Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Why do so few women propose?

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What stops women asking men for their hand in marriage? Photo / Thinkstock
What stops women asking men for their hand in marriage? Photo / Thinkstock

Isn't it a bit strange that, very broadly and heterosexually speaking, men propose marriage and women don't? Why are men granted the enormous privilege of deciding when to take things to the highest level?

Aversion to the female proposal seems to imply men are less eager to commit. That they must hold the power to choose when, because women - by their very nature - are ready from the get-go anyway.

But that's not the case. In my circles, at least. With the odd exception, it's actually the women hesitating at the thought of forever, while their boyfriends consider it a given. In theory, this particular gender rule should have ebbed away years ago.

But it didn't. Studies show young people are as traditional as ever when it comes to marriage. One recent research project looked at 277 students from a liberal-leaning university in California and found that not one man or woman would prefer the woman to propose. NOT ONE.

And only 2.8 per cent of women said they'd "kind of" want to propose.

Not that we need studies to verify what we already know: a proposal from a woman is odd. A touch aggressive and eccentric. Or, at best, pragmatic and practical and proactive and other P words. But rarely romantic: no one coos at the news of a female proposal. The first reaction is a raised eyebrow, albeit hidden.

Then, that unspoken word: emasculation. No one would say it, but plenty would think it.

It's just as well there's only one day every four years that it's socially acceptable: Leap Day, that odd blip in the calendar. A muddled, anomalous snippet of time in which muddled, anomalous ladies can sneak up and, gasp, ASK A QUESTION. It's still such a novelty, we may as well dress them up in fancy Leap Year garb and throw a parade down Queen Street.

The legend behind it goes thusly: St. Bridget of 5th Century Ireland was so frustrated by how long it took men to propose, she took the dilemma to St Patrick. He then declared there be one day a year in which women could propose, which became known as "The Ladies' Privilege."

In the more recent olden days, those planning to make full use of this "privilege" were expected to go around in red petticoats as a visible warning. And old postcards show crazy-eyed women falling over themselves to trap men in butterfly nets as they chant terrifying mantras like:

Leap year is come, oh joy, there's no escape my boy. Come off your perch and don't tarry; THIS IS THE TIME FOR US TO MARRY.

A small homegrown survey of my girlfriends revealed a scattering of NO WAY I WOULD NEVERS, but also several yeses. Said one: "I would. Probably because I am a producer control freak, but also because I never saw proposing as gender specific."

She should probably expect a backlash if she does, though. A friend's sister - who did actually propose to her now-fiance - learned first hand that female proposals are still in the weird zone: "People were remarkably suck about the whole thing. Emasculating was the word of the day. I just thought it would be romantic as he is usually the one who is good at those gestures. And, you know, I actually wanted to marry him. It blew my mind how conservative people are on this."

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