• Wed, Nov 17 2010

Asking Your Dad’s Permission to Marry You Isn’t Romantic, It’s Sexist

The biggest story of the day is, of course, the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Every detail of the story – from the ring to the proposal – has been dissected in the press. One of those details is the fact that William asked Kate’s father for permission to marry his daughter. (To be fair, he asked Kate first, but still.) Many people consider this an incredibly romantic act, but I disagree. I find it old-fashioned at best and sexist at worst. Asking fathers for permission to marry their daughters is something that should go the way of chastity belts.

Women aren’t legally their fathers’ possessions, and they get to pick who they want to marry without any input from their male relatives. Here’s the thing – of course I want a person I marry to get along with my family. And I’m very close to my parents, so their opinion of any future son-in-law matters. But there is a difference between them liking and approving of someone I intend to marry and their being asked for permission. For one thing, the fact that William (like many prospective grooms) asked her father and not her mother is a clear sign that this isn’t a sweet act about joining families together, it’s just two men making a decision on a woman’s behalf. Would the marriage have gone ahead if for some reason Mr. Middleton had said “hell no”? I suspect he wouldn’t have said no, but even if he had, it doesn’t really matter. His approval is sweet, but it’s not necessary. Kate is an adult woman with the ability to make her own choices.

If there comes a day when a dude wants to marry me? I want him to love my family and vice versa. And, ideally, if my parents hated him, I would know that well before deciding whether to marry him. But ultimately, a marriage is about two people – the ones entering into the marriage, and no one else.

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  • Amanda

    Let’s be real, we’re talking about the monarchy here. Not exactly the hallmark of modernity, and William seems very comfortable in keeping up traditions.

    • Amanda

      The other thing is that this engagement opens her family up to a whole world of media attention and scrutiny. It’s only fair to discuss the issue with them before making the engagement official—this is, after all, the joining of their families, and with this particular engagement comes a whole new set of responsibilities for everyone involved.

      Also, if the linked article is the source of this opinion piece, it doesn’t say specifically that the mother was NOT asked—it states that William bucked the tradition of asking the father first. It is not stated that the mother was not part of this discussion.

      To classify the act as sexist or not is putting a fairly narrow feminist spin on the situation.

  • Meghan Keane

    I think I disagree. Maybe “asking permission” is a holdover from an older time. But I think it’s a way for dudes to give parents a heads up. Even if your parents love your boyfriend, they may not know where your relationship is headed with him. Vice Versa, your parents might have good advice for him. Like, hey dude: “She’s not ready. She’ll probably say no.”

    That definitely happened when one of my (very briefly) engaged friends got proposed to a few years ago.

  • Helena

    Good point about how mothers are never asked. I hadn’t thought of that before.

    • Elyce

      Not true. Yes it is probably really rare that the mother is asked, but my fiance asked my mom first. My dad is actually my stepdad although I don’t consider him that way. But anyway, him and I have never been as close as me and my mom are so that’s why he asked my mom first.

  • Stephanie

    I completely agree. When I got engaged, my dad was upset that my now-husband didn’t ask him permission first. This, despite the fact that my dad and I have been estranged for years and have never communicated on a regular basis. In my opinion, this tradition makes women seem like property (love your point about not asking the mom) and should just be done away with. It’s paternalistic, not romantic.

  • Lainey

    I dated a Swedish man for 3 years. He met with my father to inform him of his intentions to ask me to marry him. He didn’t ask for permission but he did get a solid response. “Do you think she’s ready for this with everything going on in her life?” He went ahead with the proposal and didn’t take my father’s question into consideration and proposed the next day. It was a complete shock to me (my parent’s decided it was not their place to warn me) and I turned him down. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Had he listened to my father he could have at least put out some feelers, tested my dad’s theory and could have saved us both some real public embarrassment. It’s only sexist and wrong if the two parties actually believe the father has any “right” to make the decision for their daughter and well, personally I can’t imagine that there are too many fathers or future son-in-laws out there that would believe that to be true. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Just like there’s nothing wrong with doing things your own way. We won’t criticize the man who “doesn’t” ask your father for permission and you shouldn’t criticize the man who does. Shouldn’t we as women focus on equality in the workforce and things that actually matter instead of worrying about some innocent tradition??

