The provo­ca­teur: ‘Say I don’t to a man who asks your dad first’

Ask­ing for your fa­ther’s ap­proval be­fore propos­ing isn’t a quaint tra­di­tion, it’s an in­sid­i­ously sex­ist prac­tice that needs to stop, ar­gues

Grazia (UK) - - Contents - Lizzy Den­ing

Last year, my life changed for­ever. The man I love got down on one knee, the night be­fore my 30th birth­day, and asked me to marry him. I say ‘asked me’, be­cause I think it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant that the de­ci­sion about our fu­ture lives is one that we as a cou­ple reach to­gether. He did not, as tra­di­tion dic­tates, ask for my fa­ther’s per­mis­sion first.

We didn’t ask for my dad’s per­mis­sion to fall in love or buy a house. And I haven’t asked his per­mis­sion for any­thing in al­most 20 years (even then, it was mostly about which pets he’d tol­er­ate), so the idea of my boyfriend ask­ing for his ap­proval for us to marry is laugh­able. And it’s even worse when you con­sider that the tra­di­tion stems from feu­dal times when women were es­sen­tially the prop­erty of their fa­ther, and ef­fec­tively sold with a dowry for land or pow­er­ful con­nec­tions.

Which is why I was so sur­prised when I dis­cov­ered, at a din­ner party, that my fi­ancé and I were in a mi­nor­ity among our mar­ried friends. While only a hand­ful of our fe­male friends loved the tra­di­tion of the would-be groom ask­ing their fa­ther for per­mis­sion, there were a cou­ple who would have been ac­tively both­ered if he hadn’t. Be­cause it turns out that even among my most pas­sion­ately fem­i­nist friends, many wor­ried, above their own feel­ings, about hurt­ing those of their fa­ther. Most were quick to dis­own the idea of ‘per­mis­sion’, say­ing their boyfriends were look­ing for bless­ings or ad­vice be­fore propos­ing, but it all seems to amount to one thing – not want­ing to up­set up­pity, tra­di­tional dads.

It never even crossed my mind to worry whether my dad would feel left out, be­cause his up­set would have paled in com­par­i­son to mine if I’d been pro­posed to via a third party. I would have been enor­mously hurt to find my fu­ture had been dis­cussed and turned over by two men with­out my be­ing there. What’s more, I would se­ri­ously ques­tion mar­ry­ing a man who’d as­sume that was what I wanted.

Fem­i­nism is about un­der­stand­ing why tra­di­tions ex­ist (that pro­pos­als were a fe­male cat­tle mar­ket for buy­ing/sell­ing among the pa­tri­archy), and ei­ther call­ing bull­shit on them, or de­cid­ing they’ll make you happy re­gard­less. And I know

that, when it comes to wed­dings, you only need to scratch the sur­face to find un­com­fort­able sym­bols of male power. But while I am will­ing to ac­cept be­ing walked down the aisle (I’m la­belling it ‘qual­ity time with dad’ rather than ‘dad trans­fers his girl-bur­den to gen­er­ous young man’) and wear­ing white (makes my skin look good rather than to prove my pu­rity), the idea of be­ing my dad’s pos­ses­sion to sign over re­ally sticks in my fem­i­nist craw.

I haven’t lived with Dad since I was 14, and my fi­ancé and I will have been a cou­ple for eight years when we marry, hav­ing lived to­gether for seven. We jointly own a house – our names for­ever tan­gled up in credit ratings what­ever hap­pens in our mar­riage. If ever there was a time for my dad to voice con­cerns about my ro­man­tic match, it was be­fore we signed up for our eye-wa­ter­ing mort­gage. And that’s re­ally the dif­fer­ence be­tween now and a time when ‘per­mis­sion’ was more about whether mar­riage was mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial to fa­ther and groom. It’s not my dad’s home be­ing handed over to my fi­ancé – my name’s on the pa­per­work and my pay cheques are go­ing to­wards half of every brick, pipe and damp patch of our shared home.

The fact that my dad is happy with my choice of life part­ner is, frankly, a bonus. I’ve made my own de­ci­sion and I’m will­ing to live with the con­se­quences even if he didn’t ap­prove. Be­sides which, there was some­thing truly spe­cial about be­ing able to share the news my­self. I was able to call my dad on my 30th birth­day to shout, ‘I’m en­gaged!’ and hear his sur­prised and joy­ful re­ac­tion first-hand. I would have been so sad to have missed that, or for him to have al­ready seen my ring be­fore I could visit with it firmly on my fin­ger. Not want­ing his ‘per­mis­sion’ doesn’t mean I don’t want him in­volved in the joy of the oc­ca­sion.

When I started writ­ing this, it sud­denly oc­curred to me I hadn’t ac­tu­ally asked my dad whether he was up­set not to have been asked. Ner­vously, I emailed – would he open up about his se­cret un­hap­pi­ness? Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, the man who helped raise a woman who gets paid to rant about her opin­ions would have been rather be­mused to have to ‘give per­mis­sion’.

In a way, it’s a com­pli­ment to my dad that he wasn’t asked. It means that he (and Mum) raised an in­de­pen­dent woman who knows her own mind and takes own­er­ship of her de­ci­sions. If I was still de­fer­ring to my dad for ma­jor choices in my thir­ties, he might won­der where he had gone wrong.

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