Well Being

Leap Year Or Not, I Wish Fewer Women—And Men—Would Propose

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I had never heard of it until today, but apparently it's a well-established tradition that during leap years, women are allowed to ask men to marry them. Men even had to pay a fine or give a silk dress if they refused leap year marriage proposals. Today, a woman doesn't have to wait 'til leap year if she wants to ask someone to marry her. But women still rarely do the proposing (and if they do, nobody talks about it). Why does the traditional man-on-one-knee, diamond-ring wedding proposal remain so popular?

Everything about the leap-year lady proposals story is pretty funny and absurd—women “on the prowl for husbands sported red petticoats as warning so poor beleaguered men could dash in the other direction,” Forbes' reports. But taboos against women proposing to men haven't changed terribly much since then. In 2010, Amy Adams made a non-satirical movie about a woman proposing to her boyfriend because it's leap year (though Time Magazine's movie critic did call it the worst movie of 2010). Leap year proposals are still an idea people kind of buy into, which implies that people don't really think it's okay for a woman to propose every day but one every four years.

The Daily Mail ran an article the other day called: “I'm a feminist but I'd NEVER propose to my boyfriend.” It's the kind of headline that immediately bugs me because it implies that by not wanting to propose to her boyfriend, the writer is somehow being a bad feminist. But feminism doesn't have a consensus position on whether or not you should propose to your boyfriend. I'd say a general feminist belief might be that there shouldn't be any state action preventing you from proposing to your boyfriend, and we should encourage cultural norms that allow both men and women to initiate marriage proposals (or have no proposal at all!). But there's nothing feminist or un-feminist about proposing, not proposing, or whatever you choose to do inside the context of your own relationship. Just don't look down on someone who chooses personally to do things differently.

But whatevs., it's the Daily Mail and I don't know why I'm making like it's a women's studies text. Writer Jane Costello takes care to sketch out her feminist cred—she “used to quote The Female Eunuch“—before stating her belief that:

… even in the 21st century, if a man really wants to marry you, he will ask.

Whether we like it or not — no matter how enlightened they are — most men still think of proposing as their job. Nine out of ten proposals continue to be made by men.

Which means it must stay that way forever, because nothing ever changes about marriage or gender roles. [And yet, I'm a feminist, I've never read The Female Eunuch and I think ladies proposing to men is just fine …].

Costello says:

“We never fought for the right not to be swept off our feet by the men we love.”

Indeed! I am a big fan of getting swept off my feet. I just think one of the things earlier feminists did fight for was the realization that women (and men, too, obvi.) are individuals, and don't all want the same thing. There is no “what women want,” just like there is no “what men want.” Men and women want any number of things. Some want to be swept off their feet (or to do the sweeping) with diamonds and moonlight and a fairy-tale marriage proposal, and that's cool. But I can't be alone in wanting, should I decide to marry, just to decide with my partner that we're going to marry.

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