  • porkchop

    If you’re Prince of Wales, you should ask. I think it’s good for her parents to get to confront him alone about the Superbowl’s worth of flashbulbs that she’s exposed to every waking minute because of him.

    For normal people, asking permission is lame.

  • Ashley

    It’s just showing respect for the father. I would never have married my husband if he didn’t ask my father first…

    • Trish

      Would you elaborate on this, please?

    • Jen Dziura

      I’m sure that people in cultures that have dowries would also respond in this way — “paying my dad livestock in exchange for my hand is a way of showing respect.” Of course some people feel that way. But we can be pretty sure that trading livestock for women is wrong. The whole point of a discussion like this is to question a tradition and decide whether it really is a way of showing respect. Simply pointing out that traditional people like tradition doesn’t make an argument in favor of that tradition. Does your father need to be “respected” by being treated as though he can make his grown daughter’s decisions for her? Please actually add something to the discussion.

    • Eileen

      Not to nit-pick (okay, I kind of am), but a dowry was not money that a man paid to his bride’s father – it was money that the bride’s father settled upon her (or her intended, depending on the region) to help support her. In some cases, the woman had rights over her dowry and it was her money, to be disposed of among her family members or as she pleased. In others, it became her husband’s, because she joined his household and therefore he was responsible for her upkeep. It was never “trading livestock for women.” Some cultures did and do offer bride prices, but the giving of a dowry is and was not a bad thing for the woman.

  • Lorraine

    My ex-husband did not ask my father’s permission to marry me, which is just fine. However, he did feel the need to call him when contemplating divorce and ask him about that! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

    I don’t believe it is necessary to ask a parent’s permission to marry their offspring and I also hated the idea of being “given away” during the ceremony. I am no one’s property!

  • guida, lisbon

    absolutly right , girl! I would not marry a guy who had the medieval idea of asking my hand to my father! my hand is mine, as well as the rest of the body!

  • Ellen W.

    Ashley- I’d love for you to elaborate on your comment. Respect of your father’s… what? I really don’ t mean this as an attack or anything- I think it’s great that your husband knew it was important to you and did something to make you happy.

    I have a friend whose husband asked her parents (very specifically asked to speak with both of them) about asking her to marry him- not because he was asking permission exactly but because they were still in college and I think he wanted to be sure that marrying him wouldn’t interfere with their assistance towards her college tuition.

  • Eileen

    Prince William kind of has to. Is it old-fashioned and sexist? Well, yeah, but the monarchy lives by old-fashioned rules when it comes to manners. I’m pretty sure that if any man asked my father for permission to marry one of his adult daughters, Papa’s response would be a very polite, “I think you’re asking the wrong person,” but if William and Kate’s families expect him to ask, they might be better off this way: Family harmony is sometimes worth compromising on symbolic gestures.

    And I know a lot of modern, successful girls – women with advanced degrees and jobs of their own, who haven’t been dependent on their parents for years – who still, as Daddy’s little girl, like to know that Dad – who’s about to be ousted as the most important man in her life – been consulted. Personally, I would not be offended if my fiance went to my father and said, “I recently asked your daughter to marry me, and she accepted. I would like to have your permission as well.”

    But honestly, in the end (of this long-winded post), I think that most things that are romantic are sexist. We respond to them because they invoke culturally ingrained images of men being “men” and protecting the women in their lives. Our whole concept of romance is tied up in stereotypical gender roles, and in some ways I think that asking your dad’s permission to marry you IS romantic BECAUSE it’s sexist.

  • Alaina

    I have actually asked my boyfriend to ask my dad’s permission before he proposes to me. Not because it’s important to me – because I agree, I’m not property – but because I was raised in a very traditional household and I know that it would mean a lot to my dad.

  • Lindsay Cross

    My husband tried to ask my dad for permission, because he is a little old-fashioned and he knows how close I am with my dad. But he was so nervous that all he got out was, “I really love Lindsay. And Brenna. I love them both. We’re gonna get married.” Then he told me all about it over breakfast the next day.

