Women Who Propose to Men
Women Who Flip the Script on Their Man
When a Girl Knows Exactly What She Wants
My mother-in-law, Ruth, was always a bit of a rebel, particularly for the early 1960s. An unhesitating woman, she was boisterous and direct—a middle child who sought the spotlight all her life.
By the time Ruth was a young woman, she had already turned down wedding proposals from at least two crestfallen suitors. Then Ruth met Hal, the quiet engineer she was determined to marry, and she decided not to wait for him to propose marriage, as engineers are known for being more prone to deliberation than to decision making.
Within six months of their meeting, Ruth took charge of their relationship and asked Hal to marry. It was a preposterous move that went against all convention. (Still does.) However, she didn't care. All he had to do was agree. The groom-to-be even converted to Catholicism so Ruth's reluctant parents would approve. Over the next 40 years they had three kids and a charmed suburban life before cancer finally stole her.
Famous Women Who Proposed to Men
Actress Elizabeth Taylor asked second husband, actor Michael Wilding, to marry her
Singer Pink proposed to professional motocross competitor Carey Hart
Television personality Judge Judy (Judy Sheindlin) proposed to her second husband, Jerry Sheindlin. She once said, "[H]e tried to weasel out of it.... I told him to pick a date. He picked Flag Day.”
Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg proposed to businessman Barry Diller
Singer Jennifer Hudson proposed to WWE wrestler David Otunga
Actress Kristen Bell proposed to actor Dax Shepard
Glamour girl Zsa Zsa Gabor proposed to all nine husbands
Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert
Singer Britney Spears proposed to back up dancer Kevin Federline
Rapper and actress Joseline Hernandez proposed to musician Stevie J
It's Still a Boy-Asks-Girl World
When it comes to careers, women have made significant inroads while men have stepped up their game in the areas of child rearing and housework. However, proposing marriage is still largely a man's prerogative. It's still a boy-asks-girl world.
According to an AP poll, three-quarters of Americans contend that in theory it's acceptable for the woman to get down on one knee. However, when it comes to actually putting a ring on it, only 5 percent of currently married couples involved the woman proposing to the man. (The figure is no higher among couples married within the last decade.)1 A couple is more likely to have the groom take the bride's name than reverse the traditional roles of who does the asking.
So what's the deal with that?
Who should do the proposing?
Reasons Why Women Don't Ask Men to Marry
Why don't more women ask their dudes for their hands in marriage?
Who does the asking is a deeply held tradition. For centuries, men have been the initiating parties to marriage because engagements were at their heart business deals between families.2
Traditionally, women were deemed men's property. (I can see you rolling your eyes.) Engagements were a step in transferring that property from father to husband, hence the tradition of asking the bride's father for her hand in marriage. A young woman was married off
- to create strategic alliances
- to secure her family's social standing
- in exchange for land
- for offers of protection for her family, or
- as a way of settling a family's debt.
The modern engagement ring, presented as a gesture of sincere intent, is based on the traditional bride price.3 The opposite of a dowry, the bride price was a token amount of land or money given by a prospective groom to a woman's father.
While traditions might seem comforting and cozy at face value, it's important to understand that power and control are at the core of the boy-asks-girl engagement standard. Ask yourself what traditions you wish to keep and what traditions aren't worth passing down.
2. An Assault on Masculinity
Ladies, how emotionally stable are you? Do you need a man to make your decisions for you?
In the 17th and 18th centuries, when people began to marry more for love than wealth or status, women were considered too emotionally fragile to select their own life partners. This doctrine advocated that women, being such irrational and emotionally volatile creatures, had to rely on rational, logical men to provide them with leadership and key decision making. That meant that men retained the choice of how, when, and whether to propose marriage.
Today we still struggle with the implicit assumption that males are the leaders in our love relationships. This is particularly the case in many religious and cultural communities where it would be an assault on the man's masculinity for the woman to do the asking.
But is this fair? Why should the man be the decision maker in moving a relationship forward?
3. We All Love a Romantic Fairy Tale
If you grew up on stories of Cinderella and Snow White like I did, then as an adult watched season after season of The Bachelor, there are romantic notions deeply ingrained in your psyche about the way engagements are "supposed" to go down. The knight in shining armor rides in on a white horse to rescue the fair maiden.
As society gradually saw women more as people than property, strongly ensconced gender roles were at play. These gender roles encouraged men to be providers and women to be nurturers and the beneficiaries of all that men could bestow upon them. Marriage was a precious "gift" that a man provided a woman.
Males typically had the decision-making power when it came to timing the engagement. Men were expected to be the sole breadwinners, thus they timed their marriage proposals according to when they could financially assume that role.
