The feminist movement in the Internet age has more women every day finding some facet with which they can identify and self-reflect. But as we push our awareness and belief systems to expand, many of our expectations come into question. And for some, when it comes to getting engaged, the question is no longer just when it will happen but rather why we give our partners the sole trigger for the next very serious step in our relationships.
Realistically, this isn't a society where long-term couples don't discuss and mutually agree upon marriage before a proposal. However, as tradition goes, men in straight relationships are the ones with the power to determine the "where and when" factor of the biggest decision of your collective lives.
A common complaint we hear from women in long-term relationships is "We've discussed getting married, so what is taking him so long?" Because while we aspire to create an egalitarian society, many of those women are still willing to wait. In fact, approximately 83 percent of modern heterosexual unions are still the result of the man proposing. So, two things to consider: Why are we willing to wait? And should we feel bad about wanting to?
A Grand Gesture
A 2011 study looked at how gender roles in cohabiting straight couples determined their relationship's next step. By polling couples who moved in together before marriage, the researchers thought they may find a correlation in the challenging of gender norms. While a few norms were flipped, the researchers found the men were still given the "outcome power" because their partners interpreted the pageantry of the proposal "as an expression of love and caring."
To be frank, you still want that grand gesture because it's just that: a grand gesture. The declaration of love, the ring, the promise to dedicate his life to you, etc. from someone you love? It sounds just great.
Does sacrificing "outcome power" in favor of the bells and whistles make you a bad feminist? Eh, no. But can you still call yourself a feminist because you bought into commercial-grade patriarchal tradition? Yes—but just be honest with yourself.
"You can say, 'I choose my choice, and I'm still a feminist even though I changed my name or I accepted a ring,'" says Sara Eckel, author of It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single. "And you can participate in things that are rooted deeply in sexism and patriarchy. But you can't say your decision is feminist. You can say, 'I decided to do something that wasn't feminist, but I'm still a feminist.'"
Meanwhile, there's the exhaustive patriarchal history of engagement, marriage, and proposals that comes swinging hard with the acceptance of a ring and a promise to be wed. Does the passive role of #waitingtobeasked mean I'm not taking charge of my own life? Am I perpetuating heteronormative expectations that have granted men decision-making power since the days when marriage was considered a transfer of property? Help!
Writer Lauren Duca explored getting engaged as a feminist for New York magazine's the Cut last year and so aptly concluded that the process of her own engagement was a "mixed bag of irrational chivalry-evasion tactics." She noted: "Putting feminist principles into practice amid such a mess of sexist prescriptions gets complicated the second you decide to mark your partnership by any means other than burning your bra at Tiffany."
For Eckel, it's about being honest with yourself when deciding what's right for you. She and her partner discussed their engagement and decided the week it would happen, but they agreed he'd surprise her when he popped the question. Eckel opted out of taking her husband's last name and doesn't wear an engagement ring. But she still asked her father to walk her down the aisle. She says her choices were personal and she stands by them. And she advises other feminists like herself to do the same.
"Just make sure you look at the bigger picture: Are you living your life in a way that makes you feel good as an independent woman? Are you doing things in a way that's making things better for other women?" Eckel continues. "Lifestyle issues are important, but I think, in general, feminism is a lot more than whether you get an engagement ring or have a proposal, especially now."