  • Rachel

    YES! I have a bunch of friends getting married soon, and their boyfriends asked their fathers for permission. That makes me feel so uncomfortable, and I know my dad’s response would be “Well you’ll have to ask my daughter that question.” He’s known for a while that I make my own decisions.

  • Tobi

    A guy asking my father about marrying me before he actually asks me? No way. Nope. I have no respect for this tradition. I’m not property, and frankly, the marriage and proposal is between the two people in the relationship, not with the family.

  • Erica

    There are so many traditions that people choose to hold on to or let go of. Let everyone have their opinions, since there really isn’t a wrong or right answer.

    I for one, would love for my boyfriend to speak to both parents about marrying me. Not to ask permission per se, but to reassure them that his intentions are true. It also shows the level of respect he has for my family. But, this is also because I am close to my parents; obviously if you are estranged for your parents that would just be awkward.

    I loved that my brother flew down to my sister-n-law’s home town and asked to speak with both parents about marrying her. It wasn’t about “permission,” it was about “Hey, I love your daughter, and I hope that you will accept me in your family.” I think even if they were opposed to it, he would have went ahead and did it anyway, but, like Meghan Keane above said, it was a head’s up.

    I really don’t think it’s being sexist to “ask” the father, so long as the father and daughter have a close relationship. It’s not really asking these days, it’s a sign of respect.

  • julie

    You know what is appalling about the whole idea of marriage… That we still won’t allow same-sex couples to wed. Our gay friends and family have asked permission even though they shouldn’t have to. What we should be worrying about is equality for each and every human being in this country…in this world…not about who asked permission or didn’t ask for permission to wed and from whom…

  • LT_SH

    I agree about mothers not being taken into the equation but the whole blurb is making a mountain out of a molehill

  • Amanda

    You obviously are not from the south and do not understand

    • Ashley Cardiff

      If this comment is aimed at Lilit, actually she *is* from the south.

  • Katie

    I would never have married my husband if he’d asked my father’s permission first. My dad didn’t “give me away” at our wedding, either.

  • Jen Dziura

    My first thought on reading the headline was “Yes, of course that’s sexist. I concur!”

    And then I realized that the article was about royalty, and I thought — and I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet — PRINCESS DIANA HAD TO HAVE A VIRGINITY TEST. Like, a physical exam. (And I’m sure we all know that those are not infallible).

    Prince William and Kate Middleton have been happily living together at least part-time while he completes his various military assignments, and no one has said a word. The last article I read mentioned that the two of them were “like any couple, buying frozen pizzas at Tesco and spending nights in.” And no one seems to have a problem with this.

    So I think that’s quite a lot of progress on the British monarchy front. (Additionally, the Queen has been known to criticize Kate for not having a career! Not that everyone has to go whole-hog on a career in life, but I’m just pointing out that things have changed at a pretty meteoric pace for such an anachronistic institution).

  • nolalola27

    While I’d rather it be “asking her parents’ permission” instead of “asking her father’s permission,” I think it’s sweet – it’s not about asking for the father to relinquish the daughter as he might an old car or TV – she’s not going to be “mommy/daddy’s little girl” anymore, but a wife and possibly mother. I also like the dad walking the daughter down the aisle though, so..I just don’t see it as an issue of misogyny or sexism. I see it as a change in the relationship between the daughter and her parents.

    • Jean

      It is sexist, don’t you see, because we don’t ask the boy’s parents. If it was not sexist, we would have a tradtion for both the young lady and the young man. You contradict your self.

    • Bob

      Jean, read the bible.

    • Bob

      Jean, read the bible.

    • Bob

      Jean, read the bible.

  • Christine

    In my circle, it wasn’t uncommon for the guys to talk to their girlfriend’s father before proposing. However, it wasn’t so much “do I have your permission?” as “I would like to do this” and sometimes “do I have your blessing?”. Granted, if you’re in your late twenties then the rules are going to change – the parents have already had to deal with the fact that their daughter doesn’t live at home any more. When you’re still in university, they can see it as temporary, and then all of a sudden they get “nope, I’m not coming home”. The guy’s parents, however, end up with the short end of the stick on that one though.

