Friday, August 1, 2014

Father, May I?

We started talking at work the other day about this idea of man asking the father if he can marry the daughter, and two of my very best friends at work think it's fine because it's adhering to a tradition and respecting the dad. I think it's not fine because it's perpetuating this idea that the woman is part of a transactional process and a passive participant in the decision. I know that's not the case---it's a social formality, but it's still based on what used to involve a trading process--a bargaining to see what kind of deal you can strike with the dowry---"listen, I will take this dead weight daughter off your hands, but you've got to give me 25 donkeys to do it."
There are other previously strongly held traditions that seem laughably outdated now (showing the bloodstained sheet after marriage, requiring the bride to promise to "honor and obey" her husband, wearing corsets, not being allowed to vote...). But more than anything, what bother me most about the concept is that it perpetuates the idea that women don't choose, they are chosen. The man asks the dad for permission, the man does the proposing on one knee (often in public just to add a little more social pressure to the lady being questioned), and the woman is supposed to swoon with excitement at finally, finally being chosen. Then they get to spend the next year picking out the exact ornamentation they want on their wedding day to make them even more presentable and desirable and the husbands-to-be get to roll their eyes and hopefully get one last night out at a strip club. And then when it's over, and the woman has gotten it all, this thing she's been told to want her whole life and that is at the heart of every story she's been told, every movie geared toward her, what's left for her to want? Even if it's just a gesture toward an outdated tradition, I don't want to participate in something based on reinforcing men as the actors, women as the watchers.
That's the subtext and the basis for asking permission from the father--it's a man to man transaction about property and ownership, made  in the den with a glass of Scotch while the women wait in the kitchen with baited breath. They are passive and men are active. Women hope to be asked to dance, the prom, the Sand Castle Inn Reception Hall, and men are the ones who do the asking--alongside other men. 
I like Mr. Darcy and all, and I think there's a scene in Pride and Prejudice where he asks the dad if he can marry Elizabeth, but I like it in the past. In the same way that I don't really want to wear Empire waist woolen dresses or for my man to don jodhpurs and top hats (though I am not unhappy about vests coming back in), I don't support giving a nod and a wink to a tradition based on oppression. 

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