I recently had a conversation with a friend about weddings. Now – as I progress through my twenties this is something that happens with increasing frequency. Although instead of this being with a friend that was recently engaged and in the planning stages, or someone that is already married and asking me such offensive questions as ‘Was I ‘sure’ about breaking up with my boyfriend at the ripe old age of 25′ this was more intellectually engaging as it dealt with the topic of marriage proposals. More specifically, in this day and age, if it was still appropriate for a partner to ask a girls father for her hand in marriage before asking her.
As the personal relevance has never been something close to consideration for me in any of my past partnerships, nor is this something I am currently considered with, this is not something I have given much thought to. Yet in speaking about it, it really got me to to thinking. And no – in this day and age I do not think it is appropriate for a partner to ask a women’s father before asking her if she would consider a proposal of marriage. My reasoning simply being that it is not his place to answer such a question, it is her place. This tradition is predicated on the arcane notion that a girl was the responsibility of the father, and by asking her father he is receiving permission to take on the responsibility of…of, what? Of looking after her? Of caring for her? Making sure she is financially secure? I am not entirely sure. The question in my mind therefore clearly becomes – why? Why would you need that permission? Is the women in question still in some way being looked after by her father, and the man would be asking if he could fill that role? Do you therefore need to ask the mother as well?
When asked explicitly these questions ring with a sense of out-dated gender norms. When confronted with this reasoning most people like to refer to lack of relevance as inconsequential and cite the notion of ‘tradition’. That while the practice may no longer be necessary considering the lack of necessity of the principles of the matter – what matters more is the historical practice itself. But does it? In my opinion if traditions continue to enable to the persistence of an inequality and practice that I fundamentally disagree with (ie., the role of the male in the relationship is to ‘provide’ for the female in a way that was previously considered to be the responsibility of the father), then we should actively disengage from them. I think that what then becomes important is to ask and reflect on what is the role of the parent in our evolving society and how do those parenting roles relate to the engagement of two people.
I do think it is important then to recognise and respect the role that parents played in the growth, development and continued support of a child (both male and female), and perhaps more importantly what is the active status of that relationship. Therefore, perhaps the question just needs to be re-framed to reflect the shifting balance and equality that I would like to think our society is trying to achieve, and that I would like to believe my future relationship would be a reflection and active participant in. That two people are equal partners in a relationship – and that after you both have agreed that marriage, or spending the rest of your life together is something that you would both like to do, then it would be considerate and respectful for you both to have conversations with the respective parents of each other to seek their ‘blessing’. To recognise the fundamental role that parents play in the support and care of their children and that by entering into a committed partnership you are agreeing to move into the role of primary caregiver for that other person, a role until previously was generally1 that of the parent.
I recognise that this is just an initial reaction to a complex and personal practice. I am aware that there are far more reasons and responses, of which I would be interested to explore and develop. However, after two days of consideration this is where I have come to in my thoughts on the matter.
Next topic to tackle: Is it therefore still relevant that a man ‘propose’ (especially on bended knee) to his partner. Why is it that the man still have the onerous to ask? And why do we so passively wait to be asked?
1. I say generally – as I recognise this might not be true for everyone, or even for each parent↩