Fast forward to today. Women have their own careers, and they are waiting longer to marry. The average age of first marriage is 27 for American women and 29 for men, compared to 23 and 26 in 1990.4
Although that long ago childhood fantasy is nice, speaking up for yourself and getting what you want is even better. Do you truly want to wait for someone to rescue you? Come on, now. You're not that helpless.
Do You Wish More Women Would Pop the Question to Their Guys? Sound Off in the Comments Section Below.
4. Reactions From Others
What will others think if the woman in the relationship does the asking? Many people prescribe to the notion that if you're in a long-term dating relationship and he hasn't asked, then one of three things is "wrong":
- you're not "the one"
- he's not ready (think finances or career), or
- he doesn't see the need to move the relationship to the next level.
Women take it upon themselves to propose marriage are assumed to be desperate or pushy rather than in love and decisive. While he may get high fives by the guys for your bravado, you may get expressions of mixed awe, bemusement, and pity that you had to step up to the plate.
But seriously. How much do you care what others think? You do "you" and don't let others shame you for advocating for yourself and your relationship. If asking your guy to marry you is the right decision, then go ahead and move that relationship forward!
Sadie Hawkins Day
One common exception to the boy-asks-girl tradition of proposing marriage resides with Sadie Hawkins Day, an American pseudo-holiday created by Al Capp, a character in the comic strip Li'l Abner. Sadie was described as "the homeliest gal in the hills" and unable to land a date.5
Her father was a wealthy and prominent citizen in the town of Dogpatch, and he feared that Sadie would be single and live at home forever. He therefore devised a plan involving a footrace. All of the unmarried women pursued the town's bachelors with the prize being marriage for those bachelors who were caught.
Although it wasn't the intent of the comic strip to start a movement, it did just that. Each November there are still Sadie Hawkins dances in which women turn the tables on the men, inviting them to the dance. (There is no particular day in November designated as Sadie Hawkins Day.) In addition, women who propose marriage to their men are sometimes referred to as "Sadie Hawkins girls."
Folk Tradition: Women Proposing During Leap Year
A second exception to the boy-asks-girl tradition is leap year marriage proposals. According to legend, a 5th century Irish nun named St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that single women ought to be able to propose marriage to their suitors who were too shy to ask.6 (We all know couples who date for 5 or more years and she's just pining away for that engagement ring!)
St. Patrick thus proclaimed that every four years, on leap year, ladies could have this one day to flip the script on their socially awkward suitors and propose marriage. Any man refusing such a proposal must give the dejected lady a silk gown, a sum of money, or twelve pair of gloves (to hide the shame of no engagement ring). It's unfortunate that the folk tradition labelled women as desperate and pushy when its origins center on the men's shyness in asking.
African Island Where Women Propose to Men
A third exception to the traditional boy-asks-girl prosal is Orango Island (Guinea-Bissau), an archipelago of 50 islands off the western coast of Africa. Honoring their matriarchal culture, the Orango women propose marriage by entering the grass-covered hut of the man they select for lifetime partnership.7 They place in front of the groom-to-be a meal of fish, marinated in red palm oil. Declining is not an appropriate option, as it brings dishonor upon the man's family. In recent years, Protestant missionaries have made begun to change the cultural practices of the islanders by teaching them that men should propose to women.
Orango, Bijagós Islands: Where Women Propose to Men
1Cass, C. (2016, May 3). AP-WE tv Poll: Americans say it’s OK for women to propose, but few marriages started that way, poll shows | Associated Press GfK Poll. Retrieved from http://ap-gfkpoll.com/uncategorized/our-latest-poll-3.
2McTernan, L. (2016, December 14). Why men historically propose to women. Retrieved from http://www.thelist.com/34169/men-historically-propose-women/.
3Thompson, J. C. (2010). Dowry and Bride Price in the Ancient World. Retrieved from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/dowry%20and%20bride%20price.htm.
4Barkhorn, E. (2013, March 15). Getting Married Later Is Great for College-Educated Women. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/getting-married-later-is-great-for-college-educated-women/274040/.
5Capp Enterprises. (2013, December 11). Sadie Hawkins Day. Retrieved from http://lil-abner.com/sadie-hawkins-day/.
6Lynch, A. (2016, February 29). This is why women traditionally propose on a leap day. Retrieved from http://metro.co.uk/2016/02/25/this-is-why-women-traditionally-propose-on-a-leap-day-5718135/.
7 Clark, A. (2007, February 1). Where Women Propose And Men Can't Say No. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/where-women-propose-and-men-cant-say-no/.
Hey Fellas, If You Liked It, Then You Should Have Put a Ring on It
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