Weddings: Why women proposing is still rare
When uttered by a man, the words, 'Will you marry me', serve to signal a tradition that is both widely accepted and ages old.
Having the same spoken by a woman however - except in a leap year like 2016, when an old Irish tradition of having the woman ask is known to emerge - are still surprisingly rare.
Legend has it that 'The Ladies' Privilege,' as it was known then, originated in the fifth century, with an Irish nun later known as St. Brigid. Through her intervention it was decided that on Feb. 29, women would be given the opportunity to pop the question as a way to balance traditional gender roles in a manner not unlike how leap year serves to balance the calendar.
On the face of it, giving a woman an occasion to ask a man to wed would seem an empowering moment. But not everyone sees it that way. 'The leap year tradition looked like it was giving women opportunities but in reality, it kept them in their place,' said Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University in New Jersey. 'Back then women who asked men to marry were portrayed as ugly, mannish, crass or desperate.'
Centuries later, women are still using this bit of folklore as an impetus to get down on one knee and ask for their partner's hand in marriage — on a Feb. 29 or on any day in a leap year.
In February 2012, Dana Sessa and Kevin McGettigan of Fairless Hills, Pa., had been together for seven years when she began to become concerned that both the calendar and biology were creeping up on her. Ms. Sessa already had a child from a previous relationship.
'I knew we wanted more children. So time was ticking,' she said. But no marriage proposal had been put on the table. 'I knew he had been thinking of it, but sometimes a girl has to take things into her own hands to get things done,' she said.
Then Ms. Sessa, now 35 and who says she's 'half Irish,' heard that 'The Rachael Ray Show' was looking for women who were willing to propose to their man on a special leap year segment on the show. Mr. McGettigan 'is full Irish,' she said, 'so the leap year tradition fit well into our theme.'
Mr. McGettigan, now 34, had been lured into appearing on the show that Feb. 29 to be interviewed about a dietary matter when during the taping Ms. Sessa got down on one knee with a ring box in hand and asked him to marry her.
'I don't think it matters who asks whom,' Ms. Sessa recently said.
Some women don't need leap year to step up and ask what they want.
Alexandra Pavlenko asked Alexander Tague to marry her on April 13, 2015. 'I asked Alex for two reasons; I was madly in love with him and nothing about asking him felt wrong to me,' said Ms. Tague, 32. 'He said something about how much he loved me, and I said, 'I'm crazy in love with you and do you want a reminder of that every day?''
Mr. Tague, 33, who lives with Ms. Pavlenko in Brooklyn, said he did. She then brought out the rings she ordered on Etsy and presented them to him. Mr. Tague said yes right away.
'For women like me who live in New York City it's almost chic to do it,' she said. 'To me, there was something very empowering about not having to wait for the man you love to ask you.'
Although girlfriends say how great it is that she asked him, Ms. Pavlenko added those same friends 'admit that they could never do something like that' themselves.
'We're seeing more couple-level negotiations in the marriage process with college-educated women and that's a real sign of progress,' said Amanda Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Indianapolis. 'Though women have more power to move the relationship closer to marriage, they still want the man to ask. That's considered his job.'
That thinking, Professor Miller added, shows no sign of dissipating.
For as many traditions as we cast aside - church marriages replaced by married on a beach, a minister replaced by a web-ordained college friend — there are just as many traditions we still cling to. A man proposing to a woman is the one that has changed the least.
'A man asking a woman to wed is a ritual that's very powerful,' said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, where he is an associate professor of sociology.
'Having him ask for her hand in marriage is a way of signaling to her, and his friends and family, that he's serious and ready for a future with her,' Professor Wilcox said. 'The guy who proposes in the basketball arena is sending a massive signal to the world that he's all in and completely committed.'
Just as an engagement ring has been a symbol of a man's ability to provide, some wonder if the proposal hasn't taken on a similar significance.
'Her fear might be if she asks and he says yes, he's going along to get along,' Professor Wilcox added. 'Getting that formal proposal from him is one way of addressing that concern.'
Even the rise of same-sex couples, an area of great change, has seen little movement of the proposal pendulum among heterosexual ones.
'A woman asking a man is disrupting a sacrosanct power that men have held throughout American history,' Professor Parkin said. 'Same-sex proposals have not changed traditional heterosexual ones because, within that couple, there is a balance due to the fact that they are the same sex. They are not providing an alternative for what continues to be the narrow rules of getting engaged.'
Wedding planners, too, see almost no movement in the area of 'the ask.'
Michele Velazquez is an owner, with her husband, Marvin Velazquez, of Heart Bandits, a Los Angeles proposal-planning company that creates and orchestrates about three dozen marriage proposals for couples a month. To date they've had only two women propose to their boyfriends.
'I don't think it's going to change or shift,' said Ms. Velazquez, 36. 'Women traditionally want to be courted, and men still want to propose. Most men are not comfortable being asked.' She added: 'Men can feel powerless or rushed. They think, 'Why isn't she waiting. I want to do it on my time.' '
If the woman asks, she may resent that decision years later, Ms. Velazquez said. 'If she jumps the gun, five years down the line that action might backfire. She might say to her husband: 'Why didn't you ask me? I don't have the great story to tell people about how you proposed.''
And what better way to tell that story than on social media. Despite our share-all mentality, in which one click equals global announcement, people still care about how they're seen by others.
'Women don't want to be seen as less feminine, or too sexual or coming on too strong. And there's a concern for men about being publicly emasculated,' said Beth Montemurro, a professor of sociology at Penn State University.
'When you look at how public social media makes things, it could be holding people back,' Professor Montemurro said. 'They may be afraid to take bigger risks and break gender roles because they're concerned with how their story will come across.'
Specialists also surmise that women aren't more forthcoming because they lack encouraging illustrations.
'We don't have many positive examples' of women who have proposed, Professor Parkin said. 'Those that have asked men have not been successful in our eyes. Pink and Britney Spears asked their men to marry, and those marriages either ended poorly or didn't do well in the beginning,' she said, (although Pink reunited with her husband and they are still married). – New York Times.
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