Traditional romance is creepy
Now's a good time for this song:
Most feminist bloggers try to avoid talking the concept of "chivalry" very much, because it draws so many asinine comments from people who want to dwell on the most innocuous forms of chivalry. Ridiculous and false claims that feminists are beating men about the head for opening doors and pulling out chairs is not worth the time of your average feminist blogger. But chivalry has manifestations that are much bigger and more serious than a few door-openings and coat-takings. For instance, the concept of chivalry defines the shape of the modern marriage proposal in its most mainstream form,* and that's what I want to talk about.
Chivalry is a set of behaviors where men feign servitude and humility towards women, but in practice they tend to actually reinforce men's greater social status. That means they seem "nice" on the surface, but often aren't. Again, I don't care about door-opening or coat-holding, but with the ritual of the marriage proposal, you really see how this works. On the surface, the proposal is about male humility—he's supposed to get on one knee, offer a present that's not reciprocated—but in practice, it tends to be all about how much power men have over women in the world of romance and marriage. Which is why I cringe like a motherfucker when I see women swooning over "romantic" proposals, especially public ones that strike me as especially coercive. The underlying narrative of the proposal is that the man is the savior from the ignominy of singlehood, and she is now in his debt. Her expected pose is weeping with gratitude that he's allowed her to join the human race by bestowing his manly favors on her—which is why I'm skeptical of the public proposal, which involves a crowd examining the bride for proper displays of simpering gratitude. And the idea of romance provides larger cover, so women are often less critical than they should be.
There are other ways that the American marriage proposal uses a mask of male humility to signal, "I'm your superior." Which is why I was so disappointed to see Jezebel run this irritatingly typical marriage proposal on their blog, and fawn all over it. They usually have strong douchebag detectors over there, but the proposal has this aura around it that masks the lurking douchiness from the blogger Jessica and the commenters.
Right off the bat, this guy loses points for having a big, giant proposal, which I've noted before strikes me as coercive. But what really set me off was the final bit:
And I know you're sensitive about my not having formally asked you, so:
Dorothée, will you marry me?
Insulting someone in your marriage proposal by tweaking her for having emotional needs and desires is a douchebag move. But more than that, you see right here that he's acknowledging that he made her wait. He deliberately withheld something he agreed to provide to see how long she'd put up with it, and he's not oblivious to this fact, but is in fact going to make fun of her for being sore at being treated this way. The Wait seems to be part of the proposal dance in mainstream America. There's supposed to be a built-in period between when it's clear they both want to get married, and when he asks, during which time she is supposed to feel sorry for herself, obsess over when he's going to ask, consider the possibility of issuing a humiliating ultimatium, hash over what's wrong with him (or her) that he hasn't asked yet, and lose precious woman-hours. I've written about this before, but it really pisses me off, because it makes relationships a competition, a game of chicken. If she issues an ultimatium or nags him or god forbid, proposes herself, he wins the game, and this guy is gloating like a motherfucker over that fact.** The Wait is about tearing up her ego so that she demonstrates the proper slobbering gratitude when he lowers himself to actually asking her to clean up after him for the rest of their lives and bear children named after him.
If you have any doubts left that The Wait is an informal ritual of humiliation for women that reveals that the humble stance of a man's proposal is actually ironic, look at the (ugh) royal wedding. The tabloids deemed Kate Middleton "Waitey Katie", a nasty nickname that only makes sense if you accept that a woman waiitng for a proposal is being subtly humiliated by being made to wait. That the person "rescuing" you from this abject state of waiting is the same person who put you into the state of waiting is quite the mind fuck, and why I think there's an element of sadism in so much of what we consider chivalry.
There are other red flags in the proposal. He airs their dirty laundry in public, talking about her personal troubles and some of their arguments, causing the reader to wonder if their troubles are so great that he can't even stop thinking about them while proposing. He strikes a pose of mock humility about his supposed flaws (mostly related to being less environmentally conscious than his girlfriend), but then says, "Yet somehow I convinced you that I was worth being with, and that's made me the luckiest person alive." I'm so over men fawning over their "better half" in a condescending fashion, especially when said fawning involves removing her agency. For all we know, she gets off on guys who don't give a fuck about global warming. Or, distressingly, maybe she hasn't got high enough standards. We don't know, but this fawning causes both possibilities to arise in the minds of the audience.
Oh yeah, and then there's that audience. Like I've said before, there's something not quite kosher about inviting a crowd to pressure her into saying yes to your proposal.
On the whole, I give this a big fat F, and am more than a little surprised more of Jezebel's peeps didn't see it that way. One commenter said, "Anyways, this guy sounds like a bit of a pussy to me," demonstrating that even if you take potshots at your girlfriend when proposing to her, there's still people out there who want more ridiculous displays of toxic masculinity in order to be satisfied. Some times, I just want to crawl in bed with giant earphones that play L7 on a continuous loop and avoid the world with this much bullshit in it. (Edit comment)
*Yes, no one is saying you can't do it differently. You could come to a mutual agreement. She can propose. He can propose without all the pomp and bullshit. There are workarounds, and I know that you found them! Good for you. I'm talking here about the mainstream proposal. Don't be so damn defensive.
**Which is why a very simple way to avoid engaging in some sexist bullshit when getting engaged is for a man to be prompt if you've agreed on a formal proposal, or better yet, avoid it altogether and make the moment of the mutual decision the beginnng of your engagement. Or, you know, be a weirdo and don't get married at all.