Amanda Marcotte has some interesting commentary on the inherent sexism of the marriage proposal. Having been down this road a couple of times now, the entire marriage structure is sexist. I proposed both times and even the possibility of me not being the one who proposed was strictly impossible despite the fact that I wouldn’t be with anyone who didn’t self-identify as a feminist. I don’t know a single couple where the woman asked the man. Some parts of the institution have becomes less offensive in the last few decades. The “obey” term in the wedding ceremony has faded. It’s not so frequent where the man “asks” the father for his daughter, though I have friends who have done that.
A lot of structural sexism remains in the marriage ceremony. From the father giving the bride away (property!) to the woman taking the husband’s name (property!) the whole ceremony stinks of sexism and I hate it and even participating in it there wasn’t much I could do about it given the pervasiveness of gendered expectations. Although on a personal level, taking my name, well no I could not deal with that. Why shouldn’t men take their wife’s names? If I have kids, why shouldn’t they take my wife’s name? They will identify with her Irish ethnicity since I couldn’t care less about these questions. Might as well take her name too.
Much of this might seem harmless. I am already imagining the comments that Amanda and I are making mountains out of molehills, not to take this so seriously, tradition, biology, etc. But the fact remains that as a society, we have done a better job dealing with structural racism and arguably even structural homophobia (at least within our hearts and willingness to have serious discussions about it, although not for the bisexual and transgender communities) than structural sexism.
I’d also be curious for research to see how marriage proposals play out with same-sex couples.