The bride-to-be is sitting in a room full of women, surrounded by half-opened boxes of gifts pre-picked at Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table, Bloomingdale’s, and Crate & Barrel. Women twice her age are crooning cooking and cleaning advice, while others admire the goods that will soon adorn her marital kitchen. The year is 2016, though the scene seems pulled out of 1956. I’ve been to a handful of these events, and each one feels similarly antiquated. In an age when so many engaged women are employed, independent, and perhaps already living with their future spouses, why is this gendered bombardment with homemaking gifts still a tradition? The first reaction I often receive when I announce, “Sorry, I’m busy that day — I have a bridal shower” is sympathy. “Ugh, that sucks,” or “Those are the worst,” or “I’m so sorry.” While drinking weeknight Champagne in my friend’s backyard earlier this summer, I took an informal poll: What did everyone there think of bridal showers? Choruses of “the worst” and “make them stop” and “dread” rang out over my question. Got it. Years ago, one of my friends was treated to a surprise cringeworthy bridal shower, where her mom and all of her church friends gifted the young bride-to-be heaps of lingerie in a menagerie of sizes and styles she would never have picked out. She is now happily divorced. Today’s brides are already treated to months, sometimes years, worth of pre-wedding celebrations: engagement parties, bachelorette parties, and the entire wedding weekend already attract gifts that, as we all know, are often exchanged for cash or store credit. Is yet another festivity, usually with the sole purpose of watching a woman open the presents she's already picked out for herself, really necessary? Celebrating love is wonderful, but more so than any of the other wedding events, bridal showers are an excessive expression of our devotion to the Shrine of Stuff. We could be focusing on creating meaningful experiences and memories, but are rather too busy jotting down notes on who gave what and who to thank for the third consecutive baking sheet. Moreover, if the bride-to-be and many of the guests don’t even want to be in attendance (and are perhaps only making an appearance to please the hostess), this is all for naught. American brides in 2016 don't need to say "I do" with a "dowry" straight from Bloomingdales.com. Their spouses are most likely not marrying them for their Cuisinarts, nor for their savvy culinary shortcuts. Moreover, the costs of participating in bachelorette parties and wedding weekends are often astronomical, and this is money women could be saving toward the purchase of a home or merely retirement. By throwing even more of our money at stuff — no one needs a new spiralizer or 17 sets of matching rose-gold silverware for May-through-September dinner parties — we’re halting our individual routes toward financial independence and success.
I’ve spoken to women who have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on attending wedding and pre-wedding festivities year after year. While they’re not necessarily giving in order to get something in return, some of them might never have weddings — and do they not deserve nice kitchen appliances for making homes of their own? (Cue Carrie Bradshaw registering for Manolo sandals.) I’ve never been married or engaged. The first bridal shower I attended for one of my peers was during my senior year of college. We were all trying to figure out our lives — how we would survive post-dorm-and-cafeteria life and support ourselves in the world. Some of us were single, some were coupled, some were in-between. While I was thrilled to celebrate a joyous occasion in my friend’s life, the gifting of kitchenware at this time when we were all in transition felt odd. Because she would be setting up a home with a husband, rather than a roommate or another type of partner, was she more deserving of new Tupperware? I have fond memories of the shower — it was one of the last times my hometown friends were all in the same room together — but it's uniting over friendship and toasting to the major change about to take place in our friend's life, not the gifts and cleaning tips, that felt more apropos to the 21st-century bride. Opening gifts in public has always made me uncomfortable, both as the unwrapper and the observer. I remember my mom coaching me on what to say at childhood birthday parties when unwrapping the Barbie du jour; this was the requisite after-cake activity (saying “I already have that” — not good). I remember feeling embarrassed at my Sweet Sixteen as I unwrapped gifts and smiled and thanked everyone, wondering why this was a tradition to begin with. Yes, I have been privileged enough to receive many gifts in my 25 years, and maybe that’s part of why my stance on bridal showers is so negative. I’m all for creating more all-women spaces. I’m also a big fan of celebrations and excuses to spend quality time with friends and family. However, the way we celebrate this particular milestone has become devoid of meaning. And hey, maybe bridal showers don’t need to be eliminated completely. But now is a good time to restructure them, and consider how we could use this traditional gathering to gain strength from each other as women, rather than as a celebration of domesticity.