We’ve come very far as women in the past half-century. We’ve made some respectable strides, such as fighting for equal pay, and some not-so-respectable ones, such as burning our bras in public. But with both, we are exerting our independence a little bit more. We are forcing our way out of the kitchen and into the board room.
Granted, this new way of life is not for everyone. There are still many women who prefer to be housewives and homemakers. I pass no judgment on either group. It is just as honorable to raise children full-time as it is to wear a suit and sit in a corner office. The beauty of the women’s independence movement over the last 50 years is that we now have a choice. Many barriers that were based on tradition, religion, and sexism have been brought down, allowing women freedom to choose their own path, make their own destiny, and live life the way they choose to.
One area that has failed to move forward, in terms of women’s independence, is the marriage proposal. We seem to be stuck in a 1950s mindset about this huge life event. We still see it as a man’s place -a man’s duty- to pop the question. We still see the marriage proposal as being a man on bended knee asking for the hand of a woman in marriage. While this is all romantic and fairytale like, it places a woman in the position of submission and waiting. We expect women to sit back until the man is prepared to take the step into marriage. I feel this is based on the idea that every woman simply dreams of being a wife. That every woman is just waiting to have a diamond ring put on her left hand. That women aren’t too picky about who pops the question as long as someone does. I am somewhat surprised that women still accept this tradition as the standard. With this mindset, successful, independent, smart women find themselves in a degrading position that allows the man to have power over her.
Now I am not a raging feminist. I live in a traditional marriage where I stay home and raise our children and my husband works full-time. I completely rely on my husband to put food on the table and pay the bills. So I am by no means advocating for a feminist revolution or sweeping societal changes. I just simply am astounded that this one tradition seems so stuck in the Dick Van Dyke Show era.
This weekend, I ran into an old friend who has found herself in this marriage proposal predicament. She is a 29 year-old beautiful, successful, intelligent, and independent woman. She is a teacher who has supported herself as a single girl for the better part of a decade. She has now fallen in love and is living with the man of her dreams. He is a physician with whom she wants to settle down and have a family. She knows this. He knows this. He has expressed the same feelings and is the one who instigated her moving in with him. Yet, she is sitting back and waiting for him to take the next step – waiting for him to ask her to marry him. She is tired of friends and family asking if she’s engaged yet. She said, “I wish someone would ask him that question.”
When she said this last statement, I saw her in a different light than I’d ever seen her in before. She’s always been a model of fierce independence, never needing a man to play a central role in her life. Yet here she was, squashing that side of herself as she sat in waiting for the man to make a move. It just seemed to counter everything that makes her who she is and to discount her independence and self-sufficiency.
I come at this argument as a woman who had a ring and was planning on proposing to my then-boyfriend on Christmas morning in front of his family. Not because I was trying to give him an ultimatum. Not because he didn’t want to get married. And certainly not because I’m an advocating feminist. Nope. I simply didn’t see the reason for him to have to be the one to do the asking. I knew what I wanted and he had expressed the same desires, so why not make it official?? Well, he got wind of the plan and got down on one knee in the entry way of our cheap college apartment and recited an entire script that he’d planned out in his head for this very moment – though he had planned on a more romantic locale, I’m sure. So he proposed without a ring, without a plan, and without a moment’s notice simply because he wanted to be the one to do the asking. He later told me he would have been humiliated if I’d proposed to him.
Now, eight years and two kids later, it’s neither here nor there. This far down the road, with diapers to change, meals to cook, and bills to pay, it doesn’t matter who did the asking. What matters is that we are great life partners and that we’ve created a family.
So what works for one may not work for all, but I feel that as a society we should make women feel comfortable about spearheading the marriage proposal and empower them to take control over their future without feeling like they’ve stepped out of place or crossed a line.
There is still a place for chivalry and fairy tales, but we must embrace these concepts without discounting women and their intelligence.