Canadian band Magic! received international accolades for their song "Rude." The premise of the song is about a man asking his girlfriend's father for permission to marry her.
I was surprised to hear a new song about a ritual that seems so out of date given the modern times of normative cohabitation before marriage, rising egalitarian ideology, and increasing delay in marriage (meaning more people are well into adulthood before considering marriage). In the song, the singer refers to his potential father-in-law as an "old-fashioned" man. This echoes research findings that couples often enact gendered engagement roles and frame them positively as traditional and old-fashioned. This same study also found that most couples plan their engagement together, rendering the request a performance for his father-in-law and girlfriend, who often viewed it as romantic.
While still popular, there is some evidence that this ritual is up for debate. A Slate article this year asked, "Is it seemly or sexist to ask your future in-laws for their daughter’s hand in marriage?" Notably, the lyrics to "Rude" reference seeking the father's blessing, rather than permission. While permission invokes imagery of women as property, blessing implies the request is symbolic of respect rather than objectification.
In the song, the girlfriend's father says no to the request to marry his daughter. The boyfriend labels him rude and insists he's going to marry her anyway. Responding, Benji Cowart parodied the song to tell the "dad's side of the story."
While it's telling that he refers to his daughter as a princess and threatens violence if his daughter elopes, what stands out the most was why the dad found the boyfriend un-marriageable. In the late 1980s, William Julius Wilson called attention to the association between joblessness and rates of female-headed families, referred to as the male marriageable pool index. Recently, the Pew Research Center released survey data that found men's steady employment is important to women in choosing a partner. This parallels research findings that Professor Philip Cohen and I are working on (previewed here).
At last, another parody video was created with the "daughter's side of the story." She rejects outright the premise that either man in her life should make decisions for her. After pointing out how outdated the concept is, that women are not possessions, and that these are controlling actions, she asks, "How about what I say?"
Although couples are increasingly deciding together to get engaged, proposals continue to be performed, largely by men for women. A 2012 study found that 2/3 of college undergraduates "definitely" want a man to propose, often citing gender roles, tradition, and romance. An exception to this cultural ideology appears during Leap Years in some countries when superstition allows for women to propose to men. For example, in Scotland and Ireland, on February 29th, women propose to men. They made a movie about it, so it must be true.