This was originally published in the Women’s Issues blog on MySanAntonio.com.
Last weekend I attended – pardon, co-hosted – a baby shower to celebrate the upcoming arrival of a dear friend’s first child. With just those details alone, you can probably envision the event with surprising accuracy: the cupcakes, the pastel-wrapped gifts, the punch bowl (non-alcoholic, of course) and the summery, yet modest, dresses.
Just a guess: you likely were picturing the shower guests all being of one particular gender, right?
Baby and wedding showers have a well-established tradition of women-only guest lists. In a time when people rarely get together for formally-scheduled events – much less with snail mail invites, RSVPs and trays of finger foods – showers are some of the rare opportunities to resurrect the social propriety of years past. Like tea parties, for grown ups.
And that’s exactly what these traditional showers feel like – grown-up women playing some kind of unspoken pretend dress-up game. The on-command “oooh”-ing and “aaah”ing at the opening of gifts containing diapers and onesies or blenders and coffee pots. The feigned interest in discussions about baby care and cake batter mixing. The mutually-understood dress code of skirts and cardigans.
The baffling part about it all is that many women don’t particularly enjoy these events, and the traditional showers do not do justice to what the real goal should be: celebrating a couple’s upcoming wedding or the impending birth of a new baby. To the best of my understanding, it takes two people (a couple, as you may) to get married and, typically, to produce a child. Why then are we still treating marriage and babies as milestones for women and not men?
The bridal shower is said to have originated in the late 1800s and was largely influenced by dowry practices. The event came about as a way to supply a poor would-be bride with gifts and items in order to secure the likeliness of the marriage moving forward. The justification was that men who married were taking on the financial burden of a wife, so the bride’s family was expected to bring some kind of incentive (in addition to love, companionship, child care, cooking and housekeeping, of course) to the marriage partnership.
However, in the last one hundred-plus years, a few things have changed. At present, women comprise 46 percent of the U.S. labor force. In terms of higher education, 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and 60 percent of master’s degrees are being earned by women. Only 14 percent of mothers (as well as 6 percent of dads) are stay-at-home parents.
No longer is a woman’s place in the home, unless you’re enjoying a TV Land marathon of “Leave It to Beaver.” The antiquated practice of throwing ladies-only showers to celebrate weddings and babies is not just impractical and illogical, it’s moderately insulting to every woman who spends just as much time working outside the home as her male counterparts.
Some may argue that despite women’s advances in the professional realm, domesticity is still a woman’s area more so than a man’s. And they would be right. Because despite women accounting for nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women still overwhelmingly perform the majority of household and child care tasks at home. Among couples in which both partners work outside the home, women are still largely contributing significantly more time to family and household chores like shopping, cooking, cleaning and child care. This well-studied and documented phenomenon is called “the second shift,” which refers to the second job many women perform at home after spending a full day at the workplace.
This is just another reason to consciously put an end to the archaic practice of women-only baby and wedding showers. It’s no longer 1950, so if a couple jointly decides they’d like a set of high-end steak knives or an electric juicer for their new marital kitchen, it should be a gift for both, presented to both, at a party for both, by family and friends of both genders.
A male blogger recently tackled this very subject, writing about his surprise at the growing trend of co-ed baby showers, pondering the reasons a male would attend such an event and waxing philosophically about the possible lure of human eye-candy. He details his enjoyment of a co-ed shower, even saying the food was excellent and that everyone had a great time. Yet, he then concludes that showers are no place for men. Huh?
This persisting societal trend of wedding and baby showers being female-only events normalizes the notion that marriage, the home, and babies are things for women and not men. This not only serves to keep the “second shift” a reality for many working women, but it also excludes men from celebrating two monumental life events that have just as much to do with them as the other half of the population.
At my friend’s shower, I couldn’t help but feel that something was amiss. It would have been nice to have her father, brother, husband and their male friends celebrating along with everyone else. And a co-ed affair with a little more focus on celebration and a little less on diaper talk probably would have been more enjoyable for everyone involved.