    I do have a real objection to the idea that the parents’ permission is required. This is probably tied more to my horror of the idea of the bride (or the couple) being “given away” by their parents at the wedding. I’m down with the modern “tradition” of the parents walking the bride and groom in, instead of the couple walking together, but actually asking “who gives this woman to be married?” ? So you can blame it on bleed from my religious views. (RC).

  • lola

    oh you silly silly girls.

    don’t you see? asking for the father’s permission is not about being someone’s “property”. all it means is that this new man (boyfriend) is now the man you will live with for the rest of your lives. for most of us at least, our fathers (step fathers, grandfathers, whatever paternal figure you have) have been the ones that have taken care of us, helped us, lived with us for most of our lives and so asking for one’s hand in marriage simply means that the father “passes” on the duty of looking after his daughter and future wife of the boyfriend.

    this isn’t about feminism, sexism, property ownership, etc.

    this is about a promise. a promise from the future husband to promise the father of the future bride to take care of and protect her forever and always.

    • Eileen

      But that IS sexist, because it implies that a grown woman needs a man to take care of and protect her. And it’s not reciprocal, because women don’t ask their future mothers in law whether they have their permission to cook for and clean up after their sons. Even if they did, the action would be contributing to traditional gender stereotypes, which in many cases are based in and definitely have inspired sexism.

    • Kate

      Actually, it is all of the above you silly patronising woman! I am a married self-sufficient individual and I do not need anyone to be handed the ‘duty’ of looking after me. Maybe, if that’s what it is about, I should have asked my boyfriends parents for permission to marry him?? hmmm…no? why? because it is sexist nonsense…

    • Jean

      Why do all of you sexist people, continue to overlook, omit , skip. ignore the girl’s mother? What is wrong with you?? REMEMBER, the mom is the one who gave birth to her. She looked after and raised the girl just as much as her dad. You all contradict yourselves, when you say it is not sexist. you prove it is sexist, when you omit the mother, the most important parent to a girl. Wake up girls of America. Look at what these men are trying to do to us!!!!

    • Jean

      Lola, are you male or female? Why would you write these untrue statements? Your point of view is yours, but is so unfair and demeaning to a mother!! It is sad that you make reference to father , stepfather, grandfather, and whatever paternal figure took care of us and helped us. That is a square bold tale!!!! The mother is the one, always the one, who takes care of a child. If you are an adult you ought to know that. Please don’t put these untrue sentences in print. It might confuse our young people and make them actually believe that the male is the one who takes care of the child(daughter in this case). Our country is already twisted and sick enough, with men dominating with all their power and wanting everything their way. Females unite and support each other. Young engaged couples ask the mom too. It is irrelevant whether she blabs or not. It is her right. The female parent is just as important, if not the most important!!! She is the one who spend hours in labor, sleepless nights, days awake worrying, feeding, protecting from the fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers who molest our girls in the first place. And to tell these engaged couples to ask her dad and forget about her mom!!! How dare people in this country would suggest this!! Sick!!! Sick!! Sick!!

  • Papples

    I think it really depends on the girl. I have a terrible relationship with my dad and would be super angry if a guy ever asked his permission. However, I’d love for a guy to ask my mom.

    I don’t think of it so much as a “Can I have your daughter?” as much as “Are you willing to accept me as part of your family?”

    It’s not necessary by any means, but especially in situations where a girl has a special relationship with a parent, it can be sweet.

  • Alison

    Blah, if I ever get engaged my BF better not do this. I can make up my own damn mind, who cares what my Dad thinks. Also no one will be walking me down the aisle to be asked who gives this woman away today…um I was never yours in the first damn place.

  • Kathryn

    I think asking the parents (not just dad) is an incredibly sweet gesture. I think it shows that the man respects the family and that the parents giving their blessing shows that they respect the son’s addition to the family. That being said, if I loved the guy and my parents didn’t approve, I would listen to their point of view but may choose to marry him anyway. I don’t think it’s sexist, I just think it’s polite.

  • katy

    yes thank you! I could not agree more! I have a lot of friends getting married and engaged right now, so this topic has come up in our conversations a lot. Im very close with my dad, but I would be APPALLED if a guy went to my dad to ask him his permission to marry me. So would my dad, in fact.

