Even if we wanted to propose to a man, and no one is saying we do, imagining an earnest, sincere woman down on one knee offering up a shiny engagement ring to a surprised/ecstatic dude beaming with tear-brimming eyes seems kind of, I dunno, off. What would female-led marriage proposals look like in the hetero community? How would it translate into pop culture? OK, so maybe we shouldn't just reverse the gender roles, but we could innovate a little.
We could start innovating by not asking college students pointless questions, but we did, and they let us know they still think that when it comes to marriage proposals, men should do the asking. Two-thirds of the boys and girls taking "Intro to Earth Sciences" whose parents pay their phone bills wanted it the old-fashioned missionary way, with a shiny hard ring inserted directly onto the cervix. Only 2.8 percent were sort of into the idea of the woman doing the asking, probably as long as no one exposed them on a message board for it. The rest of the people in the study were off doing bong hits I guess.
Look, college kids are the most predictable people in the universe. What with their Marley phase, flirtation with socialism and the Gustav Klimt poster, the only thing they are on the bleeding edge of is creative ways to get fucked up. Hey, what's the one with the Dr. Pepper and the GHB again, and can I take it and still write a paper? That's what we should be asking them.
But I digress. As this Slate piece points out:
These results are unsurprising because not only are college kids getting their ideas about marriage from TLC shows and the experiences of their parents' generation, but because, as the researchers point out, women's advances toward equality still stall out when it comes to our cultural norms about love and marriage. Some people still think it's romantic for a man to ask a woman's father for her hand in marriage, though at least we've abandoned the negotiations of how many cows he will offer in exchange for his bride.
Number one, THEY HAVE NO OTHER EXAMPLES FROM WHICH TO GET IDEAS ABOUT MARRIAGE! Seriously, where are the radical, progressive images about marriage in mainstream culture that show any other approach? Exactly. But more on that later.
Two, I really don't think men still proposing marriage automatically means advances toward equality have stalled out. It depends on what is behind it. For instance, gender roles are just that — roles — and like any role-playing, as long as two consenting adults are into them, there's nothing that really suggests that letting the man play White Knight with your decision to lock it down prevents you from equally shouldering the weight of that mortgage together, and every other life choice you'll make as a unit, for the rest of your lives. Do whatever floats your ring-in-a-parfait boat.
Two, I'm guessing that when a lot of people get married these days, they've actually already discussed it as equals — even if the man is still the one putting on this one-act play called "The Proposal." What I mean is, if you both talk about it and decide you're ready and you want this, but you merely want to leave it up to a man to do the official asking, this is the equivalent of giving him the emcee gig.
It's the third scenario I can't really fathom: Saying nothing directly, dropping hints, hoping he gets it and waiting for YEARS for a guy to let you know when you two can move the relationship forward. That's way too Daddy Knows Best for my taste. It gives the dude all the control, which makes zero sense anymore. "I'm all into her working and splitting all the bills, but I get to choose when we go legal."
Recently, a guy I worked with told me his wife was super low-maintenance, but on Valentine's Day, she wanted to go out and "feel like a woman." I still find this to be the most hilarious concept I may have ever heard. What, pray tell, makes her feel like a woman on this special day as opposed to other days? I am only partly joking — I'm pretty sure it means he makes all the plans, takes her out and gives her the two presents perfect for any girl under the age of 13: a stuffed animal and a variety pack of candy. It means she sits there passively being alluring (in makeup/heels/nice dress showing cleavage) while he fusses over her.
Although this laidback vagina finds that utterly devoid of excitement, I think this wifey's thinking is at the heart of the reason women still want men to do the asking. Because the real issue is that no matter how much women earn, how many degrees they get, how many companies they run, there is a narrative of deference built into heterosexual femininity that isn't going anywhere, one of waiting and being chosen, one that complicates the notion of joint partnership.
And it's obviously a still-unexamined narrative that makes it hard to talk about what real equality means. I was proposed to once in the traditional sense after seven or eight years of dating — the diamond ring, the bended knee, the sweetly nervous asking. It was great. The anticipation was great. It was exciting to be wanted — for forever, no less — and to have someone fulfill that moment that we're told as women to look forward to for our entire young life.
But beyond the personal excitement and romance of the moment between two in-love people is the larger satisfaction that what is happening to you is fated. It's just like in the movies — just like that thing we've seen fetishized over and over and over again our entire lives. It's so ingrained that we don't question it — we just want that fix; and a life that misses out on that moment is considered deprived of an essential part of why we're here.
Furthermore, the man asking is a symbol of the conquering of that old hat, stereotypical elusive male commitment. Since men are "by nature" craven, wandering-eyed horndogs, it is essential to the narrative of deference that a man arrive at the decision to choose you all on his own, right?
Thus the reason so much of the cultural messaging over the years of how to get a man involves holding out, waiting patiently, not nagging, and a million other things that ultimately translate into being a passive, desirable person worth being chosen. Because if you take away his right to choose you, he withers away into a laughingstock boy-child. Right?
That's what is key to the narrative: being chosen by one man to be his one woman, when he could have chosen all those other ladies. In one fell swoop, agonized over in pop culture to absurd proportions, he steps over that Grand Canyon of doubt into your lair of eternity. Meanwhile, you have been ostensibly ready for this since birth. (It's also fetishized in popular movies for a man to prevent a woman from marrying the wrong guy, i.e., not him, as if the consenting adult woman might not know which guy is best for her until the other guy tells her.)
I'm not suggesting that if we examine the root of this feeling it will or should all fall apart so we can move on to utter homogeneity on the path to Equality. Gender roles can be fun when we choose them freely, and traditions are often complex and irrational notions that simply make us feel like things are right with the world.
But if we are really equal, why does it matter who asks whom? Can women ever truly be the romantic instigator? What would we really be losing by leaving this tradition behind? Perhaps modern ladies, now all too acquainted with the grind of autonomy, do still like "feeling like a woman," even in the throwback sense, and that's their prerogative.
But plenty of men claim to enjoy being asked out by women nowadays, a shift in dating rituals once thought unthinkable. And what if you are the type of woman who wants to do the asking? Shit out of luck? You're a grown woman with some success under your belt, financial autonomy, a great partner, and the desire to take it somewhere special and real permanent-like (i.e., the people we should be asking for the sake of studies like these).
This won't become part of the landscape until we make it so. So next time you feel like proposing eloping to your beefcake on a whim, or whipping up a Powerpoint slide to persuade your intended what a great legal pair you'd make, go for it. If he says no only on the grounds that you did the asking, is that really the sort of guy you'd want to waste a rock on, anyway?