Asking for her father’s blessing before proposing is respectful, not sexist

First published at Global News on September 1, 2017.

Despite my undying love for my wife, I learned this week that our engagement began with an “egregious” act of sexism and misogyny – according to Cosmo, that is.

The night before I proposed to my then-girlfriend, just over two years ago, I asked her father for his blessing.

“You’ve had it for a long time,” he said. We shook hands, cried and laughed. It was a special moment, though not as special as the question I asked his daughter the next day. (We’ll celebrate our first wedding anniversary in a few weeks.)

Asking a would-be bride’s father for permission or a blessing, a practice steeped in tradition and respect for her family, was castigated this week in a Cosmopolitan column by feminist writer Jill Filipovic.

“It’s not a sign of respect. It’s a deeply sexist practice,” she said, citing the history of a woman’s desires being secondary to more economic catalysts for marriage.

There’s no denying that throughout history – and even today, in some cultures – marriage has dealt women a raw hand. But that doesn’t mean traditions, when embraced for the right reasons, are anachronistic.

My father-in-law’s blessing was meaningful, but also symbolic. It was my wife’s affirmation that really counted, and all three of us knew that.

Filipovic treats the pursuit of paternal patronage as theft of a woman’s agency, which is nonsensical.

My wife has two degrees and an incredibly successful career. She also kept her maiden name. She’s her own woman, and her father’s blessing on our union didn’t change that.

Just as it didn’t mean he was literally transferring possession of her to me when he walked her down the aisle.

Such traditions simply underscore that a marriage is a union of two families as much as it is of two people.

Marriages are as old as humanity itself, so it’s impossible to separate tradition from them.

I asked my female Facebook friends for their thoughts on the matter, though some men chimed in as well. (Cue “mansplaining” accusations.)

From left to right and atheist to evangelical Christian, most women seemed not only tolerant but excited, about the practice.

“It’s not so much permission as it is respect for the patriarch of a family,” a married grandmother wrote, citing Christian tradition.

Filipovic’s feminism may reject the significance of that, but for Christian women — all Christians, in fact — the biblical framework for marriage is immensely important.

“A father is the first man a girl ever loves, and most times, the measurement of all other men in her life,” said one friend, the mother of a teenage girl. “I think it’s important for the two most important men in her life to give her the gift of support, from both.”

Another said it “signaled that my father trusted him and believed he would fit in with our family, which is very important to both of us.”

Support for the practice was overwhelming, but not universal. A co-worker told me it would be a deal-breaker in her relationship if her partner sought permission from her father.

“Today, women are equals. They hold prominent positions in society and in the workforce,” said another. “As a woman, it is important to stand on your own two feet and make your own decisions.”

Interestingly, this approach was shared by a conservative Christian friend — the kind most likely to embrace these sorts of marital traditions — who told me that despite her love for her father, his life decisions disqualify him from having a say in who she marries.

“No one owns me,” she said. And she’s right.

It’s worth noting that the objectors in my straw poll seemed to dislike the lack of independence implied in the practice, rather than a presence of sexism. They would just as likely oppose a partner asking a mother or both parents for the permission or blessing.

So I’m at a loss for why Filipovic’s feminism excludes marital tradition, even when a woman wants to embrace it.

If feminism is about choice and equality of opportunity, that must include the right of a woman to decide for herself whether these traditions should be accommodated. But to Filipovic, that would be anti-feminist.

“Those of us in feminist relationships should reject that norm – or at least understand that by partaking in it, we’re reinforcing a deeply sexist practice,” she said.

This worldview would also deny women the choice of taking their husband’s surname — which I’ve known progressive feminists to do as well.

Filipovic claims she’s liberating women from the shackles of the patriarchy, but she’s content to limit women to the narrow confines of her radical feminism. This has less to do with choice and more to do with exporting joylessness to women whose loving families and marriages incorporate the tradition she despises.

She and her partner retain the choice to eschew these, or any other, traditions. But that doesn’t make them wrong for everyone else.