Striptease tickles feminists' fancy

November 15, 1996

ROWDY female pre-marital outings known as hen or bachelorette parties, which seem to glorify the bride-to-be as a sex object, can lead to "women's empowerment", say two Canadian professors.

For the past two years, Ann Marie Powers and Diane Tye have researched the women's parties that involve everything from games and gifts with sexual connotations to pub-crawls and flirtation.

Even though hen parties can include male strippers sucking sweets off a bride-to-be's body, the fact that there are clear behaviour limits that everyone is aware of means the party becomes a form of freedom that feels safe for the women.

About two dozen hen party-goers interviewed by the two professors were university women with a feminist background who seemed to enjoy the party spirit.

"All these women understood the contradictions," said Dr Powers, who will be presenting a paper entitled Gender, Resistance and Play: Bachelorette Parties in Atlantic Canada in San Francisco at the American Anthropology Association's annual gathering on November 24.

The bachelorette party often begins at the home for gifts and games and then ends up at a local bar where the women will usually consume a lot of alcohol and indulge in rowdy behaviour.

Dr Tye, assistant professor in the department of folklore at Memorial University in Newfoundland, compares it to the time of a carnival or Mardi Gras, where roles are turned around. "It becomes a vacation from conformity," she said. There are many layers of meaning to the parties. They are a parody, the researchers say, of both the Playboy centrefold and the bridal shower.

"The shower defines you as a homemaker," said Dr Powers. Many women will still have these showers out of duty and invite their mother and their aunts. But the bachelorette party, free from intergenerational constraints and with its inherent sexuality, helps to bring out another side of women, according to the professors.

Dr Powers says it is important for feminists to examine the ritual in the context of whether women have attained equality. The bachelorette party does not stray far from some older rituals, like fellow factory workers in the time of the industrial revolution parading around the bride-to-be in a silly hat, she added.

When the women at the bachelorette parties were quizzed about what they were doing, they said they saw value and felt ownership of a ritual that was simply seen as a female version of the stag party. And that, say the researchers, is an important aspect of feminism.

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