A photo of a gorgeous Black woman on bended knee holding a ring box in front of her beau has made its way around the Internet. The woman pictured, who seems to be proposing marriage to her significant other, is being called everything from ungodly to desperate as everyone tries to decipher the image and what it means. We’re clear that the woman in the photo can propose, that women are capable of taking such a lead in the decision-making processes of their love relationships. But we’re not so clear about whether her taking the lead in this way is a good thing.
In wondrous ways, women have achieved many of the goals set forth in the feminist and women’s liberation movements. As I wrote earlier this month, they’re delaying serious relationships and marriage, and cultivating true partnerships where both partners equally share everything from household chores to parenting. It makes perfect sense that, since women are challenging gender roles in every other aspect of their lives, they switch things up when it comes to love and the road to marriage.
Haven’t women been proposing to men anyway, in the form of ultimatums? Frequently women lead their relationships towards marriage—so if their boyfriends aren’t making moves to become their fiancés in the time they deem appropriate, they often walk away. We all know couples that became engaged shortly after a breakup, and we laugh with our girlfriends as they discuss their man’s need to make up his mind before they get ghost.
I’d argue that although women haven’t traditionally been the ones on their knee holding those sparkly, expensive diamond rings (which are total scams anyway), they’ve often been in charge of getting themselves and their lovers to the altar.
Of course, those who think and live traditionally take issue with women proposing to men. What about chivalry and courtship, of the ritual involved in a man asking the woman he loves to spend her life with him? While discussing this topic with friends, a male friend argued that if a man doesn’t choose a woman with a proposal, he won’t value and choose her in the marriage. It confuses natural order, another female friend explained.
“It’s kind of like the moment you imagine your whole life… I’ve seen that in movies. I’ve read that in books. You don’t want to miss out on that moment,” says Jessica Deegan, a woman profiled in a post at CBS News regarding this possibly new trend in engagement proposals. It’s true, many women have spent much of their lives dreaming of the special day their Prince Charming pledges his love forever, and letting go of that fantasy is difficult. Ultimately, it’s about the people involved and no one else.
If both people in the relationship are willing to push past traditional gender roles and ideas, then a woman proposing shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t see a woman who chooses to propose as desperate, although I’m sure that happens. (There are also men who propose in desperation—i.e., the guy who buys the ring after he’s given the boot.)
I don’t necessarily see them as some super-empowered feminist caricatures either. I view them as women who know what they want and are willing to go after that thing. I think it’s totally badass to break conformity and tradition in that way.
But here’s the thing: if a woman chooses to push traditional gender roles aside, then she must be willing to do it entirely if necessary. If, as a woman, you assume a role traditionally seen as a leadership role, you shouldn’t expect your partner to lead the relationship. I see this happen often. Women want to steer a relationship—which is not a bad thing—but only when they want to be in control.
Am I saying that if a woman proposes to a man, she shouldn’t expect him to assume the traditional roles of “provider” and “protector”? Not necessarily. But I am saying that such roles usually assigned as male should be approached more fluidly and assigned according to who in the relationship is most capable.
In all, is the trend of women proposing to men a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Each relationship is different, and each couple in that relationship has the power to sculpt their partnership the way they want. We must, however, be mindful of the decisions we make and how those decisions set the tone for our relationships going forward. And women shouldn’t start what they’re unwilling to continue.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.