When we think of showers, we usually think of babies and weddings. Big, life-changing events centered around the happiness of marrying or giving birth to a person you love. While these showers have taken a variety of forms over the years (including the increasingly popular baby “sprinkles” for second babies), they’re generally thrown for the purpose of preparing a woman for a new stage of life.
Now, career-focused boss babes are insisting we should also throw “career showers,” arguing that professional accomplishments are just as worthy of celebration as once-in-a-lifetime events like marriage or children. Many say that women who don’t get married or have kids in their 20s and 30s don’t have the options to get as many gifts as those who do, and that the “lack of attention” can make career milestones feel like they aren’t as special or important. While it’s great to celebrate and recognize your friends’ professional accomplishments, are we wise to be creating more substitutes for family-oriented celebrations?
Shower Me, Baby!
Unlike career showers, baby showers aren’t a modern invention. In fact, they began in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece as a form of community postpartum care for moms who were in quarantine after birth. Instead of giving gifts, the showering period involved welcoming new life into the world, purifying the woman after giving birth, and often some form of temple visit for religious rituals.
In the Middle Ages, baby showers became more religious in nature. Less focused on the mother, showers during this time period were primarily focused on God. Also often requiring the mother to stay in a form of quarantined rest after giving birth, typically for a period of 40 days, the highlight of the time was the baby’s baptism into the church, not the receiving of gifts.
The Renaissance and Victorian eras began to see baby showers focusing more on “showering” the mother rather than just quarantining her. While showers in these eras still had the baby’s baptism as a highlight of the postpartum period, the Renaissance was the first time period where women were frequently given gifts. These gifts would typically include clothing and edible items for both mother and child, but wealthier families would often spring for wooden trays engraved with sayings or even paintings. The Victorian era also saw silverware as a common gift, and frequently considered baby showers to be a time to relieve some of the financial stress of having a baby for poorer families, which was the start of baby showers being used by new mothers to “stock up” on baby-related essentials.
The Dowry Downpour
Bridal showers share a similarly rich history. Dating back to the 1500s, bridal showers initially began as a replacement for the dowry system. Dowries, or payments from the bride’s family to the groom, have taken many forms across cultures, from cold hard cash to livestock and household items. Bridal showers sought to serve as substitutes for brides who couldn’t get dowries from their fathers either due to poverty or because their father didn’t approve of the match. One Dutch legend, which claims to be the first bridal shower, tells the story of a girl from a wealthy family whose father didn’t approve of the man she loved, a poor son of a grain miller. In order to marry him, her friends brought gifts to fill the place of the dowry she lacked, and her father was so touched by the outpouring of gifts from the community that he eventually gave the couple his blessing.
Even after dowries went out of vogue, bridal showers continued their popularity as times for communities to help prepare brides-to-be. The Victorian era brought bridal showers into the mainstream in the United States and served as the origin of the now-popularized term “shower”: Guests at the event would fill a parasol with gifts and “shower” them over the bride-to-be. The gifts typically included practical, modest items that the bride would use in marriage, and most Victorian-era showers involved advice giving from already married women to the bride-to-be.
Husbands and children aren’t intended to be rewards for hard work, and careers aren’t meant to fulfill you.
The Not-So-Great Replacement
So how do we get from baptism and postpartum care to career showers? Well, for one, modern feminism has been telling women that careers are a substitute for husbands and children. Instead of allowing themselves to fall in love, many women have been convinced by their employers to marry their careers instead. Similarly, many employers have women convinced that they need to choose between children and professional success, leading them to either put off having children until their 30s or forgo building a family altogether. Even though married women with children are happier than any other demographic, the modern lie that women need to prioritize their careers over families at all costs is pervasive: 45% of women are projected to be single and childless by the end of the decade.
Many women are beginning to promote career showers as equal alternatives to bridal and baby showers because they feel left out, but career showers are a totally different beast. At the end of the day, bridal showers and baby showers aren’t about celebrating achievements you’ve worked for, they’re about a community coming together to support you during a new life stage with another human, whether that’s your husband or your new baby. Proponents of career showers argue that they should be big, even up to “renting a venue, hiring a caterer, and requiring guests to wear formal wear to commemorate the big employment shift.” The same advocates say that it’s outdated to see a difference between a promotion and a newborn: “This is not the 1950s, so it's time to celebrate your friend who started her own company just as much as you celebrate your friend who had a baby.”
While career-oriented proponents argue that the friend who “has no interest in getting married or having babies but always wanted to be the best boss babe possible,” is also achieving something worthwhile in her life, they’re missing the point by considering marriage and children just another line on a woman’s life resume. Comparing family life and careers is simply apples and oranges because they’re each meant to fulfill different aspects of your life. Husbands and children aren’t intended to be rewards for hard work, and careers aren’t meant to fulfill you.
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