Over the last few years there’s been a low rumbling of discontent among young women around the increasing ridiculousness of hen weekends. Once upon a time it was simply a hen “do” – a night out on the town. Now brides are given a two-day send-off with so many bells and willy-shaped whistles that the hen weekend spoof in Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love has become a common reference point. (“Saturday will begin promptly at 8am. Please join us in the Tower of London for a Tudor cooking course”; “We are superexcited to have had chocolate moulds made of a variety of male anuses by the artisan chocolate company Sucre et Crème.”) The trope has even entered the consciousness of hen weekend organisers, never famed for their self-awareness, who now open with: “SORRY girls, welcome to another hen do Whatsapp group.”
I used to consider myself the target market for hen weekends. I do, for example, wear a lot of pink. I enjoy meeting new women and even the innuendos that characterise much of hen parties. But earlier this year I made a decision that I will no longer attend hen weekends. Ever since, I have felt profound relief. My calendar is empty of rituals I once participated in because I thought that was what it meant to be a good female friend, and that as a woman I somehow should enjoy them. I now have money to go on trips – you know, somewhere I actually want to go – with no need to share a sofa-bed with a friend of a friend. I wonder if we’d all be happier if we plucked up (excuse the pun) the courage to do away with hen weekends altogether.
Apart from anything, hen weekends are reductive. Most obviously, it feels odd that in 2023 men are excluded (with the exception of the token gay male friend) – as though sending off one of your best mates is a uniquely female pleasure or endeavour. Linked to this is the bizarre presumption that girlhood – defined here as conversations about cervical smears and whether we’d suit a fringe, perhaps – constitutes enough of a shared experience for 20 women, most of whom have never met, to spend a weekend together. The preoccupation with male sexual organs – from penis straws to “pin the junk on the hunk” – is ghoulish. Can you imagine if the roles were reversed? I can’t think of anything worse than a group of lads drinking out of vulva cups.
I would be all for parting with £400 – in my experience the average cost of a hen weekend – were it not for the fact the weekends largely resemble a bad Saturday afternoon in Clapham. The ones I’ve been to consist of a prosecco brunch with the girlies, three hours of pornstar martinis at the local Slug & Lettuce and karaoke to finish. If you’re lucky there’s a cooking or cocktail class – but if you’re visiting a new city there’s no chance of actually seeing it. There is, however, drinking on the train, drinking at the airport bar, drinking on the plane – and £250pp for a semi-detached house in the middle of nowhere with a freezing paddling pool half of you can fit into. Value for money might be a miserly grievance, but I can spend a week in continental Europe for the cost of a hen weekend in Felixstowe.
Even more costly are those in further-flung destinations (Ibiza! No, Las Vegas!). I’ve found hen weekends bring out the sort of female competitiveness I’d once thought extinct, now resurrected by Instagram. The pressure to have or throw the craziest hen party possible is relentless. And, of course, the proximity of hen weekends to what’s widely considered the most special day in a woman’s life means they have become the way for maids of honour and women in general to evidence our closeness and dedication to the bride. The film Bridesmaids wasn’t satire – I have seen a group of women approaching thirty argue over who gets to be in charge of a balloon garland. It’s hard to conceive of hen weekends as a celebration of #girlpower, not least when the men I know get to go surfing and rent BMX bikes for their stag dos. I spend so much time telling men how ill-conceived the “women be crazy” discourse is, and then I go to a hen weekend where someone ends up crying over a game based around knickers – and I don’t know what to say anymore.
I have never felt so consumerist as I do on a hen weekend. Each time, I have to go to Primark to procure a dress in the colour of the themed night out or a wig I will never wear again. Money we transfer is returned to us in the form of a set of sashes, T-shirts or eyemasks from Shein with “Bride Tribe” spelled out in glittery letters, and a sixth birthday party-style goodie bag. There are banners, plastic paraphernalia and EasyJet flights if we go abroad. Then there is the even uglier socio-economic side-effect of pulling together lots of people who know little about each other and who have little in common for a holiday. I have too often seen a well-off colleague of the bride organise an event that her schoolfriends struggle to afford, but attend anyway, for fear of looking like a bad friend. The group chat is slowly updated with an ever-increasing price – how can you bail when you know it will just increase the cost for others further?
All this said, I’m dreading the day when I must tell my best friend I won’t be coming to her hen weekend. I’ll say it’s a point of principle to soften the blow, but that usually refers to things like veganism and sobriety. Few choose an aversion to another game of Mr & Mrs as their hill to die on.
What do hen weekends even mean these days? They don’t signify a last night of freedom for women – we cohabit before marriage, and, thankfully, we can largely do exactly as men do. It is rare that I think women should take inspiration from men, but on this occasion I wish that hen weekends were replaced with something more like stag dos. I think wistfully of the groom-to-be I know whose big night simply consisted of a pub crawl, where he was paraded around dressed up as a kebab.