Admit it, the Title drew you in. Part click-bait – because you know you want to read a sad story of desperate measures, and partly because you know its me, and that I will have drawn up and injected a lethal dose of sarcasm.

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I want to start this post with an acknowledgement and apology to the people whose responses/stories I have included in this. Firstly, if you recognise your response/story, then I want you to know that I am including it, but not singling you out. Secondly, I want you to know that I do not judge you, or think of you any differently. I include my own damming accounts/reflections in here too.

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I proposed to my boyfriend in November 2016. You’d think by now that a woman proposing to a man would be a non-event. In 2016. But apparently it still is, just sitting there bubbling away under the surface on society’s mask of “equality”.

One family member, when my mother excitedly told the news at a family event while we were still away on our holiday, open mouthed and shocked outright said “But she can’t!”

My mother, sweetly and politely reminded her it was 2016, and of course women can propose.

The family member agreed, of course women can, but clarified “But it wasn’t on Feb 29th!!!”.

 

I had a billion different responses, all ranging in varying levels of support and surprise. But what I really learnt from proposing to my now-husband, is despite appearances of equality, we really have a long way to go.

 

I am aware of the image I must conjure up in certain people’s minds when they learn I did the proposing.

And I am aware of it because I used to have a similar reaction.

At best it’s an un-smiling woman, with tight hair in a low-bun, wearing pantsuits and no makeup, carrying a clipboard and post-it notes, notoriously inflexible, not “fun”, with no social life who likes to control board meetings and run a tight ship. At worst it’s a giant praying mantis, screeching loudly with bulging muscles, stomping her way through life and ripping heads off the spindly little males. She also doesn’t wear a bra.

Related imageImage result for desperate woman

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For context, I didn’t always plan on proposing to my husband.

I, like many, many other women and girls, had the image in my head of my partner proposing in some romantic personalised way to me, where I would get emotional, say yes, and don a remarkably sweet and sparkly engagement ring, showing it off to friends and families as I retold the story of how he asked.

The problem with that story I had in my head (and those of you who know me would agree) is that it REALLY doesn’t fit with who I am.

This is how the wedding industry, the engagement industry, and our overall attitude of women and love in society has marked young women like me. Because, even if I was ever to be proposed to by a man, if I was being honest with myself, this is not how I would have wanted it.

Firstly, I don’t wear jewellery, so a ring is not a necessary thing.

Secondly, a personalised way would be on top of a cliff after an amazing day of climbing, watching the sunset.

 

But, I didn’t have much to be guided by.

In fact, not many of us women do. In 2017, a survey found that only 1% of heterosexual relationship marriage proposals were by the female partner (https://www.theknotww.com/press-releases/3496/). We just don’t have a script or any real life examples to draw on.

On top of that, when we do hear of non-traditional proposals (e.g. no ring, non-traditional method, not a surprise etc), the dominating cultural response can be less than positive.

I once heard a proposal, where the man proposed to the woman after a day of hiking through mud, sweat and tears, described as “quite different and risky”, because it didn’t follow the pattern we are familiar with. There was still a ring, and the man was still doing the asking. But because they were dirty, sweaty, and not somewhere conventionally “romantic”, it was considered unorthodox and “risky”.

It’s no wonder that we women are inflexible when it comes to dreaming up our own romantic versions of proposals – because unless you have someone else in your life who has done it a different way, it can be really quite hard to not only come up with something different yourself, but also have the courage to do it.

 

So how did I come from dreaming of a romantic evening sunset where I am given a dazzling diamond (that I certainly will never wear, let alone actually want), to proposing to my husband in the desert dirt by our campsite, after a day of mountain biking (without showers) with a book of drawings?

 

It’s a big step, really. But honestly, all it took was to see someone else walk that path for me to realise there is so many other ways of living your love.

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A good friend from my 4th year of medical school, was studying with me in Armidale.

