On Bridal Showers and Bachelorettes
Since ancient times, yet almost unthinkable in today’s western marriage customs, the bride’s family would pay a dowry to the groom or groom’s family to climb higher in a social hierarchy.
In essence, the “higher-up” you wanted to marry off your daughter, the more you’d have to pay in either goods, land and property, or cold hard cash. This has clearly lead to the tradition of the bride’s family now usually paying for the wedding.
The dowry custom is still practiced in South Asian countries, such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Dowries were still practiced in England as recently as Victorian times, where they were viewed by the upper classes as an early payment of a daughter’s inheritance.
Historians say that the Bridal Shower may have grown out of earlier dowry practices in the 16th and 17th century. When a poor woman’s family might not have the money to give a dowry for her, or when her father was unwilling to pay because he didn’t approve of the marriage, the brides friends or family who wanted to support the bride might chip in to support the dowry-less bride’s choice and shower her with gifts. Hence the term: Bridal Shower.
It might be a surprise to some that the aptly named Bachelorette Party is a relatively new tradition, arising in its modern form as a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
In the Second Life context, where typically one’s biological family isn’t present, a bride must rely on her friends to become a substitute family of sorts – whether implicit (as in really close friends) to even explicit (as in virtual families). And it is these friends that will help create these two very distinct shared experiences for each other.
Yesterday, we celebrated my friend Gwen’s Bridal Shower, as you might have read from the invitation, a shower of gifts was the very last thing on our minds. Whilst everyone appreciates a nice gesture, somehow, in the virtual context this is viewed as considerably less important.
Instead, we showered her with what can best be described as love. These are the gifts we know as getting together with old friends, getting to know the new friends we meet, and having a laugh with everyone. Whether it might be telling stories of how we came to Second Life, our misguided forays into Furry or Neko culture, sharing our most embarrassing newbie pictures, or engaging in a little bit of venting about men, it all adds up to what women have done since we harnessed the power of speech: girl talk.
And in a way, that might be what marks the difference between the Bridal Shower and the Bachelorette.
Like many misguided, over-the-top, attempts at invoking feminism, the Bachelorette is modeled as a female version of the Bachelor Party. Where the Bridal Shower is a pretty party frock, the Bachelorette is a shoulder-padded pant suit.
At the Bachelorette, we often attempt to do what men have done so successfully for centuries and that we’ve only relatively recently been allowed to do
- show up giftless
- drink vast quantities of alcohol
- try to embarrass and humiliate each other as much as possible
- watch strippers
Don’t get me wrong, it’s loads of fun and I wouldn’t want to see it go away.
At the Shower, however, I think we just are who we are. Far from modelling what men do to celebrate their “last night of freedom”, we adopt a multifaceted route to celebrate the bride’s rite of passage. And, in many ways, this authentic expression of female bonding can be the steak to the Bachelorette’s sizzle.
I’ve often wondered why we are so lucky to have two celebrations to celebrate a woman’s passage from singleton to happily wed, where men only have one. More than just the inherent duality of our gender, it may be our peace with it, our acceptance of the Yin and Yang of our feminine and masculine energies, that requires not one, but two faces to our celebratory expression.
I’m not sure why we do it, but I’m glad we do. Besides, in the word’s of Timothy Leary, wouldn’t you agree that
“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”?