Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On "asking permission" for marriage

Posted by Ann today at Feministing:

I am so sick of reading newspaper style section "trend" articles about how the gender and social norms of the 1950s are "making a comeback." So I hereby inaugurate Retro Trend Watch. In today's installment... Asking Permission. (And sadly, I'm talking about for marriage, not sex . In the bedroom, I'm all about asking permission.)

Supposedly more men are asking daddy if it's ok to marry his daughter.

The kick-ass historian Beth Bailey puts this in some context:

‘‘It was a fairly common practice based on the notion of making alliances between families and passing the daughter who was legally the property of the father onto the husband,’’ says Temple University historian Beth Bailey. ‘‘What we’re seeing right now is an odd combination of young people with progressive sentiments and a real desire for conventional gender roles and arrangements’’

At a wedding this summer, I had to stop myself from making retching noises when the bride's father devoted a significant portion of his reception speech to how he knew his son-in-law was "worthy" of his daughter because he asked for permission before proposing. And this was a couple who lived together before getting married -- not exactly a picture of conservatism.

I know I don't need to explain to you, dear Feministing readers, why asking dad for permission to assume ownership of his property marry his daughter is a pretty f'ed up practice. But if you feel like being extra grossed-out, check out this step-by-step "How to Ask Your Girlfriend's Father for Her Hand in Marriage." Yiiikes.

So, usually, I'm with Feministing opinions on things, but there are moments where we differ. This is one of those moments. In the comments I quoted an earlier respondent and then went on to comment:
"This happened recently with a very progressive couple I know - they had a hippy wedding in the woods and really aren't conformist, yet everyone involved seemed to think it was so charming that he'd asked her dad for permission."

That's so funny, because that could be me and my family. I've been married for one whole month, and I originally wanted my now husband to "ask my dad for permission" to marry me. I think it's cute.

Cute because it's so totally unnecessary, especially in our area of the country, and ESPECIALLY in MY family.

So for me, for us, it would have simply been him going an extra mile to have a "man to man" discussion with my dad about why he wanted to marry me. Being a daddy's girl, I appreciated that sentiment.

My dad was actually the one taken aback, and when I told him eventually Travis might "ask him" his response of "O.O WHY?!" put me off of the whole thing, and so it didn't happen.

This from the same girl though, who didn't have her father walk her down the aisle, because fuck that if he was going to give me away.

My point is that it all depends on context. There can be totally sexist reasons for traditions, but if you grow up in an environment where those ARE NOT the prevailing notions, sometimes you find other (and non sexist) reasons to like those old traditions.

I really can't stress how important I think that is. Growing up in an empowering environment can cause you to totally re-frame things that in another time, or another place, could be totally sexist or harmful. I'm with women who don't like the tradition, for many women other than myself, it still is indicative of their "place" in their family and in marriage, and that's not a good thing. But it's not like that for all of us.

I think also that Americans have a real need for tradition sometimes. We don't have quite the solidified culture some, hell most, other countries do, and so I think we can cling to what we have sometimes. Which might explain why other Progressives like me, who might very well be throwing most of the traditional conventions of marriage out the window, might be re-framing some of those traditions in an effort to keep them.


  1. You're right, the only reason i'm considering asking my girlfriends PARENTS (though namely father as i know the mother is ecstatic about the idea) permission to marry their daughter is because she is her fathers possession and needs to, as legally as possible without being ridiculous, be let go and transferred to me. Way to hit that nail on the head. Feminists don't have to be horrible people, but I believe that you, feminist or not, are fucking retarded. Does that make you horrible? Why the fuck not. I may be a hippy but by no means will i call my self jaded.

  2. Actually, you are the one who is the retard.

    As I was DISAGREEING with the quoted post saying that asking for permission was wrong. And was in fact saying that there is a reason for it besides viewing your potential mate as property.

    But congratulations on your reading skillz, asshat.


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