Traditionally on Leap Day (Feb. 29) it’s OK for women to propose to men. Isn’t it time we did away with this outdated tradition?
In many countries around the world Leap Day is also known as “Bachelor’s Day.” On this date women are allowed to ask men to marry them. Historians actually don’t know for certain how Bachelor’s Day started and there are plenty of inconsistencies within the most commonly cited legends.
According to Irish legend, this tradition emerged after St. Brigid arranged a deal with St. Patrick in the fifth century. Or it may have begun in 1288 when Queen Margaret of Scotland enacted a law to allow the gender-reversed proposals. A fine would be charged upon a man who refused a proposal. He would have to buy a gown or pay the woman money. In some European countries it’s tradition to buy the rejected woman twelve pairs of gloves to adequately hide the shame of not having a ring.
Perhaps we could give a new meaning to Leap Day? In the same way we need it to balance our calandar we also need it to help balance gender inequalities.
The only problem with this idea, of course, is that one day every four years doesn’t really do the job.
Most heterosexual marriages begin in the same way: the man proposes to the woman, she accepts and they are engaged. An AP poll shows that only 10 percent of British marriages were initiated by a woman’s proposal.
A 2012 study from the University of California, Santa Cruz, examined gender-based attitudes towards marriage and found that over two-thirds of heterosexual participants (both male and female) “definitely” wanted the man in the relationship to propose. Only 2.8 percent of women said they’d “kind of” want to propose, while no man registered a “kind of” preference for a woman to propose to him. Nobody at all, male or female, said that they’d “definitely” want the woman to propose.
However relatively few people are against the general idea of a woman proposing: an AP-We TV poll found that 75 percent of respondents deemed it perfectly fine for a woman to propose. In theory, that is: not them or their partner.
A marriage is an important relationship which — ideally — is entered into mutually. Therefore surely it doesn’t matter who proposes in the same way it doesn’t matter who the first to say “I love you” is, or who first brings up the possibility of living together. It just doesn’t make sense that there is such a gender bias.
The bias is not in line with the gender attitudes it seems people want to have. We want there to be equality and most of us acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with a woman asking a man for his hand in marriage. But these beliefs are at odds with what we actually do. There still lingers the dream of romance, the Prince Charming sweeping his lady off her feet, falling to his knee to present her with a shiny ring. Relationships are very rarely like this and it’s all the better that they involve two complex people with agency and desires. Entering into a marriage is entering into a lifetime of learning about this other person beyond their surface-level sheen.
So if you believe that a woman should be entitled to propose to a man it might be worth considering doing it (or at least considering why you won’t). On any day of the year.
More: The secret to happy marriage, told by couples married a combined 609 years