I recently attended a bachelorette party where a cocktail waitress serving our group thanked the bride for not wearing a crown featuring male genitalia. I know that bachelor and bachelorette parties aren’t exactly known for their pious nature, but still, I was shocked.
The tradition of a last night of revelry before a wedding is older than you’d think. Oddly enough, it was apparently the Spartans, of all cultures, that began the custom of fêting the groom on his last night as a single man. Up until very modern times, the tradition was strictly male and was more dignified, involving formal dinners and toasts. As one writer put it for TIME magazine, “The more recent traditions of hazing, humiliation and debauchery—often consuming entire weekends and involving travel to an exotic destination such as Las Vegas or its nearest available facsimile—became a staple of bad '80s sex comedies.”
Up until fifty years ago, the corresponding bachelorette party was an entirely foreign concept. Women had a bridal shower, where friends and family helped the bride-to-be begin building her domestic life with gifts. The bachelorette was born of the sexual revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when this new “feminist ritual,” as another writer put it for the New York Times, “allowed women the opportunity to express their own sexual freedom with drinking games and (male) strippers.”
In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, where most couples have sex before marriage, one wonders why anyone bothers with bachelor and bachelorette parties anymore. It’s impossible to claim with any credibility that people are sexually “repressed” when people are becoming sexually active as teenagers and increasingly opting to cohabitate before marriage. When nearly half of all couples are living as if they were married before they are married, the idea of a bachelor or bachelorette party to mark the end of a life phase seems like a farce.
And the debauchery that has come to define the parties should raise serious concerns for couples looking for a happy and stable marriage. Almost half of all bachelor parties and one-fifth of bachelorette parties involve exotic dancers. While only 1.2 percent of men and 2.6 percent of women cheat at their bachelor or bachelorette parties, what bride or groom honestly has no anxiety about those odds? Indeed, a litany of articles counsel brides and grooms on what is going “too far” and how to handle apprehension about how one’s future spouse plans to celebrate at their bachelor or bachelorette.
Many traditions are worthwhile, but sometimes they become corrupted. The tradition of marking a major milestone among one’s friends of the same sex is worthy. Celebrating the milestone by making a mockery of the milestone is a corruption. This generation of couples bound for the altar deserves better than feeling trapped in the remnants of “bad ‘80s sex comedies.”
Women can and should transform the tradition. There is nothing “feminist” about being drunk in skimpy clothing with degrading accessories. And there is nothing “feminist” about permitting your future spouse to make light of his commitment to you.
It’s reasonable that women would want more than a wedding shower at a time when women enjoy unprecedented independence and liberation. But both men and women can celebrate the end of singledom without disrespecting the honor of their future husband or wife. And indeed, many couples are rediscovering a more civilized celebration of the end of single life with stripper-free events like a weekend of wine-tasting or a steak dinner followed by cigars.
But don’t expect much of your marriage if you start out your wedding festivities with something that resembles a scene from The Hangover.