Above: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan from Bachelorette.
Recently I got engaged, and between the flurry of phone calls to grandparents and attempting to figure out the whens and wheres of tying the knot (we still don't know), an unexpected question emerged - what do I want to do for my hens night? I'd never given it any thought before. Did I want a boozy wild night on the town with strippers, or something more civilised like a high tea bridal shower with macarons and mimosas? After not too much deliberation I decided there was only one answer to the hens night question. I don't want to have one.
Hens nights divide opinions - some people love them and others loathe them. I’ve only ever been to one hens night that I enjoyed, and I think the fact that it was in New York City, nobody was wearing any taffeta, and the night didn't involve any penis paraphernalia had a lot to do with it. Once I even called in sick to a good friends hens night - mostly because I was actually under the weather, but also because the thought of learning the choreography to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ en masse turned my stomach that little bit more. It made me feel like a bad friend because I wasn’t involved, and there’s a sense of obligation to get raucous and wild. But strippers, silly hen's games, and wandering around drunk telling everyone that I'm a bride-to-be are not my idea of a great night on the town. I'd rather perform a root canal on myself with a penis straw.
Now I’m not anti-fun. I love fun, fun is great, and essentially that’s what a hens night should be all about. The problem with hens nights is when the objective is fun, there’s something forced and contrived about it - and not everyone has a good time. In the film Bachelorette starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson and Lizzie Caplan, after lamenting about having to be involved in the wedding Fisher’s character excitedly yells “Silver lining! We're going to get to throw a bachelorette party. We're going to get to dress up and be cool!”. There’s something darker at play though, and instead of having a great time, it becomes a night of sabotage, anxiety, and dangerous debauchery. While the aim of a hens night is intoxication, it’s equally about embarrassment and humiliating the bride-to-be.
But it's not the trashy drunken spectacle of a hens night that I don't want to be part of (I really don't mind being drunk and trashy, to be honest). It's more to do with the philosophy behind them. Hens and bucks nights are supposed to be a transitional rite of passage, a celebration of your last night of freedom - the end of your single life before being weighed down by the old ball and chain. Something about this bothers me. I don't want to go into a marriage thinking that I'll be less free, stuck in some monogamous prison sentence, so I should celebrate now while I can. I know it's all just meant to be a laugh, but I don't ever want to have a last night of freedom. It makes me feel like I’m about to go to jail.
Although surely I could have a nice afternoon tea with my ladies? Put on pretty dresses and hold flutes of champagne at a bridal shower, hovering over cakes. The tradition of the bridal shower harks back to the time of dowries, when a poor woman's family didn’t have the money to provide a dowry for her, or when a family refused to give a dowry because they didn’t approve of the marriage. It made sense 300 years ago, but in this day and age there’s something deeply mercenary and excessive about a bridal shower: it’s a consumerist fantasy masquerading as feminine tradition. I don’t want to be showered with gifts while I sip Earl Grey and talk about my impending nuptials in a ritual where women celebrate their initiation into married life by eating petit fours and gushing over presents.
When and how we choose to have a hens night says a lot about ourselves. In Something Old, Something Bold, sociologist Beth Montemurro says “What bridal showers and bachelorette parties illuminate is the ambivalent position in which contemporary women—brides, bridesmaids, family, and friends—find themselves. Somewhere between independence and dependence, between femininity and masculinity, between virgin and vixen, modern women are expected to locate themselves. With the proliferation of conflicting messages ranging from unrestrained sexual freedom on shows like Sex and the City to marriage as ideal and motherhood as an ultimate, this is not an easy task… Bachelorette parties and bridal showers are not just women’s parties. They are rituals of status, consumption, and materialism, of transition and ambivalence, of friendship and reinforcement of relationships among women, and of transformation.”
The exclusion of my male friends is another huge problem. Many of my closest friends are men, and why should I organise an event when they’re deliberately not involved? Our female friendships are just as important as our male friendships, and I don’t want them to feel left out because hens nights and bridal showers are traditionally parties exclusively for women. And I wouldn’t want to make them sit through one anyway.
Like the flowers, venue and dress, having or not having a hens night is a personal choice. While I find them problematic, to some they are extremely important moments in their lives to share with their nearest and dearest. But just a note to my bridesmaids and friends: please don’t surprise me with one. Your friendship, love and support make me feel more special than any satin sash and inflatable penis ever will.