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Posted by Philip on 17 January 2014, 2:31 pm in , , , , ,

Social change: a case of two steps forward, three steps back?

As part of the Auckland Pride Festival 2014, Rainbow Youth is holding "a Pride Art Auction and Intergenerational Panel." They are calling for art submissions themed around identity, which they say aligns "with the celebration of diverse identities that the Pride Festival focuses on."

Ironically this youth led event is called "Old, New, Borrowed, Blue."

According to Wikipedia (follow link for further references):

"Something old" is the first line of a traditional rhyme which details what a bride should wear at her wedding for good luck:

Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
something blue,
and a silver sixpence in her shoe

It is often recited as the four "somethings", not including the sixpence. The rhyme appears to originate in England, an 1898 compilation of English folklore reciting that:

In this country an old couplet directs that the bride shall wear:— "Something old, something new, Something borrowed, something blue." "The something blue" takes, I am given to understand, usually the form of a garter, an article of dress which plays an important part in some wedding rites, as, for instance, in the old custom of plucking off the garter of the bride. "The something old" and " something blue" are devices to baffle the Evil Eye. The usual effect on the bride of the Evil Eye is to render her barren, and this is obviated by wearing "something borrowed", which should properly be the undergarment of some woman who has been blessed with children: the clothes communicate fertility to the bride...

...The rhyme can earlier be found in an 1876 edition of Notes and Queries, and is called an "ancient custom" in another 1876 book, Bye-gones, relating to Wales and the Border Counties. This version is referenced as well in an 1871 short story, "Marriage Superstitions, and the Miseries of a Bride Elect", in The St. James's Magazine.

It kind of baffled me that, in 2014, a queer youth group would use such traditional, gender-biased language from the 1870s, which was used in such an unfavourable way towards women. It also revives my conflict with the legalisation of gay marriage, which paradoxically asserts the rights of all people, but to participate in a ritual, the relevance of which, in the 21st Century, I personally find hard to understand.

Sometimes it feels like decades of social change have been in vain. Attitude and law reform have come full circle and we are embracing again the socio-normative institutions we have tried so hard to deconstruct. 

But perhaps I should accept, even celebrate, along with everyone else, as we gently slip back into some of the familiarity of the past, but with a far more open perspective. Tomorrow I'm attending the wedding of two cherished young friends and I look forward to celebrating their connection, respect and love for one another. They certainly epitomise the effect of change and the wiser, more open future generation it has created.

Cynicism aside, could we simply be seeing language, rituals and institutions reclaimed from a limiting age and transformed into processes that accommodate diversity? Perhaps it's not the institutions themselves, but how they are represented, expressed and inhabited, that really makes the difference.

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