Is it the 21st century? Is a woman about to become President of the United States? Do all the best crime dramas feature women in the lead roles (Marcella, Happy Valley, The Fall, The [Swedish] Bridge, The Bletchley Circle…the list goes on)?
Yes, women still don’t make the same as men yet — yet — but we’ve come a long way, baby. Women can now serve in any position in the military, with the draft probably not far off. So, in this modern day and age, can we please all get over the old-fashioned tradition, drenched in ancient sexism and misogyny, from a time when daughters were literally property passed from man to man: that of asking a woman’s father permission to marry her?
Last night was the finale of “The Bachelorette,” perhaps one of the biggest cultural fuck-you’s to traditional courtship: tonsil hockey with twenty-something suitors in hot tubs around the world all televised on prime-time is not exactly Judeo-Christian “family values.” And yet its participants cling to this outdated “permission” tradition like the last life-jacket on a punctured raft carrying an elephant, a turbine engine and an Acme safe.
Take runner-up Robby, giving the hard sell to JoJo’s parents. On his visit with her family, he took a progressive step forward by inviting her mother into the sacred realm of menfolk for this Talk, but then only addressed the father (at least initially):
Dr. Fletcher, in asking for your blessing to marry Joelle today, I don’t just want her hand in marriage, I want all that is Joelle Hannah Fletcher, because you guys have raised such a special girl. And if I’m fortunate enough to receive that blessing, I can promise you both to protect her, to care for her, and love for her for my entire life. And commitment is a lifetime thing, and it’ll be in that blessing and through that commitment that I would be honored to be a part of your family.
And while asking for their blessing (with the most blatantly scripted speech ever) is certainly better than asking for permission (as if it was the father’s or parents’ to give!), let’s get one thing straight: marriage is first and foremost between the two people considering it.
But for those who’ve bought into the fantasy, peddled by the wedding industrial complex to princesses and their would-be princes, that’s steeped not just in old-fashioned gender roles but in centuries-old property rights that once treated women like chattel, for some reason asking for a woman’s hand in marriage these days has something vaguely to do with fairytales and misplaced R-E-S-P-E-C-T. See JoJo’s reaction to Jordan failing to pull her father aside during their family visit:
Doesn’t it scare you though to think that like…I mean it scares me…It doesn’t…no, it scares me and I think more than it being scary it like makes me really sad that…like that moment that I’ve always envisioned like my husband, my future husband asking my father for my hand in marriage, like that’s something that I’ve always, you know how important that is to me and I know how important it is to you and it’s like, I think it just makes me really sad to realize that like that moment’s gone now. We can never get that back. How does that make you feel? Because I know that it devastates me.
You know what you can never get back? The footage of you proclaiming your love for another man the day after you had this conversation with your now-fiancee!
If you want to talk about respect, how about a little self-respect? The only person who should be making major life decisions for a woman is herself — not her father or her parents. Marriage is not something that should be discussed with extended family members before it’s discussed between the two key players. Once a major decision like betrothal ’til death do you part has been made together, you can certainly approach your families (i.e. both parents, not just Dad) as a unit asking for their blessing, out of respect. But should they not grant it? It’s not as if you’ll then walk away from each other, right?
Let’s cut all this choreographed bullshit once and for all, shall we? Because it’s just the less-than-precious leftovers from centuries of female oppression. You’re not man and wife anymore, you’re two equals coming together on a (fairly) even playing field. Thankfully, you may now kiss each other.