Bridal showers are a trend that has gained popularity over the years, and they are a big deal. From theme colours to carefully selected locations to food, a lot of thought goes into planning these trendy events.
They are pre-wedding parties organised for the bride-to-be a few days or weeks before her wedding. They are traditionally thrown by the bride’s mother and her maid of honour and are hosted by the entire bridal party.
Traditionally (in the European societies from which the concept originated) they were meant to shower the bride with gifts and to give advice to the wife-to-be on how to be a homemaker, which mostly included advice on temperament, hygiene, cooking and bedroom matters.
A lot of the gifts are often ‘wifely’ in nature such as cutlery and sometimes personal items like lingerie or jewellery. In this way, bridal showers (although often mistaken to be the same thing) are different from bachelorette parties, which are normally for the bride and her close friends to have a fun weekend together before the wedding day.
While there are no set rules on what to bring, what people often do not bring to bridal showers, though, is men.
When they first picked up popularity in Poland back in the 16th century, bridal showers were open to all genders because the intention was for people to come and gift the couple.
Later, however, the version popularised in America in the 1930s was exclusively for women, probably because at the time, the basic role of a woman was a housewife.
In Kenya, a lot of bridal showers are exclusively women-only affairs. Although they may be organised with the help of the groom (since most of them are often surprise parties), a lot of Kenyan women tend to prefer not to invite men to bridal showers.
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Sarah, for instance, exclaims in genuine surprise when I ask her whether she would invite her fiancé or his friends to her bridal shower.
“To do what!” She asks.
At 46, Sarah who has been divorced thrice (twice from the same person), recently met a new man whom she has been hanging out with and is hoping it will turn into a permanent thing.
“I like it so far,” she says, “if things go well maybe we can make it more official by the end of the year.”
Despite enjoying his company, she still insists she would not invite him to her bridal shower.
“I never invited the others (her previous husbands). For me, I see it as a personal time for me and my girls to hang out and do our things.”
Like Sarah, Maggy also believes men should not be invited to bridal showers. The 25-year-old believes most of what is said during bridal showers is not meant for men’s ears.
“They should not be there because the bride is usually given a lot of advice, some of which they (the men) are not supposed to hear.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“How to please them in bed and also maybe how to live with them in general.”
For some women like Judith Adhiambo, having men attend bridal showers will limit the openness of the women attending since the intention is to indulge, uninhibited, in sex and marriage talk.
“With men there, some people may not talk openly or give genuine advice to the bride. They might be afraid of sounding spoilt or immoral,” she says.
On the other hand, although he admits he would be curious to attend and see what goes on in bridal showers, Kelvin Mwangi thinks bridal showers are simply too ‘girly’ for men.
“They talk a lot of women stuff. They also dress up and have theme colours and photoshoots. If it was men, we would probably just hang out and drink beer or talk football.”
However, there is a new trend in Kenya where men - mostly experts on marital issues - are invited to bridal showers to give talks. These experts range from marriage counsellors to financial advisors to sexologists.
According to research in 2013 by Naomi Njonjo, male church figures such as pastors were a common choice at first and they were mostly invited to bridal showers to give the woman advice on how to keep her marriage, mostly because bridal showers are meant as platforms where gender and sexual roles are passed on to women before marriage.
She further noted that in more liberal parties, male strippers can be invited and can sometimes end up having last sex with the bride-to-be before the wedding.
Maurice Matheka, a sex therapist, is a popular guest speaker in most of these bridal showers.
His packages include giving talks about relationship issues that range from how to relate as couples to how to save dying relationships and sometimes practical sessions on how to have fulfilling sex and that may include live demonstrations, depending on the audience.
Apart from marriage or sex experts, the bride may also have a male close friend whom they have chosen to be their ‘bridesman’ or their ‘man of honour’. In that case, he may be invited to the bridal shower since he is part of the bridal team and the shower has been organised by the same team anyway.
The bride may also choose to have their family - perhaps a brother or their father - attend their bridal showers. Other times, they could let the fiancée attend especially in a situation where she is hosting a lot of her in-laws in the shower with whom she is not yet properly acquainted.
However, to deal with this issue and to make sure no one feels left out of these pre-wedding activities, many couples are now choosing to have an all-gender inclusive pre-wedding party.
Such parties are known as ‘Jack and Jill Showers’ and are hosted by both the groom and the bride. The guest list includes both friends and even family of both the bride and the groom.
Another emerging trend is the ‘Bro-dal’ showers. These are just like bridal showers, but with a manly twist. Unlike the bridal showers that are focused on the bride, Bro-dal showers are held from the groom’s perspective.
While it is common for organisers of bridal showers not to invite men to the event, there is nothing particularly wrong with choosing to invite them. There are no set rules on what to do or what not to do and couples should work with what they are comfortable with.
It is not uncommon for the fiancé to make an appearance towards the end of the event to say thank you. Whichever criteria is used to invite guests to the bridal shower, it should ensure that the bride is comfortable, happy and ready for her big day.