Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Showers for the Women of 2009

You know the feeling. An envelope arrives in the mail – it isn’t a bill and it has handwriting on the front. Sometimes it’s oddly shaped. It’s not a holiday and it isn’t your birthday.

Crap. It’s going to be a shower invitation, isn’t it.

For the most part, the mere mention of a pending shower leaves women groaning and men shrugging their shoulders. Once upon a time, these parties were thrown to support the bride- or mother-to-be as she embarked upon new experiences in life. The shower provided her with the things she would need in her new role as wife or mom by furnishing an empty apartment or nursery with the basics for domestic success. Gifts and well wishes were bestowed upon her as the women in her life celebrated her upcoming journey, wishing her the best of luck.

Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for couples to register for gaming systems, camping gear, sporting equipment and luxury appliances – hardly the necessities, and usually the kind of fare that one would wait to purchase until a bit of disposable income becomes available. The spirit of the shower suggests that people should come up with money to buy items on the registry and include gift receipts in case the presents aren’t quite what the person wanted. It seems to me that people register for things they would like to have but shouldn’t spend money on, so that shower attendees can spend their money on these things instead. This leaves people like me coughing up a sum of money to go in on a high-end hammock while I turn down a dinner invitation with friends because I’m strapped for cash. Add up the money I’ve spent on showers over the past decade, and I probably could have gone on a tropical vacation by now.

Does this seem in line with the original intention of the shower?

I can recall several times in the past 10 years where I’ve had to be conservative with money in order to pay for my own rent, living expenses and maybe a few movie rentals in the mix for some leisure time, and yet still have to come up with additional funds to go in on shower gifts that are oftentimes of the “non-essential” variety (while my budget dictates that I must steer clear of non-essential items for myself).

The point of this post isn’t to say that I wasn’t happy for my friends or that I didn’t want to support these important milestones, the point I’m trying to make is that these showers have become as commercialized as the holiday season. But unlike the holidays, showers are limited to an exclusive group – women who will wed or birth. What an archaic way to “celebrate” the woman.

As any reader of this blog knows, the women of 2009 are embarking on all kinds of adventures in their lives, and could use support in ways June Cleaver never imagined. The women of 2009 have challenges that have evolved from maintaining a healthy marriage and raising a family. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of being a wife or a mom, I’m simply trying to call attention to the fact that women have a lot of options these days when it comes to their path in life – why is our society so determined to only celebrate the ones that involve marriage and procreation? What makes those accomplishments worthy of a “shower” over anything else that a woman can commit to or produce?

In the movie Back to the Future, there is a scene where Marty nervously suggests to Doc that they must find a longer stretch of highway to give the DeLorian enough road to reach 88 MPH so they may travel through time. Doc famously replies:

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

Or Onesies. Or potholders.

Behold, showers for the Women of 2009.

The Promotion Shower

Otherwise known as the “You Kick Ass at Your Job” Shower

I’m still waiting for the day when we can celebrate the career woman. When a woman gets promoted, she may need certain things to hold her place on the next rung of the corporate ladder. Her registry boasts inspiring artwork for her office walls, sassy wardrobe updates to keep her fashion forward, and a good bottle of wine to take the edge off after a stressful day.

Traditional showers recognize women being promoted in society – going form Miss to Mrs. to Mom claims several aisles at Target, where the shelves are stocked with celebratory messages from Hallmark all because a woman has decided to commit herself to a single man for the rest of time and start a family. What about the woman who commits herself to her career? To bettering society through hard work, innovation, creativity and finely-tuned skill sets?

It’s time that we give the Career Woman the credit she deserves and start celebrating a woman’s success in the board room, not just the bedroom.

The Divorce Shower

Otherwise known as the “Thank God You’re Done with Him” Shower

I’ve seen what happens when someone goes through a divorce and it seems to me that those people need more help starting their new lives than newlyweds do. When you consider that it’s become the norm for a shower registry to include things like the Nintendo Wii, it’s pretty clear that the idea of the shower to help people start their lives together has gone beyond the normal necessities of domestic life (and one could even argue that putting a gaming system in the home might stifle much-needed communication and serve as a catalyst to ultimately end the marriage). Meanwhile there’s a divorcee out there struggling to come up with enough money to buy groceries – forget about home décor and entertainment needs.

Divorce isn’t always bad and for some people it should be celebrated. Conversely, marriage between two people sometimes is bad and we’ll celebrate it anyway.

Women will stay in relationships that are terrible for them. Cheating or abusive husbands guilt their partners into believing they deserve what they’re getting and women will stay in the marriage because they know how hard it will be to move on alone. Her self-esteem, safety net, family stability – all of these things will suffer when a woman decides to end her marriage and move on with her life. Add to that the financial burden of paying attorney fees and relying on a much leaner income to support one’s self, and you have a woman that actually needs someone to buy her bathroom towels and place settings.

