) duties and perceptions of husbands by society, iii) duties and perceptions of women by society, iv) duties and perceptions of men by society. Ideally, there should be some form of tally between answers provided for i) and iii), and ii) and iv) which should reveal the connection between general gender roles and marriage-specific gender roles.  As a concluding exercise, participants can identify areas where positive reevaluation of gender roles may occur (eg. in homes where girls and boys may be made to share equal tasks, etc).

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