LIKE many teenagers, I was what you might call feisty, in the same way you might call a rampaging Rottweiler spirited.
If anyone had predicted that being a woman would ever stop me from doing something in life, I’d have quoted the Female Eunuch at them until their ears bled.
Even as an adult – after the hormonal mayhem of adolescence fizzled out – I’ll still happily call myself a feminist and will take on anyone around the dinner table on subjects ranging from pay inequality to Nuts magazine.
But there’s one step I won’t take: ask a man to marry me.
As 2012 is a leap year, today – February 29 – is traditionally when women do just that, turning on its head the conventional course of events.
It’s a custom that’s been in place for centuries, one supposedly made law in 1288 by Queen Margaret of Scotland, who in many ways sounds like my kind of gal: she ordered that if the proposal was refused, a fine would be levied – of a silk gown.
Trouble is, no dress is worth it as far as I’m concerned – not silk, not lace, not haute couture Valentino embellished with hand-spun gold thread.
It’s a standpoint I made plain to my boyfriend, lest he cleared his diary today and put his mum on standby for some big news.
We’ve been together for almost a year and are madly, possibly sickeningly, in love.
While I wouldn’t have a single sleepless night if my ring finger remained unadorned forever, I’ve no doubt I would be the happiest woman alive if he asked me to marry him.
But would I pop the question myself? Not a chance.
Which you might find odd for someone with a keen sense of empowerment, who respects every woman’s right to make her own choices and grapple with the not-always-forthcoming hand of fate.
It’s not as if there is a shortage of precedence: even Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert in 1839 (though admittedly because he was of a lower social standing, not because he’d failed to notice she’d left the Boodles catalogue lying around).
And a massive part of me admires anyone with enough bloody-minded backbone to renounce the old-fashioned way of doing things.
Despite all that, I know this much: Even in the twenty-first century, if a man REALLY wants to marry you, in most cases, he will ask.
He will not squeeze your hand meaningfully at friends’ weddings, wistfully hoping you get the message.
He will not walk slowly past jewelry shop windows, optimistic that you’ll take the hint.
He will not snuggle up in front of Wedding Crashers on DVD and whisper: ‘I read a survey today that said marriage makes couples have more sex.’
He will simply ask.
Whether we like it or not – no matter how enlightened they are, or how zealously they do the washing up – most men still think of proposing marriage as their job.
Nine out of ten proposals continue to be made by men. A vox pop of my male friends made it clear that most wouldn’t thank you for doing it for them – one said they’d feel ‘robbed of a defining moment in life’ and another that it would ‘steal their thunder’.
And, although only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by the wonderful Sex And The City character Miranda asking for Steve’s hand in marriage, I won’t be following suit.
Because the fact that most men still relish the idea of proposing – when the right woman comes along – would leave me with one, inexorable question (even if he said yes).
Why had he never felt sufficiently strongly about me to do it himself?
As the statistics bear out, marriage can be tough enough as it is without leaping into it with someone who isn’t 100% sold on the idea.
Lukewarm is no good. Indifferent just won’t cut it. A marriage needs to begin with your man so in love that he can’t bear the thought of you slipping through his fingers.
Now, I know there will be men whose reaction will be: Hang on a minute . . . you can’t have things all your way! If you want equality, you have to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into the hard work too – and that includes proposing.
Except, equality never meant having to do everything ourselves. If that was the case, there would be no such thing as Kwik Fit Fitters.
Moreover, feminism was never supposed to ruin anyone’s fun – or deny us the heart-stopping pleasure of being on the receiving end of a proposal, something women have enjoyed since the day someone came up with the idea of marriage itself.
If you’ve ever watched Ryan O’Neal’s blazing-eyed proposal to Ali McGraw in Love Story, or read Mr Darcy declaring to Elizabeth Bennett ‘how ardently I admire and love you’, this must surely resonate.
I know some might think I’m simply not brave enough, or not as liberated as I think. Surely – some will argue – if your man is proving as responsive to hints as a house brick, there’s nothing wrong with taking the bull by the horns yourself.
But this is not what the hard-fought battles of feminism were about. This is a mere distraction from the real issues: domestic violence, sexism in the workplace, pornography, misogyny – that unpleasant list that still leaves us plenty with which to concern ourselves.
We never fought for the right to not be swept off our feet by men we love.
We never fought for the right not to have a man make the ultimate declaration of his respect and affection.
And we certainly never fought to remove any effort on a man’s part when it comes to committing to one another. Unless I’ve got it completely wrong, feminism isn’t there to add to our already burgeoning to-do lists. It’s on our side, remember?
As with anything in life, there are of course exceptions. A friend’s mum proposed to her dad because she didn’t want to ‘live in sin’ – and 38 years later, they’re still together.
It also strikes me that, if you’ve turned a man down once, you could hardly expect him to keep coming back for punishment. In that case, you’d better start rehearsing your speech.
But for my part, I won’t be joining in today, even if my teenaged self would have been appalled. Although perhaps she’d be too busy rolling her eyes and dying her hair a ravishing shade of industrial tarmac to worry about it.
If a proposal is ever on the cards between my boyfriend and I, it’ll be him who makes it. I think if most of us are entirely honest with ourselves, that’s the way we’d prefer it.
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