She was planning on proposing to her boyfriend, and enlisted the help of another friend and me to discuss her ideas.

One day, after classes finished, she had us around for dinner. We were enjoying good food, and chatting away, when she brought the idea up.

I remember trying to play it cool, to not react, or widen my eyes when she told us she was going to propose. She said it so casually, and matter-of-factly, like it was a regular thing, and I didn’t want to react the way I felt.

How I really felt was “WHAT? REALLY? YOU’RE PROPOSING. BUT YOU ARE THE GIRL”

And the fact I reacted this way inside, brought me a deep sense of shame.

 

Shame because I considered myself a feminist, and this shouldn’t have been a big deal. Shame because I did feel that way, when I honestly knew I shouldn’t.

Shame because I was clearly manipulated by society to believe a certain thing and think a certain way.

It was hard, cold evidence to myself that I had been affected in the way I acted and thought about the world, and that it was not in line with who I thought I was.

 

Back in the living room, I didn’t react that way outwardly. Instead I got excited and asked all the right questions.

But when I got home later that night, I kept going over and over how I felt and how I had reacted inside. I couldn’t stand the way I had felt about it, but I also couldn’t stop that niggling voice inside me that said, “women shouldn’t propose, because it’s just wrong”.

 

Instead of giving in to that overwhelming loud niggling voice inside, I decided to confront it. I spent the next little while teasing out all the reasons I thought that was true and analysing them.

Eventually I realised there was no solid reason that I could back up with my actual beliefs as to why women couldn’t propose to men, other than being unintentionally conditioned to think that way.

 

So, it was with true joy that I celebrated my friend’s engagement, when she finally proposed to her boyfriend with an engraved watch, in a castle in Canada.

It was also around this time that I started thinking seriously about my own relationship with my boyfriend.

I had previously thought I was ready to get married, and we had discussed it together before. But only academically, in terms of we both agreed that we would get married one day.

I had started to be ready for that day to come, and I had been wondering how I would bring it up with him, to prompt him to propose.

 

Thanks to my friend, I suddenly had an alternative way, other than passively hoping he would ask me.

She had given me the idea, and the courage to follow it through.

I spent months creating a beautiful book of drawings of all our adventure’s together – mountain biking, hiking, climbing, sailing, caving. I weaved a story of all these adventures we had shared, and the story culminated in a picture asking him to marry me.

It was perfectly, uniquely, us.

When we got home from America, we excitedly shared the news.

We were ready for people to make the assumption and ask us things like “so you finally popped the question, good on ya mate” to Kirren, or “Where did he do it?” to me, or ask to see the ring.

What I wasn’t ready for was the sudden silence, the raised eyebrows, or the outright “and was Kirren ok with you doing that?”

So, I’ve compiled a list of the different responses I got from people.

Don’t get me wrong – we got nothing but overwhelming joy and support for our intended marriage from our friends and loved ones. Most people were honestly so excited and showed nothing but that excitement. But there were a few responses to the method of engagement that were less than receptive.

The most common theme I notice are excuses from women. It was as if my simple and polite correction of “I actually proposed to him”, became perceived as me casting a judgement on their feminism. Which was simply not true – I was only excited to be sharing my news with them, not judge them.

Some came up with excuses why they could never do the same (even though I hadn’t asked).

 

