I Do … & I Don’t: A Feminist’s Guide to Being a Bride – The Hen Do

We’re following Rachel‘s journey of planning her feminist meets rock n roll wedding; this month she’s talking all about having a feminist hen do.

A friend of mine once described a hen weekend she had just been on as ‘the cheaply-veiled death of feminism, marinated in prosecco’. Every time she’d watched one of the hens putting their lips to a penis-shaped straw to suck a drink through it, she’d pictured the suffragettes turning in their hunger striking graves. Admittedly, as she said this, her fingers were at her temples, still recovering from the effects of being marinated in prosecco herself. But it’s not exactly a unique opinion, is it? There are heaps of people who think the whole hen party thing needs a reboot.

I know the term ‘hen party’ isn’t used globally. In the States, the ‘bachelorette’ is the thing, but the term ‘hen’ is, in itself, irritating; a centuries-old name for a gathering of women that indicates a whole lot of clucking, preening and brooding over eggs, as if these are the only possible outcomes for a coming-together of females. I mean. Kindly cluck off.

I have been to one ‘traditional’ hen weekend in my life and made a decision that, for me, that was it. I witnessed the unnerving regression into the hierarchical, competitive friendships of our school years that can happen around a hen when I walked into a restaurant bathroom one lunchtime in my hometown of Bath, only to find women clustered around a hand drier, like students in the girls’ loos at school. They were telling one of their party— who was crying— that she had to go home because she’d upset the bride. ‘We’re not mean girls,’ I heard one of them say as she arranged a taxi to take the crying woman away.

I have received those minute-by-minute, spontaneity-intolerant emails from the Maid of Honour— the ones that Dolly Alderton tore apart so exquisitely in her memoir Everything I Know About Love— that tell the bride’s female friends what to wear, where to be and when to be there… and to send payment for this sequence of compulsory, often-mortifying activities ‘ASAP please, ladiessss!!!’.

I have seen intelligent women puckering up to ‘Kiss the Miss Goodbye’, as if once she’s married, they’re never going to see their friend/cousin/sister again. I have had a conversation with a female acquaintance at an engagement party, who told me that, during that year, she had five female friends getting married, and with the hen weekends, the weddings and various bridesmaid duties for some of them, she was looking at a cost of around £3000.

So, at the risk of ruffling feathers (or even starting a coop!), let’s just think about all this for a moment and ask ourselves… WHAT THE CLUCK?

WHY should it be gender exclusive? Why shouldn’t my male friends, my brother, my dad, and my non-binary friends come along? Why, if I invite any men at all, should I only be permitted to invite the ‘gay best friend’ (seriously what even is that)? Why should my choice to get married cost my friends £300+ and two days of annual leave before they even get to the wedding? Why should I feel like I have to drink prosecco when I know it will give me trapped wind? Why should we buy into the fast fashion BRIDE TRIBE t-shirts? And the single-use plastic genitalia paraphernalia? Why should I regress into fits of giggles while underneath a ‘Same Willy Forever’ banner, when I know that if my fiancé were to stand underneath a ‘Same Vagina Forever’ banner at his Stag, I’d be absolutely fuming, because the connotations of such a thing would be so negative in comparison?

Perhaps most importantly, WHY— as a thirty-one year-old, non-religious, millennial woman— should I conform, playing into and perpetuating, the idea of the aspirational ‘virgin bride’? Why should I wear ‘L’ plates, suggesting I am still a ‘learner’? Good, bad and average, I have had enough sex to have earned the right to not be paraded around as a learner anymore, thanks so much. So WHY do so many of us feel we have to go along with all of this?

Especially— I should add— when comparatively, the stereotypical, aspirational Stag Weekend or Bachelor Party is to go to a strip club in Vegas, or even on a hush-hush, boys-will-be-boys trip to the red-light district in Amsterdam? (And why should the patriarchy continue to promote this behaviour, pressuring men into believing it is expected and accepted of them? That can cluck off too).

With all this in mind, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to do anything at all, but after well over a year of being so restricted in spending time with loved ones, I wanted a chance to be with my very closest people ahead of the big day.

For my Rachelorette— which is what we ended up calling it— my fiancé, my closest friends, closest family and I met for a picnic on the green where I live, we played a game, and those who wanted to stayed for dinner. It was really special. I had a great time.

Don’t feel you have to do the whole big shebang if you don’t want to. Don’t feel you have to conform to any tradition of what someone might think of as a pre-wedding party. Go for brunch. Go to a musical. Have your friends over for a Harry Potter marathon. Go paint balling, or to a Disney sing-along cinema (but don’t let anyone force your friends to come if it’s not their jam!). Go for a walk in a nice park and introduce your friends to each other for free. Or don’t do anything at all. Seriously. It’s 2022 and we all just got through COVID. When it comes to throwing a traditional hen… who really gives a cluck?

ABOUT RACHEL

Rachel is a writer, singer and singing teacher. She has performed in vintage and swing wedding bands since 2015. Rachel lives with her fiancé in South West London, where she is currently writing her debut novel. You can find her on Instagram @rachelbdarwin

This article originally appeared in issue 40 of Rock n Roll Bride magazine. You can purchase the latest copy here, or why not subscribe to never miss an issue?

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