It’s time that we give the Divorcee the credit she deserves and start celebrating a woman’s courage to get out of a bad situation and start her life anew.

The Serious Illness Shower

Otherwise known as the “You’re Going to Kick Cancer’s Ass, and We Know It” Shower

It’s been said before that laughter is the best medicine. The power of positive thinking and a good attitude are unparalleled in the medical field. When faced with the news of a serious illness like breast cancer, what better time is there to celebrate a woman’s strength and support her through the upcoming events that will unfold? Her registry might include accent pieces to spruce up a hospital room, or a box of herbal teas to sooth the mind before lengthy doctor visits. She may register for a collection of books or DVDs that would help her to pass time through the days that she’s too tired to leave the house. Maybe she’s looking to take up a new hobby to help her relax and has had her eye on a set of knitting needles and brightly colored spools of yarn.

It’s time that we give the woman battling a serious illness the credit she deserves and start celebrating her ability to overcome life-threatening obstacles.

The New Adventure Shower

Otherwise known as the “Holy Crap, I can’t Believe You’re Going to do That!” Shower

Women who are about to be married or start a family are supported with showers largely because they are going into something new and the shower is a way to prepare them both physically (with tools and materials) and mentally (with warm wishes and inspiring messages).

It’s now nearly ten years into the second millennium and women have greatly expanded the “new experience” list. Husbands and babies have taken a back seat to any number of adventures including some of the ones the women in my life have embarked on:

• Joining the military and being deployed

• Traveling and living abroad for large periods of time

• Moving across the country with no known connections

• Starting a business

• Committing to a significant goal that requires a change in lifestyle and support from others (going to rehab for an addiction, losing 100 lbs, training for an Ironman or marathon, etc.)

It’s time that we give the adventurous woman the credit she deserves and start celebrating the idea that a significant life change isn't limited to just marriages and births.

The Homeowner Shower

Otherwise known as the “When Shit Breaks, You’re Going to Have to Fix it Now” Shower

So when a woman is to marry or become a mom, we give her lingerie and bottles, right? These are traditional shower gifts for the bride or mom-to-be. What about the woman that is about to become a first-time homeowner?

In the past few years, I know of four single women who each became new homeowners. When a single woman buys her own home, the traditional (and sexist) idea that the man will fix whatever breaks no longer applies. And there isn’t a landlord to take care of any issues either. I can’t think of a better occasion to throw a shower than to celebrate a woman who is purchasing her own home. After perusing the local hardware store, it’s clear to me that the expense of caring for a home and its corresponding lawn is not cheap (or easy).

The registry for this woman can go for miles – weed wacker, garden hose, push mower, paint brushes, hedge trimmer, garden equipment, etc.

Sure, society offers the “housewarming party” and it’s a nice way to christen the space with warm company and a good inventory of new wine, but this will help the single woman with her home about as much as a block of cheese will help a new mom with her infant.

It’s time that we give the single woman buying her first home the credit she deserves and start celebrating her independence to do something on her own that has traditionally been reserved for couples and families.

The New Pet Shower

Otherwise known as the “Throw Me a Bone, Raising a Pet is Hard, Too!” Shower

Just as some women seek out a husband for companionship (and truth be told, I’ve heard of women having children for the same reason), others seek out a pet. Though a pet’s first word may never amount to more than a bark or a purr (or the word of your choosing should you decide to get a parrot) it’s still something under your care that you are responsible for. A pet may not require midnight feedings or healthy conversations about your feelings, but it is a new relationship nonetheless and one that isn’t always easy to deal with.

There are as many books on the market for how to successfully raise a pet as there are for raising children. Pets require care and discipline just as children do. They are living things that become members of the family – yet women who are pet owners are seldom recognized (or supported) as people who are integral in raising their furry family. Why not throw a shower for the woman who just adopted from the local pet shelter? Or the woman who finally decided she was in a good position to get the Labrador retriever she’s always wanted? The registry is obvious: sub in the water dish, Kong toys, over-sized pillow bed and trendy collar for the sippy cups, mobiles, burping clothes and diaper bag.

It’s time that we give the new pet owner the same respect we give the new mom and celebrate the fact that the families of some women are comprised of cats and dogs, rather than a husband and children.

If this is all beginning to sound ridiculous, then I believe I’m successfully making my point. I could not have written this post without the confirmation from many friends and peers that my sentiments are shared.

To the married women reading this, it’s important to realize that I and other single women don’t dislike the idea of the shower – and we don’t dislike you! We dislike the discrimination in the way that ALL women are expected to buy-in to the shower celebration, but only those who are getting married or having children are eligible to have these society-inspired celebrations.

