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He Wants to Ask My Father for My Hand, I’m not down

Can asking a father for a daughter's hand in marriage ever be feminist?

Q: My fiancé and I decided we’re going to get married. He’s very romantic and said he still wants to do an official proposal before we announce it. The problem is this: he wants to call my dad before proposing. I am totally against this. I hate this tradition and cannot understand why it is still done. It was not long ago at all that women were viewed as property under the law, and it was less than a hundred years ago that we got the right to vote. That’s not even touching on the countries where it’s still okay to sell off your daughters—in 2014!

My fiancé agrees, but still wants to call my dad beforehand as a sign of respect to make sure that they get off to a good start. I should add that my family is very traditional, and while the idea of asking permission makes me livid, they think it is a good idea, even though I’m a twenty-seven-year-old English teacher living on my own in another town.

Of course, he wants to work with me to find a way to do this that is not offensive to me. I suggested he call and say, “I’m proposing today, and I want you to be the first to know.” He thinks that that sounds flip.

Besides asking for permission—or a blessing, which I think sounds like a thinly veiled version of the same thing—what else could my fiancé say to my parents before proposing?

Sincerely,

Explain to Me Again Why My Consent Is Not as Important As a Man’s

A: Dear EtMA…,

Heck no, I’m not going to attempt to explain that. Because I completely, enthusiastically support you on this one. When it comes to relationships, it’s one thing to negotiate and talk through different scenarios and find a compromise between two differing views. It’s entirely different when you’re faced with a situation that’s utterly past your limits, something that you find deeply troubling, offensive, and ardently oppose. That’s not who last cleaned the bathroom, which is the current and utterly boring conflict in my marriage; this has to do with your core values. So let’s talk through some ways to level the playing field.

For starters, it’s incredibly sweet that your fiancé wants to get off on a good start with your dad, and that he wants to work with you on this instead of just dialing Pops up. He clearly feels the gravity of your engagement, and wants your dad to know how seriously he’s taking it. If he’s so determined to get off the right foot with a parent of yours, though, why not loop your mother into this conversation? I assume (though I could be wrong!) that she had a pretty significant role in raising you alongside your father. If he is desperate to have this consultation, then including your mother is certainly fairer, turning a historically misogynistic transaction into a far more palatable offering of respect.

You might even take this a step further: the two of you, together, bring over a lovely dinner or take your parents out to one. If you live far away, schedule a phone call or a Skype date, with mutual bottles of Prosecco or sparking cider (hello Amazon Prime) waiting to be opened. And then, together, explain that you’ve decided to take this major step. That you’re so grateful to them for all of their love and support in the last twenty-seven-odd years. That it would mean the world to both of you if they were the first to bless your engagement.

This is a great opportunity to practice for the constant negotiation of marriage—for listening carefully to make sure you understand why the other feels so strongly about something, and for juggling boundaries for yourself, for your partner, for the two of you, and for all of the family members who will undoubtedly have many opinions about your engagement, your wedding, and your future. Consider this a moment where the two of you present yourselves to the world. Yes, this is happening, we are overjoyed, and we’d love your support as we take this step. That feels entirely different than measuring one’s worth in cattle.

Elisabeth Snell is guest-writing Ask Team Practical while Liz Moorhead is on maternity leave. If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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