A friend bought me Leo Hickman's book A Life Stripped Bare. My Year of Trying to Love Ethically (from an independent book shop on Stoke Newington, of course) for my last birthday. It made for a very amusing read so when I remember I have a look at his column in the Guardian's supplement, G2.
Today's question: Is it ok...[to] go on a stag weekend?
A number of year's ago I somehow ended up at the stag night of a friend of a friend of a friend at Liverpool Street but for obvious reasons I don't get invited to many. So I am going to address the question: Is it ok...to go on a hen-do? (Thus covering the single night or the increasingly popular all-weekender).
(Hickman seems to think that these are possibly “slightly less bacchanalian” affairs but I'm not so sure).
My first experience of a hen night was at the age of 16. I was naïve, innocent and ever so slightly scared. V. was a true Essex Girl who worked full-time in the card shop where I was the Saturday Girl. The evening panned out to be a memorable one. Three generations of women in a Greek restaurant in Ilford. It was at times loud, good-natured, feisty and raucous. I left drunk and on top of the world.
A far cry from the last two celebrations to which I have been invited.
B. was an English teacher at my last school who I didn't know well. A Northerner stranded in London without her best friends her hen-do looked like it might turn into a pretty dismal affair so all females in the vicinity were co-opted into the occasion. Doing anything through a mixture of sympathy and pity is usually a bad decision as this proved to be.
The details started to leak out, which, at first, were reassuring – a late afternoon drink in the environs of Covent Garden and for those who wished to carry on into the night a club. (I made a mental note to bail out somewhere around mid-evening).
Then came rumours of matching outfits. I was sufficiently alarmed to seek clarification from B. herself. I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightening.
There was, and still is, more chance of the Pope giving a Benediction in his boxers than me cavorting around Central London in a too-tight sequined t-shirt (“Bab's Bunnies”), complete with bunny ears and tail. I protested. Loudly. And to my bewilderment found myself in a minority.
Supposedly intelligent women were telling me I would look odd if I didn't wear the fluffy accoutrements. I started to doubt my sanity and fear for the future generation.
There was genuine confusion on all sides. To me, parading around London in a bunny girl outfit did nothing more than turn me into a sexual object for the cheap gratification of men. To them, it was a harmless bit of fun.
I don't think anyone except G. believed me when I called off sick on the day. We'd agreed to stick together – we'd promised each other to turn up in the t-shirt, refuse the bunny gear and to slope off at an opportune moment between pubs. There was no way I was deserting without good reason. I think I had pre-traumatic stress disorder.
I was saved from the next occasion as I'd already bought tickets to a play in which a friend was performing. I'll be honest here. They were £5 seats in a church hall rather than the £40 West End tickets I led people to believe. I sent a cheque for £25 along with my sincerest apologies and all best wishes for a great night. The reason was this. I could not, under any circumstances, good friend or not, get into one of those awful, vulgar limousines for make-up and party games. At the time I was not brave enough to say so.
As I see it, hen nights and stag-dos both seem to have the unfortunate side-effect of sexually exploiting women. I'm sure similar things have been going on for hundreds of years; this isn't a new phenomenon. I decided today, however, that I am going to take a modern, principled stand.
If I believe I cannot go to someone's hen night I am going to be honest and say why. The peer pressure surrounding these events is immense. I know I run the very real risk of being labelled: pious, boring, uptight. I will be accused of taking myself too seriously. Herein lies the truth of the matter. Despite all the talk of women's rights, pre-marriage celebrations show we're still being reduced to the Madonna or the Whore.