Waiting for a proposal? This post is for the ladies ...

by Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant  © (28/02/2019)
Categories: | Wedding Traditions | Proposing |
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Woman Proposing
It's the 21st century, ladies! In fact, next year we'll be a quarter of the way through this century, so it beats me why social media reinforces the idea that the man (in a hetero relationship) is the person who must be the who pops the question.

It also gets me that being proposed is supposed to be a complete surprise! (to be fair, that's a bit of a fib because there is plenty of evidence of women doing quite a bit of controlling about the when and where, and even the how).

If you are female and in a relationship, and you don't buy into the inherent inequality of the belief that it
must be the man who proposes, this can be very frustrating. Particularly as the reasons for the belief that proposing is in the gift of the male no longer apply. And it's made even more frustrating because there is only one historically socially acceptable” day on which a woman can propose to a man – and this happens only once in four years - patience will have to be a virtue. Or not!

In a world where we women not only have the vote, we are elected to Parliament in increasing numbers, and we can be Prime Minister, State Premier, a Judge, the CEO of a multinational company, Head of a Government Department, entrepreneurs, and top performers in any profession or trade you can think of,  does the world seem to believe that the one thing a woman can't do is ask the man in her life to marry her? Time to fact check and turn that idea around.

Fact check

It's true, there is still an almost ingrained belief that marriage proposals are the domain of the male. This not only sends a message that marriage is the gift of the male, and therefore the male doing proposing is the “proper” way. 

Actually, fact check, the belief that only a man can propose because that's the way it always has been is simple not true. And, though treated as a secret, women do propose. It's one of the questions I ask couples - Tell me your proposal story. Who asked, when, where and how?  And a not insignificant proportion of my straight brides did the asking.

I like to think of the male proposing as an interim tradition.  And a pretty sinister one from the point of view of a modern women.
For thousands of years it was the family of either the bride or groom who pitched to the other with an offer to good to refuse – we’ll exchange our daughter/son with your family in return for a strategic political or economic alliance.  Neither the bride nor the groom had much of a say in who they married.

A woman not only had no right to her own money or her own property, but also no legal right over her own body. So she had no right to make any decisions on her own, or for herself. She belonged to the men in her life. Her father, and after marriage, her husband. Despite social changes resulting in greater independence and autonomy, it took until March 2019 for the British Parliament to resolve to start including mothers' details on marriage certificate.

In the 19th century, the notion of couples marrying for love gradually became more acceptable. Nonetheless, women were still considered to be under the control of the men in their lives, so the groom would have to seek the bride’s father’s permission to propose, which tacitly meant getting his agreement that he would transfer the care and control of his daughter to him at the wedding.

At the time, and well into the 20th century, women were restricted in what they could do, career-wise, after marriage. Until 1966, women employed in the Australian public service had to resign on marriage. If their job was one that was considered unsuitable for a man (such as typists) they could return as temporary staff, but could not be permanent or hold a supervisory position, so earnings were kept constrained.

In that climate, a woman asking a man to marry her would have been considered quite rude, except for that one day every 4 years – 29 February. And there was a socially approved get out of jail clause for the men. If they refused they were required to give her a pair of gloves! That in itself should be a clue that it is a tradition that has long passed its use-by date. When was the last time you wore a hat and gloves to go to the shops or into town (except in the middle of winter)?

Why 29 February?

Before the 15th century, Leap Day was handled by doubling up on February 24. So there were two of them. Sensibly, when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar in the 15th century the double date was changed by adding a day - 29 February. But it wasn't an "official" day on the calendar, in fact, It was not until the Calendar (New Style) Act was passed in 1750 that 29 February was formally recognised in British law!

Because no laws applied on that day, unintended consequence was that women were free of all the restrictions on their behaviour that applied to them every other day of the year. Taking the opportunity to sort out romantic situations
free of legal or social restrictions was something they did with gusto.

Why is it believed that it is the man who should propose?

Why does this particular tradition remain such a stubborn part of our collective consciousness? Why do so many women wait patiently through years of “dating”, often experiencing all of the other milestones that used to come after marriage – living together, house, children, and so on while still patiently waiting for him to pop the question? Beats me, particularly as it is really not a big deal for a woman to be the one who proposes. When heterosexual couples tell me that she proposed, there is no sense of them thinking that was odd or unusual. In our more enlightened times, when there are two potential grooms or two potential brides, the question doesn't even arise.

It’s also true you don’t need to wait for a special day to tell someone you want to spend the rest of your life with them. When you know, you know. Except that, maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the idea that part of the proposal deal is the gift of an (expensive) ring. And it is rude to ask someone to give you an expensive gift. Newsflash. You can get engaged without a ring. My husband and I chose my ring together, and that was such a romantic experience. It was also a practical one because we set the budget together, and discussed the style. Single solitaire, with the total budget put into that one stone.

Occasionally when I’ve been doing a naming ceremony I’ve commented to the mother of the child that maybe the next time I see her will be for their wedding. And many’s the time when the answer has been, I’m waiting for him to propose. I always egg them on pop the question themselves.  Case in point. Lovely, lovely couple. I had the discussion with her three times, after each naming. Eventually, she did. And he told me later that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to get married, he just didn’t know he was expected to formally propose! Anyway, they got married. Lovely, happy wedding, and one of the strongest marriages you could ever wish to see.

Times are changing.  When it comes to who pops the question, but more and more couples are telling me that she popped the question. And he was delighted that that stress was taken off his shoulders. And not one single one has asked me not to mention it when telling their story.

A new tradition is emerging

As is happening with marriage ceremonies and wedding traditions, same-sex couples are showing the world that there are other (often better0 ways to propose. Reciprocal proposing. Where each plans a proposal and it is not until both have said Yes that they make the announcement that they are engaged. Or simultaneous proposing. Sometimes accidental, sometimes carefully orchestrated. Always wonderful though.

So, don't wait. Don't be intimidated by outdated beliefs and peer pressure from long-dead ancestors Go for it, girls. Trust me. You're not going to end up with a pair of gloves!

And don't forget that all laws now apply on 29 February!

Thanks for reading!

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                      Jennifer Cram Brisbane Marriage Celebrant

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