As another Leap Year approaches on the 29th February, writer Lucy Vine asks why female proposal is still considered so… icky?
Wuh-oh, you guys, it’s a Leap Year, so you know what that means. Lock up your boyfriends and brothers and dads and male colleagues and that guy you met on the bus the other night, because, boy, are they about to get proposed to. Except… I don’t know anyone who’s doing it or ever has or ever would. Do you?
In fact, a new survey by a dating app called TrueView (seems legit) found that a third of men would actively dislike the idea of a woman proposing to them, and the figure was nearly as high for women, at 26%. Luckily for those disapproving folk, we’re not doing it anyway because only around 5% of today’s married couples are the result of women getting down on one knee.
So why aren’t more women proposing? Is it because men don’t like jewellery as much as we do? Or because female knee pads are hard to come by? Or maybe it’s because I told everyone to lock up men on buses and now we’re all in jail?
As women we’ve come so far in so many ways when it comes to relationships. We don’t get to 18 and run, panting down the church aisle with the first boy who felt us up behind the science block. But we can if we want, and then we can divorce him a couple of years later if we want that too. We can live with boys, we can date freely, we can split the bill, we can sleep around or we can literally Netflix and Chill in our Winnie the Pooh pyjamas while getting RSI from swiping right on our phone too much. No judgement.
Yet for some reason, proposing still remains an almost exclusively male task. My friends are all smart, cool, successful feminists and yet, when I asked around, not one had ever considered proposing to their partners, or would ever. Only my friend Katie who (relevant information) has pink hair, told me, ‘I would be brave enough to propose if I loved someone. For sure.’ I thought she meant brave because of course it would be terrifying putting yourself out there like that, but then she added, ‘I wouldn’t care what anyone thinks.’
And that makes sense.
For a woman proposing, you’re not just taking a chance on a heart-crushing rejection, you’re opening yourself up to everyone’s judgements about what kind of person you are. Putting yourself into the column of ‘desperate’ for those disapproving hoards who like to scream about TRADITION by way of justification for anything that is outdated. Taking a step like proposing, as a woman, is widely stigmatised. You only have to read the comments section on articles about this subject to hear how ‘degrading’ and ‘pathetic’, women who would “dare” do something lovely like propose to their loved ones are still seen to be.
My friend Tom actually has a female acquaintance who proposed to her boyfriend last year, but when he recently told the story in conversation, he was met with horror and hostility. The proposer – who no one else in the group knew – was dismissed as pushy and impatient, and her ‘poor, poor fiancé’ (who Toms says said yes to the proposal and was very happy about it) was a browbeaten loser, forever doomed to be crushed under the thumb of his demanding girlfriend.
Unfortunately, that’s kind of a pervading attitude and a lot of my friends agreed their unwillingness to consider proposing comes down to a fear of bruised machismo. Even my married friend Jen*, who insists she and her husband had a ‘conversation like grown-ups’ about getting engaged, also admitted she couldn’t have proposed because he would’ve found it ‘mortifying’.
It’s mortifying for men because they’ve been conditioned to feel that way. And it’s not just men, we’re trained to want a specific ‘fairytale’ too. Having a man get down on one knee and present you with a 700-carat diamond (I don’t understand the carat system, is that enough?) and swear his devotion forever – it’s what we, as women, have been taught to believe our whole lives is what we should want and will get – if we’re on our best behaviour. Be polite, be sweet, be nice, be pretty, be thin and fingers crossed someday a man will give in, ask your dad for permission, and in the words of Beyoncé, put a ring on it. The only other option is a lonely spinster death with no jewellery.
It’s nonsense, and the only answer is to recondition the world. Shout down those who are shouting about tradition and use this Leap Year to propose – if you’d like. Because there’s nothing to stop him proposing too. While researching this story, I read a few lovely stories from women who’d popped the question, and many of them ended by saying that their fiancé had later returned the favour and proposed too. Which seems like the ideal solution – both fair and fun. So come on everyone, let’s have double the fairytale this 29th?
Tweet me about where to find good kneepads @lecv