It was just like any other wedding reception. The venue was a large room that resembled a hotel convention center. It was filled with round tables; white tablecloths and pink lilies on top. The chairs were rounded with harsh gold trim (you know what I’m talking about) and covered with ugly red fabric meant to hide stains and be anonymous.
When the bride made her entrance, everyone stopped chatting and clapped, oooed, and ahhhhed. Her white dress was full, and as she made her way down the center of the room, she had to stop every three steps or so to have her gown rearranged, lest she trip over it. Her bouquet was simple – six full red roses. A photographer stayed close, snapping pictures every second.
The food was served buffet style, and the guests stood in line and piled up way too much food then ate it all. It didn’t matter. It was a time of celebration. After we ate, there was dancing. All 200 guests feeling full and merry.
All 200 female guests. There were no men in sight.
And that made the event unlike any other wedding reception I’ve ever been to. In Oman, the wedding celebrations are gender segregated – the groom didn’t even make an appearance at this reception until well past midnight, after his own celebration, and that was simply to take his new bride home and then off to the honeymoon.
So the dancing, singing, laughing – all of it – was all with other women. Which to me was pretty weird. While I appreciate that not all weddings need to be all-gender events (interestingly enough, on this very day, I was invited to a US wedding that celebrated the marriage of dear friends of mine, both of whom are women), the stereotypical wedding, and the mold that I have become most accustomed to, is pretty darn heterocentric; where the underlying narrative is about who is still single, and who is going to hook up with whom after enough of the free bar has been consumed….
Oh yeah, of course there was no alcohol at this event either. Another pretty big difference.
So no men and no booze – what’s left, you may ask? What remained were bright colored dresses and a lot of women letting their hair down. I mean this literally; for the first time since I have been here, I saw several women without head coverings – beautiful rich dark long wavy hair, cascading down past bare shoulders; abayas were removed and placed on chairs. Dresses were still long, but many were tight and low-cut. Because of this shedding of modesty, no pictures were allowed.
Weddings are one of the few times (if not the only time) that women are seen in public without their traditional coverings. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to be extremely comfortable, moving their bodies in freeing and sexualized ways to the beats of Omani drums and Egyptian belly-dancing music. Head coverings were tied around women’s rears to highlight their moves while they swayed and shook their hips. I’m trying hard not to be biased, but I concede to my upbringing; these women were so happy, and while I had a great time dancing in a group of women, I was also a little sad that they couldn’t do this more often. That they couldn’t have such an event where men were present and they could still dress more freely.
But then again, if there were men around, it wouldn’t be a real wedding celebration. At least not in Oman.