After my mom and dad had been dating for a few years and marriage was on the horizon, she started dropping hints about how she’d like him to ask. She’d recount the story of her friend’s proposal — a room full of balloons, a single one that read “I love you,” popped to reveal a ring inside — hoping he’d be inspired by the creativity, but her efforts were in vain. When he did eventually ask her, it was on a couch in front of the TV. He just kind of leaned sideways during a commercial break and tossed it out. We all grew up laughing about it.
I never remember questioning the premise of the whole story, which was that it was my dad’s responsibility to do the asking. Probably because when I was a kid, the conversation around proposals generally wasn’t very nuanced. It was about how the guy asked the girl. I accepted this as status quo because it was! From where I sit, it still is, to my continued surprise.
I’ve seen the recent feminist wave tackle patriarchal bullshit on levels sweeping and microscopic. Most women I know, whether they closely identify with the movement or not, are aware of sexism, double standards, implicit bias, the wage gap and the unfair burdens placed on women. Which is why I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why I haven’t seen the traditional Western approach to marriage proposals picked apart more in my media feeds and friend circles.
My Facebook newsfeed is a barrage of women – from all over the feminist spectrum — announcing their ecstatic joy at having been asked. Questions around “taking it to the next step” still often revolve around if the dude will come around, when it might happen, how he’ll do it. In other words, if, when and how the man will take fate into his own hands.
It’s not that I’m not thrilled for these women — I ugly-cried behind a bush when I spied on my brother-in-law asking my sister — but I’m also confused by the whole expectation-laden, untouchable-seeming narrative of it. The marriage seed planted in the minds of little girls and boys is kind of fucked, right? Man asks father for daughter’s hand in marriage, man asks woman to marry him, father walks daughter down the aisle. The fate of every woman in the hands of the men in her life.
As adults entering relationships, most of us trade the high school “Will you be my girlfriend/boyfriend” question for a more thoughtful, two-way conversation around exclusivity, defining the relationship, a mutual agreement. So why isn’t the transition to engagement — arguably the most intense one of all — that much more measured? That much more mutual? Maybe these conversations are happening more than I think, but my bubble says otherwise.
I respect tradition; carrying the parts of history forward that strengthen a sense of community and ground us in something other than chaos. But when it comes to “choices” and “traditions” that subjugate women (and, in this case, the LGBTQ-identifying population), I struggle to rally my live-and-let-live attitude. I worry about the long-term implications of holding up ancient practices that undermine our gender.
Am I a self-righteous killjoy? I’m just frankly a little confounded by the free pass this whole traditions seems to enjoy in a society that’s so loathe to dole them out. Why do you think we’re still clinging to this? Why are we so okay with it? What are you feelings on the matter?
While we’re on the topic of marriage, here’s how Sex and the City almost ruined Leandra’s relationship.