What Is The Deal With Leap Day Proposals?

by Olivia Harrison

Happy Leap Day, everyone. There are a few Leap Day traditions you might be observing today. Perhaps you’re wearing blue and yellow and crying so that Leap Day William will give you candy and cigarettes (if you don’t get that reference, you seriously need to rethink your life choice and get on Netflix to watch the Leap Day episode of 30 Rock).

Or perhaps instead, you are a lady-planning to propose to your man on the one day where that is “allowed.” If that’s the case then girl, we need to talk.

First let’s figure out where this weird tradition came from. According to Irish legend, Saint Brigid struck a deal— referred to as “The Ladies’ Privilege”— with Saint Patrick, allowing women to propose to men every four years. The “deal” is believed to balance traditional gender roles in the same way that Leap Day balances our calendar. Well, I suppose it’s a nice(?) gesture, but let’s get real. Giving women ONE DAY every FOUR YEARS where we’re allowed to propose isn’t much in the way of providing us with more opportunities and gender balance. The sheer fact that Saint Patrick, a man, was the one granting the “privilege” makes the whole thing reek of misogny. Sorry, Saint Patrick— love your parades, boo.

I’m not the only one who think this tradition is completely sexist. In an article run by The New York Times last week, Katherine Parkins, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University, said, “The leap year tradition looked like it was giving women opportunities, but in reality, it kept them in their place. Back then women who asked men to marry were portrayed as ugly, mannish, crass or desperate.”

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So, we can all agree we’ve come a long way since the fifth century. But we’re still seeing pop culture centered on this weird “Ladies’ Privilege” thing. One such piece of pop culture is the 2010 romantic comedy Leap Year. Despite my admiration of Amy Adams and my love of sexy Irish accents, this movie was just all kinds of bad. I know Rom-Coms aren’t particularly known for being feminist, but this movie was literally based entirely on a sexist tradition and paints the lead as “desperate,” just as Parkins described the women of the 5th century. “The Ladies’ Privilege” tradition in the movie is not only described as women being allowed to propose, but in this version, men CANNOT REFUSE a woman’s proposal on Leap Day. This is a whole other layer of sexism. To me, it implies that if a woman is frustrated that her man isn’t committing, the only way for her to make a marriage happen is to literally trap him into making her his wife. Lovely.

Now, to be clear, I am absolutley not saying women shouldn’t propose to men. On the contrary. True gender equality means ladies should be proposing to their men just as often as men are proposing to their women. But we sure as hell shouldn’t feel like we can only do it on Feburary 29th. I will say this, “The Ladies’ Privledge” tradition at least opens a conversation over why more women don’t propose.

I revel in hearing stories of women proposing. To me, those stories come off as a total “fuck you” to social norms. Perhaps it’s because my mom proposed to my dad in the early summer of 1984, a story I’ve always loved hearing. My mom and dad were already living together and knowing my dad’s slow-to-take action personality, my mom just decided to take it upon herself and suggest that the two get married. It wasn’t Leap Day, and there was no ring or big fuss. My dad happily agreed, and the two were married 3 months later in their backyard. She wasn’t forcing him into anything. She has often said, “I just knew a proposal wasn’t his style and that didn’t make me feel insecure about his feelings or intentions.”

Isn’t that how it should be? Whoever feels most comfortable doing the proposing should be the one to do it. And if proposals aren’t for you, maybe you should just have a conversation with your partner and decide the details together. Gender roles shouldn’t play any part. Traditions don’t predict happiness as evienced by my mom and dad who have been happily married for 31 years. 

Mommy and Daddy

Mama and Daddy straight-up slaying it on their honeymoon in 1984

So, if you’re a lady-planning to propose today, I’m not going to tell you not to. Who am, I Saint Patrick? Instead, I’m going to gently suggest that maybe you should take a minute and think about just doing it tomorrow instead. Sticking it to the man is a lot less effective if the man has given permission first. And ladies, if you have proposed to your partner, I definitely want to hear about it. Share your stories.

Images via webburbanisttumblr, facebook, buzzfeed, tumblr, instagram

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