Sunday, 22 November 2009

asking permission to propose

i was surprised to hear, recently, of a man who went to visit his sweetheart's father to get permission to propose to her. this is a tradition i've never been comfortable with. to me, it smacks too much of ownership, of women as property. tying in with the notion of a father "giving away" his daughter in marriage. you can't, after all, give away what you can't own!

not only that, but if you're going to ask permission to seek a daughter's hand in marriage, why on earth would you exclude her mother? is the mother not important, or just that the father is presumed to speak on her behalf?

and finally, it decreases the agency of the woman to be proposed to. i don't know, it just seems that she becomes less than ie someone who is unable to fully speak for herself or to be trusted to make a reasonable decision. she isn't required to go to his parents to seek approval, so he is presumed to have full agency while she is not.

i found my reaction to this pretty interesting, given that i'm not at all opposed to arranged marriages. but in that case, both sets of parents (and initially their representatives) are talking to each other. and these days, the couple usually meet and approve of each other before the marriage can go ahead.*

in the western situation, i guess i'd feel much more comfortable if the proposal was made and accepted, and the couple went to both sets of parents to seek their blessings. it's good to have family on-side after all, and i do believe in strong family relationships. i just don't like the way that women are made invisible under customary practices.

*i know things haven't always been that way, and i don't in anyway approve of forced marriages.

22 comments:

Anji said...

I agree entirely. I wrote my own post on the subject that you might be interested in, actually. :o)

Anonymous said...

It's a thing called respect. A man wants to get the respect from the father of his partner. It's typical that you'd twist it into an ownership thing.

Ask any male and he'd say its about respect, not disrespect.

Anji said...

Anonymous:

Firstly, why does he only want respect from the father of his partner? Why does the mother's respect not matter?

Secondly, there are a thousand ways of gaining respect from the parents of one's partner, without resorting to archaic sexist traditions. If my other half asked my dad for my hand in marriage, my dad would probably laugh at him.

Hugh said...

I've got to say, for me this has always fallen under 'cultural practices which might seem sexist but on which westerners shouldn't stick their oar in, no matter how good they feel their intentions are'. Like arranged marriage, or Islamic headgear for women, or so on and so forth.

stargazer said...

don't get you, hugh. the situation i'm talking about involved westerners, if that wasn't clear from the post. and i'd disagree that the other examples you've given are sexist.

Alison said...

There's also the problem of why only the woman's parents' permission is required, while the male partner has agency to do whatever he wishes, regardless of his parents' feelings on the matter.

I've had very long involved arguments with men about this in recent years. Several have claimed it's about respect, but have completely failed to consider the implications of excluding mothers, and excluding women themselves from the decision-making process. It's even stranger to me because it is not really tradition - that is, many couples in the past have got engaged without permission (or only got permission after the proposal was made, which at least prioritises women's wishes over their fathers'). The permission-prior-to-proposal is something that has been largely normalised by the wedding industry, along with expensive grand romantic gestures at the time of proposal.

Then again, I find the widespread notion that a woman's role in getting engaged should involve waiting around for her partner to be ready pretty abhorrent (and indeed, that women are always ready to say "yes" while men take extra convincing).

I know too many women in wonderful relationships sitting around waiting for proposals of marriage, because it's "cheating" to actually initiate discussion of their future relationship status. They know their partners love them deeply, but they've been taught to doubt that knowledge, in case the lack of a grand romantic proposal indicates they're wrong. They don't want to be seen to be trapping their partners.

A Nonny Moose said...

Anon: And your reaction is pretty "typical" too. Sure, you probably don't MEAN disrespect, but there's never any thought in the knee jerk reaction. There's disgruntlement because we've pointed out the control issue, and you (meaning: men) don't like being taken to task about something that's always been their privilige.

So many times I hear "but that's the way it's always BEEN. It's TRADITION". Ok, but is that the way it always SHOULD be?

Hugh said...

Stargazer, I realise you feel that, hence my saying that they were situations that might seem sexist, not are sexist.

