Even though I hated the book, I read all 300 pages, having frantically memorized a plethora of discussion questions, just in case I needed to be armed with an insightful conversation prompt. Oh, Jenna, they’d say. So astute! What an asset to our book club!
A couple months ago, my good friend asked if I wanted to join her book club, and we finally had our first meeting over brunch. I was nervous that my knowledge of the chosen novel would be mediocre compared to everyone else, and just wanted to make a good first impression. I showed up, ready to dive into the symbolism, the motifs, the literature buzzwords from 11th grade English, but as they say in clickbait internet ads, What Happened Next Will Shock You.
We didn’t even discuss the book. The conversation began with the question “Did you like it?” and ended when the first woman responded with a definitive “no.” That was it. The rest of the two-and-a-half hour brunch was filled with mimosas, boyfriend advice, wedding woes, and general banter about coffee intake.
I’m not upset that we didn’t discuss the book in perpetuity, but did find it odd that it was mentioned once, for only 30 seconds. Wasn’t this book the entire reason for getting together in the first place?
As I get older, I am confronted with more of these female-specific questions. What is it about the group dynamics that occur when more than four women get together? First off, they don’t just hang out. No, they make book clubs, brunch get-togethers, showers, girls’ nights, and generally a million other ill-advised and often poorly-named social gatherings.
Perhaps this theming phenomenon came about from our need to not appear like excessive alcoholics. Hey, if we have a theme party with matching outfits and balloons, then obviously it makes sense to drink right? Probably not.
Or maybe the need to theme is driven by the cultural power that a group of women has. Men, for whatever reason, are terrified of any situation in which they are outnumbered by females (except for sex). Particularly when that group of women is doing something that sounds overtly feminine. The words “mani” and “pedi” come to mind.
Back in the day, before we were allowed to vote or wear pants, a themed party was likely a woman’s best weapon. When women wanted to be left alone or needed a reason to flee the nest without questions, book clubs, showers, and garden parties worked wonders. What’s absurd however, is how seriously women still are about upholding this tradition in spite the modern independence that would dispel its necessity.
You can imagine how well it went over when I joked that we should become a “brunch club for women who like to read.” Eyes rolled, forks dropped, and I felt my friend’s elbow “accidentally” bump into me. Things had been going so well, but I had somehow crossed over an invisible line and offended everyone at the table.
How dare I! It was very much a book club, thank you very much, and to suggest an alternative theme that revolved strictly around what we actually did was preposterous.
And book club isn’t the only place women enforce The Theme. They are also extremely serious about maintaining the integrity of the party theme when gifts are involved. They could give a flying fuck about actually reading a book for book club, but make it a baby shower or bachelorette party and shit gets real.
For instance, I went to a Bachelorette Party a few weeks ago for a friend. I didn’t know her very well, but I thought it would be nice to show my support. Oh, Jenna, they’d say. So fun! What an asset to the bachelorette party! The theme for the early-evening soireé at a local wine bar was “red.” Which meant we were supposed to wear red and bring red food. Easy enough. Or so I thought.
Having very little knowledge of the bride and her friends, I got what I considered a “safe gift,” a wine bottle stopper that was shaped like a pickle and a badass bottle of Rosé bubbly. Logic being, “Hey, we’re going to a wine bar: it’s ‘red’ champagne and the opener is both useful AND punny. Cuz you know a pickle looks like a…” They’d think I was so funny. I was sure of it.
Unfortunately, that assumption died the night before the party, when my email inbox lit up with the bride-to-be’s bra size. Apparently, in addition to the red theme, the rest of the group had purchased lingerie as a gift. Call me old fashioned, but to actually purchase sexy underwear for a woman that I hardly knew, just wasn’t my jam.
On top of the gift debacle, the only red dress I owned was unwearable. No amount of red wine, “Red Wedding” jokes, or well thought-out conversation prompts would help me escape the awkward glares I received when I showed up in brown and the bride-to-be opened my phallic pickle wine stopper first. Nailed it.
It’s parties like that when I feel most like an ethologist, observing chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Sure, I may recognize that they throw shit at each other out of love, but it’s still weird.
Some might think it’s normal to buy another grown woman a red lace teddy, only to have it gawked at by a creepy wine-drinking 70 year-old man with an enormous sheepdog, but personally, I find it odd. And ironically, that made me the odd one.
Now, I’m all for an excuse to read a good book, and hell, most of the time I’m down for a night on the town, but ladies, do we always have to have a theme when we get together? Men seem perfectly comfortable gathering around a TV and watching a football game, which is just plain easier than reading a 300-page novel or buying lingerie for a stranger.
So, while I will never understand why, or to some extent how we come up with such bizarre and unnecessary themes, I’ve come to the conclusion that a theme is merely female code for “I just want to vent, gossip, and throw back some booze.”
But remember, when it comes to gift-giving and color themes: Take that shit seriously; don’t fuck it up.