Here is a list of some typical responses or reasons

      • I want it to be romantic though, you know, in a traditional way, with him getting down on one knee, and picking a ring out for me
        1) Just because the woman is doing the proposing doesn’t make it UNROMANTIC. There is this awful idea that persists even today that “romantic” things are done BY men, TO women. This is dumb. Women can be romantic – to their male partners or female partners.
        2) If you want a ring, now you get to choose the perfect ring together, and one that actually fits or suits you!
      • If I propose and he says “yes” How do I know he really WANTS to get married, and isn’t just agreeing with me for convenience, or not to hurt my feelings? When a man proposes, you know for sure his feelings are true.
        1) Welcome to the world of men, ladies. You can reverse that entire situation for men. How does he know you aren’t just saying yes to not hurt his feelings, or because you are undecided and it’s the easy option? Or that you just really want to get married because weddings have been built up into this giant necessary milestone for a woman since you were a child.
        2) If you suspect he won’t be sincere in his answer to you, then maybe you need to rethink having a relationship with this man.
      • “He would NOT be ok with me proposing” or “He would prefer to be the one to do it”, “He would take it as an attack on his manliness”,
        – I have heard these, in multiple different renditions. The idea of being with someone who would be hurt, upset, embarrassed or feel his masculinity attacked by the person they love declaring they want to spend the rest of their life with them, is less than ideal to me. I would want to challenge that ideal in them, hopefully prompt them to grow and change (like I did when confronted with a similar reaction), otherwise they are choosing to allow gender roles, societal rules, toxic masculinity and sexism stand in the way of a true partnership, and to colour the relationship and love between two people.

 

      • “That’s his job”
        Apparently, in a world where men and women are considered equal, the same people who loudly proclaim that they do equal amounts of cooking, cleaning and watering the garden in their household chores, still believe there are “mens” and “womens” jobs in the relationship. Really, all they are showing is that having men and women take equal parts in household chores is just a popular fad they have become accustomed to, and that the real deep seated gender role stereotypes still exist, and can’t be applied outside of who does the cooking in the kitchen.

 

 

      • It just doesn’t seem right, for the girl to be chasing the guy”
        This is the same logic people apply to anything they’ve grown up thinking or believing, and rather than challenging themselves to grow, they decide social stagnation is better. People also said “it doesn’t seem right” about gay marriage, interracial marriage, women getting the vote, women going to university, the list goes on… I’m not implying these people are on the same level as homophobes and racists, just that that is the same lack of logic and critical self reflection, and it’s not a good reflection of your character.

 

      • “Aren’t you worried he’ll be disappointed? You’re depriving him of the chance to propose to you”.
        If my husband is going to be disappointed I declared my undying love to him before he did, then maybe he should have jumped onto it earlier.
        Also, depriving him of a chance to be romantic is quite a patronizing thing. Its like going around giving a child an opportunity to be responsible every now and again, and rejoicing when they get it right. I don’t need to give him opportunities to be romantic. If I’ve taken this one “away from him”, he’s a big grown man, he can find another way to make me feel special and needed and loved. This is way my way of being romantic to him. I didn’t do this because I was “fed up” and because he is a baby and can’t even do a romantic proposal properly. I did it because 1) I wanted to get married to him 2)I was very ready to move on to that stage of our lives and advance our relationship and 3) I wanted to ask him, to show him how much he meant to me.

 

      • I’d be scared people would pity me – like why didn’t he propose to me

People will judge you no matter WHAT you do in life. If someone is going to feel sorry for me because “I had to propose” then, they don’t understand me and don’t plan on trying. And in that case, I shouldn’t be affected by what they think of me.

      • I like traditional engagements

“Traditional” is an ever-evolving concept. One day, maybe women and men proposing equally as often will be considered traditional, and something else will be the radical new thing. If this evolution wasn’t the case – “traditional” engagements would be arranged marriages by your parents, and a dowry would be involved.

 

 

 

In sharing these responses, I am not trying to say I am better than these people. Because I am not, and I originally had an aversion to the idea too.

I am trying to paint a picture, use personal stories as evidence that we, as a society, have a problem.

That for all the advancements we have made in gender equality, for some reason, we have not made much progress in how we express our love.

 

 

To add to my personal anecdotal evidence, I’m going to direct you to look at the popular culture surrounding the issue. We don’t need to look very far to see these negative stereotypes existing today.

