I'd like to think that, in 2017, we're edging ever closer to living in a world where men and women are respected as equals. So, why is it that some men still feel the need to ask a father's permission to marry his daughter? Is it a quaint tradition that refuses to die out? Or a more sinister kind of ownership battle over the woman in question?
In the recent filmWhy Him?, the female lead addresses both her boyfriend and dad's overly alpha-male tendencies to "own" her as if she were an "object", yet nobody questions that her boyfriend asks her father's permission to marry her before hers. Although she actually says no to the proposal in favour of finishing her degree and starting up an NGO (excellent choice), the fact that the whole narrative of the film runs on the pretence of this deal between father and boyfriend highlights what a huge cultural expectation it is still perceived to be.
This tradition comes from a time where it was unheard of for men and women to live together before marriage, and where women were under their parents' supervision and control until well into what we would now consider to be adulthood. We've (thankfully) left most of those things behind - but asking 'permission' seems to be one that just won't go away.
In their 2015 jewellery and engagement survey, wedding website The Knot found that 77% of men had asked their partner's father (or parents) for his/their blessing before proposing - a figure that had risen from 71% in 2011. The main reason for this appears to be because of feelings of social obligation and etiquette, and, in many cases, because their partner expects them to - which is absolutely fair enough; every couple should do what suits the - but just make sure that it's something that your partner is happy with, too.
Personally, I'd be offended if a man asked my father's permission - or in my case, my grandfather's. It's entirely my choice, and absolutely nobody else should control what I do or don't decide to do with my life. Equally, what if a woman proposes to her partner? I expect most men would find it laughable for her to ask his parents before proposing. And I've only spoken about heterosexual couples here, as I don't feel qualified to speak for the LGBTQ+ community from my experiences as a heterosexual woman, but I'm sure the social minefield surrounding marriage goes on.
But does it stop at the proposal?
Nope. Even in the actual wedding ceremony, many brides are walked down the aisle, waiting to be 'given away' to their waiting partners - and so the ownership and objectivity continues. I know it's only symbolic in this day and age, but it comes from a time and a place where it wasn't so, and women were given - dowry and all - to the highest bidder. Married, divorced, widowed, single, in a relationship, we don't need to be 'given away' to know that we're worth millions to ourselves, and whoever is lucky enough to be in our lives.
And then there's the expectation for the woman to take her husband's name, for her family to foot the bill for the wedding, and so on and so forth, although the latter now seems to be more of a joke at the bride's parents' expense than a real expectation.
These traditions infantilize and patronise women by taking away their voice and agency, reducing them to mere objects to be discussed, traded, but never included in the dialogue. And you know what? The objectification of women is something I'm absolutely not on board with in any way shape or form. We are equals in every way, we are autonomous, and we are definitely intelligent enough to make our own decisions.
So let's leave this - frankly antiquated - tradition behind, eh?