One hundred years ago, women weren’t allowed to vote, wear pants or put the moves on men. A now-obscure British tradition, however, did allow women to propose marriage to men on that rarest of days, February 29.
This leap year, that date is coming around again, but after a wild ride of a 20th century, things have changed. We can now become Prime Minister and wear pants, so why not propose? Still, the overwhelming majority of women today don’t do it, whatever day of the year it is.
Even the faintest whiff of a woman proposing to a man is so outrageous that it was worth over $300 million at the box office for the 2009 comedy The Proposal, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
In real life, my sweet, funny friend Linda popped the question to her man. She and her then-boyfriend Steve went on a whirlwind trip to New York, knowing it would be the momentous weekend they got engaged. There, they picked up a ring and slipped it on her finger at the jeweller’s. Afterwards, at the hotel, there were flowers and champagne, but still no all-important question from Steve. Linda couldn’t bear it any longer so she simply took off the ring, gave it to him and got on one knee.
“Will you marry me?” she asked. He said yes. Then she told him to give her back the ring. The next day, Steve reciprocated by proposing back to Linda, the way he had planned–on a carriage ride through Central Park.
“I think our story represents what we have now–a balanced, equitable relationship rather than one person wearing the pants,” says Linda. “A true partnership.”
If that’s what we all strive for, a relationship of equals, why does the taboo linger against women proposing to men? Why is it that, in a world where women can do absolutely anything, we still, for the most part, don’t ask men to marry us?
It would seem that women taking control is still something that’s considered non-feminine and unattractive. “Not all men are confident enough to be with a woman who is an initiator,” Linda muses.
It’s partly because women so rarely propose to men that Cristina Stasia, a women’s studies instructor at the University of Alberta, decided she would buck the trend.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to propose,” Cristina says of her decision to surprise her now-husband Michael with a shiny ring. “Someone needs to start changing things.”
When Cristina and Michael tell the story, they say men respond enthusiastically, often saying they wish they could have someone do that for them. It’s the women who have the mixed response.
“The most common comment I get is, ‘Oh my God, I could never do that,'” Cristina says. “Really? Let’s think about this? You could never ask someone you love to marry you?
“If you’re in a same-sex couple, someone just has to get up the nerve and figure out a beautiful plan and do the proposing and you don’t know who it’s going to be,” says Cristina. “That’s more exciting. It’s pretty boring when things are prescribed by gender.”
As for my husband and myself, neither of us proposed. There was no bended knee, no sneaking around planning a surprise. What we did was have a discussion. It may not have the flash of other engagement stories but it suited our own love and our own style.
When men propose, no doubt it’s nice, and, as with my own marriage, no one need propose at all. But for the women who go for it this leap year, I salute you. Wear the pants, ladies. Over the last hundred years, we’ve earned it.