Social Construct of Prenuptial Events: From the Bridal Sheets to the Bachelorette Party
The social constructs of the transition from single adulthood to married life throughout recent history have differed between men and women. In modern construct women and men often share a similar prenuptial event that has many elements of public expressions of sexuality, the bachelor or stag party and the bachelorette or staggette party. (Tye and Powers, 1998, pp. 552-561) In most western societies before 1900 and especially during the Renaissance the prenuptial ceremonies and rituals included a longer period of time that encompassed a gray area that included the business of the marriage transaction and the ritual of becoming publicly aware of the person you were to marry. Historically speaking there was little if any overt display of sexuality during pre-1900 premarital celebrations. (Ruggiero, 1985, p. 26) Changes in public sexual expression from before 1900 to now are evident in countless aspects of today's modern society, in some western cultures more than in others. The effect these changes have had on premarital celebrations and ceremonies is a topic worth considering.
In addition to addressing the changes themselves I will also discuss some of the possible reasons why these changes have evolved into modern Bachelor and Bachelorette parties and the social constructs that surround them.
I will address several aspects that effect premarital celebrations and standards including evolving public sexual expression based on religion, legality, social standard and also female body image.
Traditionally even up to the early 1970's women and men celebrated impending nuptials very differently, men with a possible illicit display of wantonness and women with a more demure event, that some would say more openly celebrated psychological union between the future bride and her female friends and family. Women were more likely to celebrate the end of their single life with quiet and communicative social aspects while men felt the need to both bond and in a sense perform the ritual of the last hurrah. (Tye and Powers, 1998, p. 552)
In a modern male feminists dialogue surrounding his involvement in the planning of a Bachelor party Jason Schultz discuses an even more modern spin on why publicly wanton behavior, such as the vocally appreciated display of a female stripper might appeal to men during an event of transitional sexuality like a bachelor party. Schultz and the group of men involved came to the conclusion that this sort of activity might act as a way to make acceptable the sexual thoughts and feelings that they might wish to enjoy in the company of their male friends. This loosening up might lesson the fear of rejection caused by the reluctance many men have to publicly express intimate thoughts and feelings about the serious nature of the kind of change marriage should bring to a man in his sexual and social development. (Schultz 1995, pp. 394-398)
This idea is very new and definitely worth further exploration, in another thesis but it is worth mentioning because it makes clear that the ideas surrounding the social construct of the societal norms of sexuality are ever evolving and that the patterns of change can not necessarily be seen as linear. The linear timeline mentality of history is an easy and prevalent fallacy when attempting to organize historical changes in sociological perspective and norms, especially those pertaining to moral construct.
The loosening of moral restrictions on men and women, that must be thought of as cyclical rather than linear can be demonstrated in the rotations of conservatism to near hedonism that have occurred just in the last century. One good example of this idea is the strict and dramatic contrast between the socially conservative 1950s and the 1960s freedom-movement backlash. One could argue the same of the pre-1920s conservatism that resulted in prohibition and the backlash that resulted in the scantily clad "Flapper" costume, and persona, that was so popular during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The flapper dress was almost as short and revealing as the mini skirt of the 1970s and 80s. This form of dress was an extreme departure from tradition in a culture that only a few years earlier had refused to accept bloomers. Bloomers are a split skirt that contains nearly the same amount of material as a full Victorian skirt They have many folds and pleats and are gathered at the ankle, hardly risque or really even very pant like. Bloomers were named for Amelia Bloomer the famous suffragist, who invented them. Society almost unanimously rejected them for adult women because of the fact that they were thought to, to closely resemble pants.
There have been many changes, not the least of which is changed prenuptial celebrations. Some of these changes are partly as a result of a general loosening of conservative moral values and partly as a response to feminism and other social movements like those that occurred during the turn of the 19th century modernist movement or the civil rights activism of the 1960s. The public expression of sexuality has become almost commonplace in our society. In the media in literature and most notably in public.
Not even two hundred years ago modernist writers like DH Lawrence, Anais Nin and Henry Miller were challenging the boundaries of public sexual expression in literature. DH Lawrence was quick to inform other young authors of the feet which he had mastered with is subtlety and style in relation to challenging the acceptable notion of public expressions of sexuality "All you young writers have me to thank for what freedom you enjoy, even as things are -- for being so able to say much that you couldn't even hint at before I appeared. It was I who set about smashing down the barriers." (Fordham 61) The results of these artists' works were often met with censorship that was only much later removed. The scandal caused by DH Lawrence's subtle suggestions of internal sexual desire and the implication of it being acted out in an intimate moment was immense. The results of Henry Miller and his some would say misrepresentation of women as sexually driven and remorseless were challenged by across the board book banning. Finally the overt expression by Anais Nin of aggressive female desire and even gender melting scenes of homosexuality were banned and subverted, there are still portions of her diaries that have not been published because of her own desires to protect her family and her legacy.
There are modern cross gender similarities worth noting. A modern Bachelor party and a modern bachelorette party both include elements that are sexual in nature. They also both include elements that are thought of as transitional, the last opportunity to express the abandon that typifies the stereotyped idea of single-hood. (Tye and Powers, 1998, p. 552, Shultz, 1995, p394)
The mere fact that the inclusion of public expression of sexuality exists across genders on this issue is a modern phenomena that relies heavily on changes in social constricts that allow women to more publicly express such behavior without fear of judgment. (Tye and Powers, 1998, pp. 551-561) In a description of a movie plot from a VHS video box cover Joseph Slade gives an example of just how titillating and possibly stereotypical representations of Bachelorette parties can really be:
Dyanna [Lauren] is engaged to Mark [Davis], per her father's wishes. Along comes Colt [Steele], a drifter on his way to Dyanna's heart. Will she follow through with the marriage? Or will she follow Colt to Mexico? (After the incredible bachelorette party, the double dp's, and the wild bar scene, you won't care. You'll be too busy rewinding the tape to watch the whole thing all over again.) Get The Point. Boiling Point. Only from [director] Toni English and Wave Film. (Slade, 1999, p. 246)
In contrast most western cultures Prior to 1900 had social customs that governed the events that ended a young person's single life that were less overtly sexual for both genders. Men would often only partake of a sexual deed or display privately and under the guise of darkness. It is thought that as a result of the transitional attempt to further define the legal situation of marriage, for both financial and personal reasons that a separate illicit underworld of sexuality was furthered. Though it may have been unintentional the less fluctuating rules of marriage according to church and society resulted in the prenuptial, and even postnuptial exploitations of illicit sex and legal prostitution
It may be that an unplanned and largely unrecognized result of this increased concern with the boundaries of sexuality was the gradual definition of two distinct milieus of sexuality -- a licit one that hinged on marriage and childbirth and an illicit one. Both licit and illicit produced their own institutions, artifacts, languages, values, and habits; thus, in a restricted sense they may be seen as diverse and at times competing cultures of sexuality within the broader cultural context of society. On the one hand we have a dominant…