A Very Cryptic Phrase on Fading American Customs

I read the following extremely cryptic phrase on Inside Higher Ed and couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to mean:

In today’s Academic Minute, Monmouth University’s Katherine Parkin examines a fading American custom that made it acceptable for a woman to propose marriage.

This has an eerie feel of a dystopian novel about the future where Fundamentalists have won, women are back to being chattel, and a sad academic of the future wistfully discusses the good old times when – as impossible that is to believe – women didn’t just sit there patiently, waiting to be proposed to.

Soon, we will read about “the fading American custom that made it acceptable for a woman to want nothing to do with marriage altogether.”

17 thoughts on “A Very Cryptic Phrase on Fading American Customs”

  1. I think this is a belief about Leap Day/Leap Year (I think whether it goes just for the day or the whole year varies by region), with women-asking-men being just one example of inverting the usual social norms. Really it’s a form of carnival, in the Bakhtinian sense: letting off steam, doing something the reverse of normal.

    But you know I already agree with you about the silliness surrounding marriage, proposals, etc., in American culture. Getting married should be a mutual discussion and decision, not a surprise.

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      1. What the sentence means is, a custom that made it acceptable for women to propose marriage back in a time when it was not normally acceptable for them to do so.

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    1. Getting married should be a mutual discussion and decision, not a surprise.

      Indeed,having been raised outside the USA I recall stories told by my parents and their friends and they all decided to get married by sitting one day in the couch and saying “I think we are ready, what do you think?”.

      Among my high school friends, none of them proposed in the American sense (knee down, overpriced carbon form on a ring).

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  2. Come to think of it, I have a friend from grad school who got married on February 29, 1964, so that he and his wife would not have to celebrate their wedding anniversary so often. He is no longer married to this woman.

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  3. During the 19th and early twentieth centuries, when it was socially unacceptable generally for a woman to propose marriage, February 29 – the leap year extra day – was a socially accepted exception. It was widely used for that purpose, certainly in Britain and, I believe, in the United States.

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  4. That is a confusingly worded sentence. At first, I thought it meant that there’s some sort of fading tradition and the fading of that tradition has allowed a woman to propose. But from what I gather based on your remarks, it’s supposed to be the woman proposing that’s the fading tradition? Oh, now I see–I extrapolated too much from the phrase “fading tradition.” I was initially reading it through my own viewpoint. It’s still confusing, though.

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  5. It’s definitely a bad sentence. “Higher education” indeed.

    Re: American marriage proposal customs — how Americans talk about how they do things and how they actually do things don’t always match, for a variety of reasons. Marriage proposals, for example: a lot of the stuff we think is “customary” in the US is simply stuff that we see in advertisements, movies, and television shows. In the real world (from my own personal observation) hardly anyone does that surprise! down-on-one-knee-ring-box couples-only marriage proposal thing. Most people sit and talk about it and decide it that way like you said it should be done. Sometimes they’ll put on a whole show of going out to a restaurant and having the guy do this “traditional” act, which probably was popularized by some movie somewhere (I’ll look it up someday — I’m not all that interested in marriage customs to tell you the truth). But it’s all an act. No one takes it seriously as a “custom.”

    What I find more annoying about American marriage customs is the way marriage is put up on a pedestal here, like it’s the pinnacle of human achievement. No, it’s just you decided to live with someone and maybe make babies. You aren’t doing anything rare or exceptional.

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    1. “What I find more annoying about American marriage customs is the way marriage is put up on a pedestal here, like it’s the pinnacle of human achievement. No, it’s just you decided to live with someone and maybe make babies. You aren’t doing anything rare or exceptional.”

      – Golden words. Golden.

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  6. “What I find more annoying about American marriage customs is the way marriage is put up on a pedestal here, like it’s the pinnacle of human achievement.”

    I notice, though, that it’s not just here that it’s pretty much required. If you don’t do it (and don’t have kids), something is wrong, you have unfinished business, etc. The country in which people have been the most shocked at me for not being married is Chile, for example.

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    1. “I notice, though, that it’s not just here that it’s pretty much required. If you don’t do it (and don’t have kids), something is wrong, you have unfinished business, etc. ”

      – Tell it me who was forced to marry at 19 to save the family’s honor.

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