Just doing a preliminary search of “proposal” on instagram brings up thousands of relevant hashtags and accounts.
Proposal story instagram accounts, some boasting up to a million + followers, are sharing pictures and videos to millions of viewers, most likely to be young, not engaged, or not even in a relationship.
I did a quick preliminary audit of 5 such accounts, and found 1 account had shared 2 posts in their entire collection of a woman proposing to a man, and a few accounts had posts of same-sex couples.

Movies and TV have been perpetuating the idea, with notable examples from my growing up and impressionable years including:

      • The Proposal with Sandra Bullock (2009). The IMBD summary says it all “A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada.”

When She proposes, it’s a joke, a sham, its for her Visa. At the end of the movie, after the two characters have grown closer and in love, he proposes and they live happily ever after.

      • Leap Year (2010) – where the main character plans to propose to her boyfriend, and ends up finding out she doesn’t love him and falls in love with someone else who proposes to her instead, kind of implying that when a girl decides to propose the relationship is crappy and doomed, and only when a guy does it – its true happily ever after love.
      • Miranda Hobbes (Sex and the City) – a workaholic, inflexible, career driven control-freak, who proposes to her partner
      • Big Bang Theory: When Penny is white-girl wasted, squats down, and drunkenly proposes to Leonard (only to be rejected) and the audience laugh.

 

 

In addition to all this negative portrayal of women proposing, we don’t really have any good examples in our popular narrative to draw on. We all know exactly what to do when the time comes for a man to ask us to marry them.

 

The New York Times did a pretty good article on this exact issue, and I wanted to share a couple of quotes from it: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/fashion/weddings/women-proposing-leap-year.html

 

“when women ask men, there’s no script for how they are supposed to react. Women scream or jump in the air. From our research, many men said having a woman propose to them wouldn’t feel right. It’s all about controlling the timing of these events. When they ask, they get to advance the relationship.

 Why do men get to be the gatekeepers of relationships? Why do they continue to get to decide and call the shots in relationships? You can argue that we are more equal now than ever, and that gender inequality, on a whole, doesn’t exist in modern relationships. And while we are certainly much better off than our ancestors, men are still in control of the advancement into serious relationship – marriage.”

 

“In 2016, we have Hillary Clinton shattering glass ceilings, Sheryl Sandberg telling us to “lean in,” and Beyoncé singing anthems about how girls run the world. But when it comes to the marriage proposal, women are somehow fine taking a backseat. “

 

 

 

 

You don’t need to be the “strong independent women, bossy career woman, uber-planning woman, bra burning feminazi” to propose. I consider myself strong, driven and a feminist. But I am not a career climber, and I quite like wearing bras. The fact of the matter is I am a strong independent woman. I am strong, I am a woman, and I am capable of being independent in my own person. But a marriage isn’t about being a strong independent woman. It’s about being a partnership. And I stress that being a strong independent woman has nothing to do with proposing to my partner. It may have given me the courage to do it in a so-called “equal” time when women don’t propose often to men, but the real reason I did so, is quite plain and simple: I wanted to marry this man, and I was ready to. All I had to do was see if he was feeling the same.

 

And now to answer the question many people wanted to know:
How DID Kirren feel about all of this?
Well, I’ll let the smile do all the talking.

tr

 

Finally I want to actually acknowledge the amazing family and friends I have, despite what I might make it seem like in this post. While researching for this post, I read a lot of blogs, articles, discussions and forums online. I was saddened every time I read someone’s experience about how they were going to propose to their boyfriends, some even going out and buying a ring, only to be continually harassed, unsupported by close friends and family, and eventually talked out of it by them. These women regret it now, and having read other women’s stories of their proposals, wish they had found them earlier for encouragement.  I wish they had someone in their lives to encourage them. I wish they had someone like I had with my medical friend, who paved that path for me.

 

 

 

Some fun reading articles if you’re a nerd like me

 

<https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/9hld0e/men_who_have_been_proposed_to_by_their/>

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/fashion/weddings/women-proposing-leap-year.html

https://www.manrepeller.com/2018/11/women-proposing-to-men-stories.html

 

 

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