It might seem ridiculous to be expected to get a gift for a woman who is moving to a new city, purchasing a home, battling cancer, buying a dog or being promoted within her career. For us single women, it feels equally ridiculous to be expected to purchase a gift for a woman just because she has decided to get married or have a baby.

We are the women of 2009, and we all deserve recognition, support, and fanfare for the adventures we choose to embark on. I say we either start celebrating those adventures in all of their iterations, or stop the trend of baby and bridal showers altogether.


Shilo said...

I love your ideas for showers! I'd have gotten several of those ones---where as I have never had the bridal or baby type of shower. I definitely feel the same as you do about getting a shower invitation as well. I have spent money on baby gifts (strollers, swings) that I could have used towards paying bills or buying things that have been on my "want list". Life feels particularly cruel when time and time again you are on a different page than most of your peers. :(

SingleThirtySomething said...

Brilliant! I love the idea of celebrating ALL the significant events in one's life - not just weddings and babies.

I'd just add that to me the single-sex element of showers is also seriously old-fashioned - particularly when it comes to baby showers. I mean, shouldn't the Dad be just as involved these days? And why should one's male friends be excluded from a bridal shower? If/when I get married, one of my 'bridesmaids' will be a very good male friend. And no, I won't put him in a dress :-)

Bring on co-ed showers for all of life's momentous occasions!

Sarah Fain said...

As a single, 38-year-old home-owner, I can't begin to tell you how much I would have LOVED to have been thrown a shower when I bought my house. I took me six years to get a sofa that wasn't used! In the last year I've started buying my wedding registry-- everything other people would have bought for me if I'd gotten married. There's a reason why 50-250 people usually buy all that stuff. It's EXPENSIVE. The upside is that I finally have nice pots and pans and dishes and steak knives and a KitchenAid Stand Mixer-- and I got them all by myself. There's something to be said for that, too.

Clever Elsie said...

I don't think your shower suggestions sound ridiculous at all! I think they sound like useful, creative ways to help someone and show you care. In fact, I know of some people who've given or received gifts for occasions like these, though I don't know anyone who's thrown a whole party. However, as you noted, perhaps the party element has gotten out of hand anyway. Even a bridal shower used to be nothing more than a gathering at the bride's house with light refreshments. The focus was on giving her the things she needed to start the next chapter of her life, not entertaining dozens of guests with catered gourmet food and ice sculptures.

Inspired by Carrie's shoe registry on Sex and the City and the quinceanera, a coming-of-age celebration in the Hispanic community, I've thought for awhile now that we should phase out bridal showers and phase in a rite-of-passage ceremony for young adults when they hit 18 or 21. This would be a formal event to celebrate the young person and the promise of his or her future as a full-fledged member of society. Guests would be expected to bring presents to facilitate the young person's new independent lifestyle, generally the same kinds of gifts engaged couples get now. Also, the attention and lavish nature of the festivity would hopefully satisfy that craving to feel "like a princess" that drives some women to get married whether or not they're ready for the commitment that the wedding ceremony marks.

An alternative to this coming-of-age ceremony would be a lifetime achievement or self-commitment ceremony, which any person could throw for him- or herself after, say, age 35 or so and which would ideally replace a wedding for those who didn't marry.

Old traditions die hard and new ones are not born easily, but I hope that singles will start introducing some of these ideas to the culture at large. After all, it only takes one person throwing a coming-of-age or self-commitment party to educate 100-300 people about what that is and why someone would want to have one.

I have no problem giving people presents to celebrate happy times in their lives or help them out, but it's not fair that I'm spending all this money on them and can't expect to get anything in return. It's only right that we singles should be able to have "our day," too.

Spinster Leese. said...

Wow, I didn't realize you all had left such amazing comments! It feels good to know there are more of us out there.

Shilo- I feel your pain with the "want list". Still chipping away at mine.

SingleThirtySomething- my boyfriend often reminds me that men should get to be more involved in these celebrations, since they are 1/2 of the reason they're occurring!

Sarah- I just bought a crockpot last weekend and it was the highlight of September (sad, I know). Next up: Food processor. Screw the registry!

CleverElise- Your ideas are amazing, especially the Self Commitment ceremony.

Thank you all for continuing to read my blog and supporting these ideas!

Anonymous said...

I have just stopped attending any baby showers at work. At five dollars a pop, I'd use up my annual COL increase every year. (The people in my office are extraordinarily fecund. More often than not, we shower two people at a time because if we did them individually, we wouldn't have any time for our actual work.)

Great post!


Anonymous said...

Exactly. In regard to the Divorce Shower idea - if you've gone through one, you know that you lost your mind, your temper - but you also probably lost your toaster - and that's not cool.

I just found you last night! I love your blog. And I love the shower ideas. Thanks for your comment. I can't wait to pick up more of what you're putting down.