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A decent proposal

By Malcolm King - posted Friday, 29 February 2008

According to custom, February 29 is the day belles ask their beaus to marry them. Yet I say in the feminist tradition of Greer, Faludi or Dvorkin (maybe not Dvorkin) women should have the right to ask men to marry them every day and not on just one day of a leap year.

For too long men have stood back and said nothing. We have been greedy keepers of the marriage proposal rights.

Back in 1288 the Scottish Queen Margaret said that on February 29 in a leap year, (what other year does such a date occur?) a woman can propose to any unmarried man she likes - and if the would-be husband refuses, he has to pay a £1 fine.


Seems a pretty cheap fine but a pound went a long way back then (as now). What penalty awaits the man these days who fails to say “I do” sometime between the oysters and the osso buco?

Eternal damnation in the letters pages of Cosmo or Cleo, his female friends treat him like a herpes outbreak and everyday seems like Monday.

The first complaint over this sexist hegemony came from 5th century Ireland. St Bridget complained to St Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose.

Proposals would have been scarce as St Bridget and her mates were nuns. Anyway, according to legend, St Patrick said the yearning females could have a crack on February 29 because it was an odd sort of day and no religious festivals were ever planned then, as they were bad luck.

This is an early example of a man telling a woman what she can and cannot do and then sabotaging the outcome. The fact that most women couldn’t read or write in 500AD was a handicap.

Yet with a bit of chalk and a slate the girls could have worked out that the actual length of a year is 365.242 days, not 365 days. So every four years an extra day is added to the calendar on February 29th.


For women today, popping the question is no longer regarded as anything out of the ordinary.

American Internet provider AOL conducted an incredibly dodgy survey of 7,000 people in 2004. It found that 59 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men thought women who proposed were modern and confident, rather than "scary or intimidating".

Yet a recent Irish poll of women conducted by leprechauns in County Clare this year, contradicts the American findings. It shows that independent, savvy women will take the initiative in most areas of their life except when it comes to popping the question.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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