sex & relationships

Of course women can propose to men!

Photo of a street performer proposing to a man.
Written by halimah

Halimah Manan explains why women should be allowed to propose to men, without social repercussions.

Although Katie Hopkins’ opinions are not a gift, she does keep on giving. In her new panel show, she weighed in on marriage proposals, stipulating that only men (or ‘blokes’) should propose, in heterosexual relationships. Citing a combination of respectability, being old-fashioned and expecting a man to be chivalrous, she served up a plate of gender roles which many in the audience ate up, resulting in a 64 to 36 vote in favour of Katie Hopkins’ ‘rule’. However, while many agree, it’s time we move away from distorted perceptions of gender roles and embrace both men and women proposing.


Despite many explaining that they want a ‘traditional’ wedding, which would supposedly involve a man proposing, the word ‘traditional’ is a little misleading. What era of ‘tradition’ are you talking about? The mid-20th century, when white wedding gowns, diamond engagement rings and towering cakes came into fashion? (All a concerted effort by the wedding industry to encourage people to buy from them, by the way.) Or, perhaps, prior to that, when dowries were a crucial part of weddings? (Some would argue that they still are, with insistence on brides’ families paying for the wedding.) I’m going to go ahead and guess the answer is a resounding yes to the first and no to the second.

So, despite the use of the word ‘traditional’ implying a solid definition, the word is topical and always subject to change, just as how society works also changes; after all, pressure to be a stay-at-home wife is (mostly) a thing of the past! Why, then, can’t tradition come to embrace women proposing to their boyfriends or partners any day of the year, rather than just in the leap year?

Well, while three out of four Americans agree that women should be able to propose, only five percent of marriages have put that into practice, according to an Associated Press-WE tv poll.

Also in a 2012 survey conducted in UC Santa Cruz (while not the most replicable as only 277 undergraduates responded), only 2.8 percent of women claimed they ‘kind of’ wanted to propose, with reasons against listed as: emasculating, embarrassing and more.

Although these respondents have every right to wish for a man to propose, the reasons given make it clear that society’s pressures are far more likely to be behind the belief that only men should propose. In my brief research, I found four different (but closely linked) reasons for which people are unlikely to agree women can propose, including those which came up in Katie Hopkins’ new show.

1. Women shouldn’t reduce/lower/embarrass themselves by proposing.

When a woman wants to propose, it’s seen as an act of desperation. But, when a man proposes, he’s congratulated for it. Does anyone see the irony here?

The truth is, proposing, no matter who you are, is an incredibly courageous thing to do; to put your heart on the line and confess your innermost feelings is no easy feat. While women who do propose are seen as ‘go-getters’, in the most negative sense of the word, this could not be further from the truth.

If you really want to get married, there’s no sense in hinting around and waiting for your partner to figure it out; set aside this ridiculous stereotype which suggests women who ask for what they want are coming on too strong, or lowering themselves, and just go for it.

2. It’s romantic if a man proposes.

This one goes hand-in-hand with the first one: why is it romantic if a man proposes but not if a woman does? And where is the romance if you know a man is only proposing because of convention?

As I noted above, Liz Nolan claimed she coerced her ex-husband into proposing to her; while this is certainly not the case for all men, it is peculiar that manipulating a man into proposing and his subsequent proposal is considered more acceptable than a woman proposing. Is that really the standard we should hold up as a reason for which women cannot propose?

‘Romantic’ is defined as ‘conducive to an expression of love’; proposals, no matter who they’re championed by, are expressions of love and women are absolutely just as capable as men of expressing their love in such a way.

3. Women will emasculate their partners by proposing.

Oh no! Your fragile concept of masculinity will be shattered when a woman professes her love for you! How dare she do such a thing?

If you really believe that a woman taking the initiative to propose is emasculating, you clearly don’t respect whoever you’re dating very much. And, if your identity relies on your ‘duty’ to propose, what kind of identity is that?

4. A man’s proposal is proof that ‘chivalry isn’t dead’.

Let’s get one thing straight: chivalry is dead. And that’s not to say that men can’t continue to open doors for people (emphasis on people) and do any of these other things. But chivalry is a toxic concept, not least because it’s based on men acting honourably towards women, in an effort to court them. Courtesy, or being polite, shouldn’t be something men only consider when they’re trying to gain a partner. Especially because chivalrous efforts to court are based on a blanket impression of what women want and need – as if we’re all alike.

Besides, chivalry is just another word for being polite. Though it is a politeness steeped in assumptions that men are more able to take care of women. Which isn’t to say that wanting to be taken care of is bad but, equally, wanting to take the lead and propose is not, either.

So, while it’s all well and good if you want a man to propose to you, or you want to propose to your girlfriend, it’s equally great if a woman wants to do the same. A romantic gesture, such as a proposal, should not be relegated to one gender, simply because of ‘tradition’ and certainly not for any of the reasons above. Next time you find that a woman has proposed to her fiancé, remember this article and remember that there’s never a good reason for telling women not to propose if they want to.


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