Who Proposes Marriage?

I recently stumbled on a video of a woman proposing marriage to a man and it prompted me to think about this tradition.  Because while I consider myself personally responsible for the progress of gender equality, I cannot imagine how I would react if my girlfriend were to propose to me.  I asked a male friend and he was clearly against such a break from tradition.  A female friend was open to the idea, but clearly hesitant.  Then I was shown this sociological study performed at UC – Santa Cruz  (http://www.livescience.com/25198-who-should-propose-marriage.html).  This study asked college students how they would feel if the female were to propose.  It found that “not a single man indicated he’d prefer that arrangement. Notably, not a single student, male or female, ‘definitely’ wanted the woman to propose.”

The marriage proposal seems highly symbolic of the power dynamic in a relationship.  Therefore, we must consider how this tradition affects and defines the structure of marriage.  The study identifies that this tradition’s perpetuation may be a manifestation of “benevolent sexism,” the idea that even seemingly positive treatment of women can be detrimental to their equality.

When a man proposes to a woman he is choosing the time and place for the decision to be made.  Certainly she may say “no,” but there is power in the fact that the decision is initiated by him.  This tradition seems reflective of a general trend in the power dynamic between men and women in a relationship.  Man is the aggressor, who must take possession of the woman, while the woman must wait patiently and hope to be possessed.  So what does this tradition imply about our culture’s conception of gender roles?  Should it be changed, and if so how?  And, of course, who do you want to propose?

Pappas, Stephanie. “Is It OK For the Girl to Propose?  No Way, Study Suggests.”  LiveScience. Deceber 3, 2012.  Accessed December 4, 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/25198-who-should-propose-marriage.html>

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One Response to Who Proposes Marriage?

  1. lauracrockett says:


    This is an analysis of that same study from jezebel.com, my feminist go-to site. The best part of this site is the comments, made by strong, feminist women AND men. I think some of their comments are very telling:
    Hermitsunite says: Women don’t want to be the ones to propose because they’ve been the ones who are stereotypically expected to want marriage sooooo badly. So they want the man to propose because it means he WANTS to get married and doesn’t feel like he had to say yes.

    Star18 says: We decided together to get married. No silly proposal. Just two adults and a loving discussion.

    While Jezebel discussions are a bit notorious for their wide-ranging opinions, the mutual consensus was having a mature discussion where neither party “proposes” anything. Marriage is a mutual decision, so it should be a mutual discussion. That makes sense…but why does ElenaFisher like her typical proposal? I think that it’s because typical male/female relationships are inherently unequal, as Hermitsunite seems to imply. Women are expected to be in a relationship, while men choose to be in one. Women are seen as desperate if not in one (“old maids”) while men aren’t judged for being single (“bachelors”). That’s also why women “get” a boyfriend, while men “have” a girlfriend. This rhetoric shows how relationships are founded on an inherent sense of inequality of choice. I think this emphasis on men proposing would change when this idea, that women need a man, but men want a woman, changes.

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