And even if the specific example you've mentioned involved westerners, this is a practice which is generally far more common among cultures who are minorities in New Zealand, so I feel that an exercise of cultural discretion is appropriate, at least on my part.

stargazer said...

actually hugh, do you have any proof that it's more common amongst cultural minorities? it's certainly not an asian, african or middle eastern tradition, that i'm aware of. these cultures would go for arranged marriages in the way i've described in my post (not to say that the way marriages are forced in many instances isn't awful, as i mention in the footnote).

it may be common amongst pacific islanders, but i wouldn't really know. and i think this practice is sexist in and of itself regardless of which culture practices it, because of the way it makes the women in the situation invisible or lacking agency.

Hugh said...

Stargazer, I was thinking particularly among Pacific Islanders. Although my personal experience isn't necessarily representative, my Pacifika friends and acquaintances have all, to a man/woman, felt the need to ask for parental permission before getting married. I've asked them about and been told that, in the Islands, this is just the way it's done.

I can see why it might seem sexist to you, but I'd be wary of taking the line that when you percieve sexism in somebody else's culture the need to call out that sexism trumps the need for outsiders not to criticise the culture they don't share - that's a slippery slope indeed. If it is indeed sexist I think it's best for that sexism to be dealt with by Pacific peoples themselves. They don't need whitey throwing his weight around and telling them he knows best.

stargazer said...

well, you're entitled to your own opinion. my post certainly wasn't directed at any particular group, but at a practice that i disagree with.

The ex-expat said...

Anon, I would my find myself having less respect for any man who asked my father for any sort of 'permission' to marry me. But then so would my father...

Julie said...

What the e-e said. And what Anjum said, and what Anji said, and... ok, basically everyone except the first Anon (and Hugh seems to be going off on some tangent that I'm not interested in engaging about right now).

I think my Dad would have been secretly very pleased to have been asked in advance, however actually the father's consent is neither here nor there. The only person whose consent matters is the other partner, regardless of gender.

I really like what Anon wrote about discussing the future of your relationship somehow equalling "cheating". I remember when two friends got engaged and I got v upset with my partner - we'd been together many years at that stage and I too was "waiting for the ring". We had this really very good in some ways discussion about it. Looking back now I'm quite horrified at how I denied myself agency. I too am a socialised beast.

Anonymous said...

Hugh, it's still not the same. Both parents of both of the couple have to agree in most Pacifika communities - so it's not the same tradition AT ALL.

Psycho Milt said...

Ask any male...

OK - I asked myself, and it sounded seriously fucked up.

homepaddock said...

I don't know anyone who's asked a woman's father for permission to propose.

But I'm a marraige celebrant and I'm amazed by the number of women who still want to be "given away" by a parent/parents/ other family members.

I suggest variations eg asking all parents for thier blessing and/or support, but lots of couples still want the bride to be given away.

I think they regard this as a tradition without seeing any reflection on the woman's status.

katy said...

Re: the cultural thing, in my case my husband-to-be certainly had a conversation with my parents (separately, cause that's how things roll in my family) about whether they were ok with him marrying me and joining my family. In this case I think it is because he comes from a culture with strong collectivist values and so marriage is seen within that context, ie, not just an arrangement between two individuals but between two extended families.

katy said...

Actually, I seem to remember him speaking to my grandparents as well...

Mia said...

I hope my future husband does not ask permission from my father to propose. I would lose some respect for him if he did that. IF a guy asks for permission to propose to me, he should ask my mother as well as my father. I wouldn't mind if he did that so much (although it would still frustrate me, because it indicates that my decision has to be doubly-consented to by my parents, my decision alone is insufficient).

Bryan James said...

I know too many women in wonderful relationships sitting around waiting for proposals of marriage, because it's "cheating" to actually initiate discussion of their future relationship status.

Anna S said...

I've tended to feel a bit embarrassed about how my husband and I got engaged - we just had a discussion along the lines of "let's get married", no-one proposed as such.

But this post and the comments have put a bit of a different perspective on that, and I'm slightly more happy about how it went. I really did want to know if we would get married, and it was important to me, so if we weren't heading that way I needed to know.

If he'd asked my dad, or even my parents first, that would just have been weird, in my (western) cultural context, given that I was 29 at the time.

Both my parents walked me down the aisle though, I thought it was lovely to have them there with me.

Julie said...

Interesting to see this thread re-vitalised in recent days! Don't worry if your comment takes a little while to appear - all comments on posts over a month old automatically go into moderation. It usually catches spam (or trolls), and thus is useful, but sadly it is slowing down this discussion a little! Thanks for persevering.