Article by Emma Do /
September 28, 2016 /
Click here to view original /
It’s that time in a woman’s life where she gets to sip prosecco through a penis straw as a stripper grinds against her friends. But things weren’t always this way: The modern-day bachelorette party wobbles drunkenly on the shoulders of rituals as old as marriage itself.
So whether you plan on getting shit-faced at a vineyard, dining at a restaurant in which every patron wants you dead—or not marrying at all, ever, for as long as you shall live—here is what went down before the modern celebration we have come to know and love/loathe.
The key thing to know about ancient pre-wedding rituals is that they were far removed from the overt sexuality of today’s bachelorette parties (despite TV’s best efforts to sex-up ancient cultures). Rather, they were formal occasions designed to mark the transition from girl to woman.
The bride would typically offer the god Artemis a lock of her hair.
Take the proaulia ceremony in Ancient Greece (7-8 century BC), which saw the bride making sacrifices and offerings to the gods, in particular to Artemis, the virgin goddess of young children and animals.
She would typically offer Artemis a lock of her hair, some childhood clothes and toys, which symbolized the end of her own childhood as well as the children she would eventually birth. The gifts were also a thank you to the goddess, as the bride prepared to pass from the virgin realm into married life.
Not too far away, the ancient Moroccan bath—or hammam party—involved ‘cleansing’ the bride over two to five days before her wedding. A ritual still practiced today, to leave it out was believed to bring extreme bad luck to the marriage.
As incense burned, the Moroccan bride was also given advice by female friends and relatives on how to be sensual and sexual for her husband. She would then share oranges and honey with her unmarried friends, to wish them luck on their journey to find a husband of their own.
Meanwhile, the Hindu ceremony of mehndi—considered by some to be the world’s first true bridal shower—saw South Asian brides feast, dance and apply henna to their hands and feet. The practice, which continues today, dates back to the 15th century; powder from the mehndi plants is mixed with water to create a paste, which forms a rich red hue.
Mehndi is believed to reflect the strength of the marriage itself: the deeper the color, the stronger the future union.
Western bachelorette parties as we know them today grew out of the bachelor party, which dates back to the 1950s. For a long time, it was thought the concept of a ‘last hoorah’ made absolutely no sense for women, because obviously women’s lives began, not ended, when they finally wed.
“Men were seen as having something to lose in marriage and women were seen as having everything to gain,” writes Beth Montemurro in her paper, Sex Symbols: The bachelorette party as a window to change in women’s sexual expression.
“The bachelorette party is a means for expressing oneself sexually and acknowledging the sexual element of one’s identity. Until recently, this aspect of women’s identity was assumed to be either nonexistent or inappropriate in public.”
By the mid 70s, over 65 percent of American teenagers had had premarital sex.
But with the public availability of the birth control pill in the 60s, young Americans in the 70s had finally begun to break through this social and sexual conservatism. Women talked freely about sex, and expected sexual gratification from their partners. By the mid 70s, over 65 percent of American teenagers had had premarital sex – ripe ground for the beginnings of the bachelorette party as we know it today.
There’s not a whole lot of literature documenting these retro days of debauchery, but a study on male strippers shows women were turning up to male strip clubs as early as the late 70s as a way to celebrate their impending nuptials. Strippers, it notes, toasted to “lust” and “equal rights” as the women partied on.
By the early 90s, it had become apparent that women were set on having their own ‘bachelor’ parties, and so the feminized term was born, pushed around the public consciousness by the media.
In 2002, the Wall Street Journal dedicated their front page to “Rowdy Bachelorette Parties”, interviewing women who were relishing “a whole new set of rituals… bawdy enough to make men blush”.
Montemurro suggests the bachelorette party rose in popularity as an alternative to the “archaic” and “awkward” bridal showers whose original purposes were to provide “sexual socialization in the forms of advice and lingerie”. (Where else were you going to learn how to please your man?)
This new celebration, she writes, was “uninhibited and relaxing, a release from the stress of wedding planning and everyday life”.
For now, it looks like dick and debauchery are the name of the game. (Although you could always follow the advice of Martha Stewart, who suggests a wholesome group spin class instead.)
Why does this hyper-sexualized theme persist? Lauren Rosewarne, a gender researcher at Melbourne University, believes that’s in part thanks to the idea marriage will constrain a woman’s life.
“There’s an assumption freedom will all stop once you get married, and that this party is your last chance to get that all debauchery out of your system,” she tells Broadly. “Even though lack of freedom is an old fashioned notion about marriage.”