Here's How Young People Feel About Women Proposing to Men

July 14th 2015

Over the weekend, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) dedicated a Facebook post to her husband Bruce Mann in celebration of their 35th wedding anniversary. In the update, Warren notes the fact that she proposed to Bruce rather than the other way around. Unique marriage proposals like Warren's, however, are not changing the way our generation thinks about tying the knot. 

While some might call it feminist and progressive of Warren to eschew the notion that men should propose to women, many young people think the tradition should stick. According to an Associated Press-WE TV poll from 2014, the majority of people say they would be open to a situation in which the woman proposes to the man. Even so, only five percent of married couples reported women marriage proposals, and young folks are more likely than their elders to label a female proposal "unacceptable." More than a third of people under 30 do not like the idea of a female proposal.

Two years ago, a study from University of California Santa Cruz revealed two-thirds of the surveyed, heterosexual undergraduates said men should propose to women, with many of these participants agreeing women should take the last names of their husbands. Of the 136 male respondents, none said "I would definitely want my partner to propose" and zero female respondents said they "would definitely want to propose." 

"I was surprised at how strong the preference was," researcher Rachael D. Robnett said at the time, noting how odd the results seemed considering UCSC's left-leaning environment. "Given the prevalence of liberal attitudes among students at the university where data collection took place it is striking that so many participants held traditional preferences. Even more surprising is that many participants overtly state that their preferences were driven by a desire to adhere to gender-role traditions."

Twenty-something Steve Paska, who got engaged last year, told CBS News that he would not have been comfortable with his girlfriend hijacking the proposal to pop the question herself.

"I think If she'd gotten down on one knee and asked me the question, I would have called for a timeout," he said.

His fiancee Jessica Deegan added that girls spend a lot years thinking about their future engagement and don't want to feel robbed of that much-awaited experience.

"It's kind of like the moment you imagine your whole life," she said. "I've seen that in movies. I've read that in books. You don't want to miss out on that moment."

Last year, writer Katy Miller wrote a piece about the reception to her proposal to her boyfriend, stating most people assumed it was a joke:

"...April Fools?" "Is this for real?" "I'm going to be disappointed if you're kidding."These are just a few of the responses I received when I proposed to my boyfriend last April. Maybe I was expecting a few "congratulations" here and there, but I wasn't expecting so many people to assume it was all a joke. After all, no one would think to ask a man if that proposal he put so much time and effort into was just for laughs. Is a woman proposing to a man so hilariously misguided that it could only ever be a prank?

Miller noted that part of the reason she proposed was to do something big for the most important person in her life.

"Part of me just wanted to make a grand gesture to someone I loved, and why should men have all the fun at that? I know there are other ways to make grand gestures, but this one just felt right. Of course, several concerned family members were decidedly worried that I was going to emasculate Tim with my boldness. As if emasculation weren't a ridiculous concept in the first place since people aren't worried about 'e-feminating' a woman."

Two years ago, Robnett classified the refusal to question the marriage proposal tradition as "benevolent sexism."

"On the surface it looks positive," Robnett said in a release. "The problem is that benevolent sexism contributes to power differentials between women and men. The mindset underlying benevolent sexism is that women need men’s protection because they are the weaker gender. Also, people who endorse benevolent sexism tend to support traditional gender roles such as the belief that women should do most of the childcare even if both partners work. Both men and women are raised to believe that aspects of benevolent sexism are desirable; it’s usually viewed as politeness or chivalry. This makes it hard for people to challenge, which is unfortunate because research shows it often does a disservice to women."

Here's hoping the women who propose in elaborate, public ways can encourage other females to pop the question as well—if that's what they want for their relationship:


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