Here in London, it’s spring and wedding season is off to a running start, thanks to the recent £20-million nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. What I liked most about the royal wedding was that I, and millions of Brits, could celebrate without having to buy them some random kitchen appliances and not-really-necessary-but-they-look-so-nice sets of cocktail glasses via an online gift registry. I did buy a dodgy £2 Union Jack flag with the happy couple’s faces on it, which looked like it had been printed out by a dot-matrix in someone’s garage. This I waved earnestly, alongside 100,000 other people in Hyde Park last Friday.
The wedding itself took place in Westminster Cathedral, which is a 20 minute walk from my apartment. Which is closer than any wedding I’ve ever been invited to. Honestly, this was refreshing – a wedding I could celebrate WITHOUT having to get on a plane? Where I could sleep in my own bed at night, and NOT in a hotel room which was part of a block booking under the name “X/Y” wedding at the venue, reserved months in advance? How quaint and traditional!
Oh, I could lament our increasingly globalized times. I’m not going to, because I’ve had the chance to visit many fascinating and exotic places via my friends’ destination weddings. I will, however, lament the increasing burden on my bank account that these weddings have placed on a single, financially challenged writer/filmmaker. Often, there is the scramble to find the only other single woman/gay man at the wedding with whom I can share a double room. The trawl for affordable-yet-memorable gifts on the online registry. In fact, do you know how many sets of martini glasses I’ve bought my married friends over the years? Christ, I don’t even own martini glasses. But I’ve enabled many a newlywed’s cosmo-swilling habit. In fact, I’ve found martini glasses and ice cream scoopers are a good combination for wedding presents. Everyone likes martinis; everyone likes ice cream. No one wants to be the person funding the cleaver.
Now, the other, rather terrifying phenomenon about modern weddings is the hen/stag party. Often these take up a whole weekend, require traveling to a foreign city, and cost just as much as attending the wedding itself. A month ago, I flew to Frankfurt for a close friend’s hen party. Thankfully, the traditional German hen party, or Junggesellinnenabschied, does not involve traipsing around in embarrassing costumes with a blow-up man/giant penis, getting heinously drunk, kissing random strangers, hiring a male stripper, and puking somewhere along the way. (Hopefully after the kissing of random strangers.) Because that seems to be the traditional British version of a hen party, judging from the various ones I’ve witnessed in London, Bath, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, and many a European city.
The male version – the stag weekend – is equally fascinating. Standard elements of British stag weekends include:
- Go-karting or race-track oriented stuff where you get to drive really fast
- Hunting (or some shooting of guns)
- Laser-tag or paintball (this falls into the “Shooting of Guns” category)
- Visiting strip bars and buying the groom a lapdance
- And of course, lots of heavy drinking
Notice the emphasis on “hunter/gatherer” type activities. I’m sure this is all accompanied by a lot of grunting, ball-scratching, and cracking of scatological jokes. I mean, isn’t that what all you straight guys do when you get together?
But yeah, I get it, find the most testosterone-fuelled things you can do and celebrate your collective maleness, because that kind of lifestyle ENDS when you get married, right? I mean, boys will be boys until they get married… and then obviously they become hen-pecked husbands whose lives are miserable.
Similarly, hen weekends place a big emphasis on doing “girly” stuff, like manicures, makeovers, massages, mudbaths, hanging around in spas, and a lot of chatting. Why don’t you just put baking and needlepoint in there while you’re at it? At least they’re productive. And while I like the occasional massage or mudbath, personally I’d much rather be playing paintball then listening to a conversation on how he proposed, what the ring looks like, what the dress looks like, what the flowers look like, etc. which seem to be the standard topics of discussion at a hen party. (Yawn) In a more feminist twist, I once had to sit through a 40-minute debate on why the bride should or shouldn’t take her husband’s surname. That was still painful. During this time, I found a green balloon I could play with.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy my friends are getting married to people they love, and I find weddings a lot of fun. But what disturbs me most about hen/stag parties is the expectation for everyone to revert to lazy gender stereotypes – because, of course, all guys must secretly love fishing and all girls must secretly love manicures. And then, let’s hire a stripper of the opposite sex and reduce everything to base carnality. Come on, guys, act masculine! Girls, be girly! When in reality, most people don’t fall into such extreme gendered behavior, and are much more balanced individuals. When the modern marriage is about equality and partnership, it seems a shame to celebrate by buying directly into these gender clichés.
And then, just to screw up the equation, what about the gays? If you have two people of the same sex marrying each other, does the concept of a hen or stag weekend even apply? I’ve asked most of my gay couple-ite friends, and few of them bothered to have a stag weekend. My friend “V” says: “As a gay couple, what would be different from before and after getting married?” And “Marcus” says: “Stag weekends are about what you can still get away with before marriage. If a gay couple wanted to cheat, they’d do it before marriage and would still do it after.” My bisexual friend Rodden did have an impromptu stag party in Manchester which involved going to a series of night clubs and finally a tittie bar with his gay fiance’s straight brothers. But this wasn’t planned. He says if he had the time to organize a stag party, it would have included an outing to Chariots, the local gay spa in Vauxhall. Chariots is men-only, and Rodden would have invited both straights and gays. But somehow, he thinks, his straight male friends would have opted out of attending that party…
Hen and stag parties used to work because the implication was that weddings were between a man and woman. And that the bride only had female friends, and the stag only had male friends, so woo-hoo, let’s have one last knees-up with the old pals before entering the scary portal of married life. But in this day and age, people have close friends of all genders and sexual orientations, and a wedding doesn’t necessarily unite two people of the opposite sex. So maybe, perhaps, the traditional way of celebrating the hen and stag party is a little out-dated, and a little too simplistic.
Maybe two of my straight friends got it right when they decided to combine their hen and stag parties and call it a “hag party.” I like the idea of this, although it unfortunately prevented any important girl-only bonding over pedicures or that special male-to-male camaraderie which only happens when getting lap dances from topless women.
So, when and if I ever get married, does this mean I can’t invite my gay male friends to my hen party, because they’re not women? This is agony for a fag hag! Anyway, thankfully, that moment of tough decision-making is still a long ways away in my lifetime. Until then, I can continue safely buying martini glasses and ice cream scoopers for all my married friends on their wedding day. Heck, I might even get a set of branded with Wills and Kate’s faces and send it over to the royal newlyweds. I’m sure they’d appreciate that.