Monday, 15 July 2013

Gender Traditions - Stag and Hen

The dreaded words, I shudder at the invite. Hen night. I'm not a hen, and neither is any other woman, but if we were the idea of mating with a stag would be an odd one. I guess Cock Night is too close for comfort, in both intention and behaviour, so stags and hens it is.

You're damn right I just drew this in Paint.
Stags of course are majestic, proud, aggressively masculine, horny. Hens are loud, annoying, smothering, fussy serial breeders. Cluck cluck, peck peck. No-one's patronus is a hen.

You could rebrand your stag or hen night I suppose, but that would require more analysis of what it actually is than many people would be comfortable with. Freedom Night. "My last night of freedom, ha ha!" joke men and women alike, whilst hoping that stag and hen night infidelity is something that other, awful people do.

Some people call it a bachelorette party, that being a retrofitted female version of bachelor. Way to make male the default, word person. No thanks. Of course male is the default, such celebrations being a traditionally blokey affair until relatively recently. I understand why women have taken the chance to level the playing field. Now we have two awful traditions instead of one.

Don't Tell The Bride

Several years ago, an old friend on his stag night ended up in a strip club with his mates and male relatives. They bought the usually shy, sweet guy a lap dance. I wasn't there so can't say to what degree he protested, but it went ahead, as did a conspiracy of silence to "not tell his fiancé". Because his fiancé was at home with friends on her hen night taking it easy due to her difficult pregnancy.

Classy, yes? Shock and upset is bad enough for anyone, but for pregnant women it's dangerous. Obviously the correct thing to do is NOT GET A LAPDANCE, rather than go for it then expect a dozen men to keep quiet. The fact that I know about it tells you how well that tactic works. 

The reason the conspiracy of silence was necessary was because the bride-to-be would not have wanted her fiancé to get a lap dance. If they'd discussed it beforehand as a possibility and she was fine with it, then it's no-one's business but theirs. But that's not what happened.

I once went to a hen night where several stag nights were also in attendance. The groom-to-be of one of them spent the evening copping off with a bridesmaid from another party. Perhaps his future wife was in a club somewhere fooling around with a stranger too. Perhaps they had a don't ask, don't tell agreement. Perhaps not.

Another male friend-of-a-friend boasts of his stag weekend in Amsterdam where he was too drunk to get it inside the fattest hooker they could find. Awful people, awful sentiments, awfully common.

Gender Divides

As the sole woman at a male banker friend's stag night, I overheard his twattish friend protest "mate, why did you invite a bird? We'll have to watch ourselves now".

Don't invite a bird.

Gender divides are archaic. To be excluded from an event on account of your genitalia isn't really acceptable. If a friend doesn't want you around only because you have the wrong bits, or identify as a different gender to them, they're a lousy friend. If they don't want you around because your presence may make them temper behaviour their partners would find unacceptable, they're a lousy person.

Nearly everyone I know has a stag or hen party story about infidelity or other sexual behaviour such as lap dancing, whether by one of the happy couple, or an already-committed party member. There is in some circles a culture of pre-wedding drunken lairy, boorish behaviour (by both genders) that has no place in a modern Western definition of marriage. Men no longer demand wedding night virginity, women's sole function is no longer to be a walking womb. Many couples are same-sex. If marriage has evolved into an equal partnership then what is the benefit of the last night of freedom?

Don't be afraid to make new traditions

Of course I've been on wonderful, civilised, hen and stag nights. The only woman at a karaoke party where the groom ended up on the shoulders of his mates, declaring his undying love for his absent fiancé.  A hen afternoon of cocktail-making lessons, civilised and joyful, which ended with both stag and hen parties meeting for the evening. Lovely people, not desperate for some sort of last hurrah because, presumably, they realised their impending marriage would be a whole hurrah itself.

I also don't think I'm alone in enjoying most social occasions more with my partner in attendance. The reason for this is the same reason I'm with him. He's a right old laugh and was a friend long before he was my partner. Not that I can't have a good time without him, and often do, but I have a better time with him.

So fine, I’m a killjoy, a feminazi, rolled eyes will accompany an easy dismissal of my protests because tradition is the ultimate trump card and has been used to excuse and control (women in particular) forever. I go along with close friend or family hen night traditions because to refuse on the grounds of principle is like refusing to go to a funeral because I’m atheist. I wouldn’t be wrong, I’d just be an asshole. 

But if you have upcoming nuptials and, particularly if you’re the ‘hen’, you have any misgivings or even dare I say it feelings of anti-tradition rebellion, don’t stay silent. I’d love to see couples propose new, non-gender traditions, where qualifications for an invite are not based on what body you are in. And if, like me, you choose your friends based on mutual interests and personality, not gender, you’ll probably have a better time for it.