    What I don’t understand is the impracticality of this practice. Let alone that it is sexist. In the past, as you pointed out in your article, this practice was about dowries, family ties, etc. Also, since women had very little power in society. it was the fathers role to ensure his daughter would be taken care of. This of course is no longer an issue in our society. I do not need a man to take care of me. I have an education, a job, and a career path. I can own my own house, and have my own life. Since “stability” is no longer an issue, why on earth would I need my father to approve the marriage? I wouldn’t go to my boyfriends father or mother to ask for their permission for me to marry their son, and since we would both be financially independent, I don’t see why he’d go to mine. Strange and unfortunate custom that makes absolutely no sense. If a guy did that to me Id know that he didn’t respect me as an autonomous person, and honestly, I don’t think I could get over that.

  • Mark H

    Intersting that there are not many fathers of daughters commenting on this page. My future son in law did not ask for my or our permission to marry our daughter before we were told about the engagement. Ironically he is the ideal young man for our daughter and she for him. Our permission, blessing, approval or what you will was really a given but to be honest, I personally would have liked to been asked (after our daughter of course) because, yes, I was, the man in my daughter’s life and naturally feel a paternal bond and a desire to believe that our daughter is marrying a man of good intentions, honour and respect; tough words in a ‘modern’ society.
    We have been married now for nearly 27 yrs and suprisingly asking for ‘permission’ worked out pretty well for us (more of a blessing really). We old men know our daughters are not chattels but we love and cherish them and in this world of fast decisions and quick fixes we do like to provide an experienced role now and again, after all, we do pick up the pieces when goes wrong.

    • Peter

      Sexist much? How is it “ironic” that your son-in-law is ideal for your daughter despite not asking for permission? Maybe the fact that he didn’t consider anyone’s permission but hers necessary is precisely what makes him ideal. And the fact that you are “the man in your daughter’s life” (that’s a little creepy, actually) entitles you to more say in who she marries than, say, your wife? Perhaps he should have asked your wife for permission too. I hope your daughter and son-in-law have a long, happy marriage that may even outlast your 27 years and which will be in no way impaired for the lack of asking permission.

      If I asked a woman’ father for “permission” to marry her it would be fake and hypocritical, because asking permission implies that if the answer were “no,” we wouldn’t get married. Permission to marry is not yours to give, you don’t control your grown daughter’s choices. I hope that if I ever did negate my intended’s free choice by asking her dad — or mom — for permission to marry her, she’d slap me in the face and send me packing.

    • Jean

      Mark, I as an independent female, believe it or not ,was liking your article unitl…… I should have known that being a male, you would put in some male ego remark about yourself to express that we females always end up needing you all. The comment about there being a paternal bond since you are the man in her life. Let me first get this straight. All daughters do not necessarily have a bond with their dads, even when he lives in the home. To us, you are just a parent we lean on, until we realize that our sweethearts exist. A dad is no more important than a mom, you men just push and force this myth. The second comment about the dad being the one to pick up the pieces. If there is any truth in you, you would admit that girls generally run to their sisters, best girl friend, and mom when they have romance problems. Don’t exalt yourself. Dads just think they have the right to butt in and exert dominance. Girls don’t usually share intimate, romantic stuff with dad. So don’t make the incorrect point about picking up the pieces. Tell the truth and say, that we as her family, will pick up the pieces.

  • Jeremy

    THANK YOU is all I can say right now I had just gotten engaged to my fiance yesterday. I did things my own way and planned it out as a big surprise for her I did not ask her father’s permission since he does not approve of me being with her let alone getting married to her. Thanks to this article I don’t feel as bad about the fact that he told her I should have come to him first among other things. I am a 20 something adult and so is she. Once again THANK YOU

  • Mr. Q

    I would never marry a woman who needed her father, mother or anybody else’s permission. The only way a woman should be married is if she’s a grown woman. If she’s a grown woman she doesn’t need anybody’s permission. This is the stupidest tradition any fool ever dreamed up. If a woman asked me to ask her parents for permission to marry her the wedding would be off.

  • betsy

    its called respect..

    • CyberianGinseng

      If you still need your father’s permission to come out to play, you should stay your ass at home. You’re breaking curfew. Don’t you have any respect?