The history behind why women propose to men on February 29th
February 29th isn’t only Leap Day — it’s also known as Bachelor’s Day, the traditional day of the year when women get down on one knee and propose to their partners. Let’s real talk for a second: That’s kind of messed up. Women do not need a specific day of the year to be told they’re allowed to propose, especially a day that only comes along once every four years. That said, we got kind of curious about this strange day and decided to peer into the rich (and debated) history of this problematic day.
The holiday is hundreds of years old, and though the exact origin is uncertain, there are several theories — including a law passed in Scotland by Queen Margaret back in 1288 that allowed women to propose and fine men who refused. Of course, the law is no longer in effect, but the February 29th tradition still stands.
Others believe Bachelor’s Day originated in fifth century Ireland, where Christian nun and saint of Ireland, Saint Brigid of Kildare, asked Saint Patrick to instate a day celebrating women dropping down on one knee. It’s important to note that some historians doubt whether Brigid ever really existed.
These days, Bachelor’s Day has a bad rap because sexism. “Instead of transforming it into an accepted practice, the popular culture mocked and belittled women’s proposals,” historian Katherine Parkin of Monmouth University wrote in a 2011 article on Leap Year marriage proposals. “Scorned and ridiculed for trespassing against male privilege, along with those who wore pants or participated in politics, female proposers learned that seeking rights threatened those who held power.”
As Parkin explained to the Washington Post, the idea of a woman proposing to a man is still shrouded in negative stigma. “In the end, the leap year custom helped ensure that men continued to hold the power in matters of matrimony,” she writes.
As The Guardian notes, there aren’t many instances of women proposing to men in popular culture and literature, but we can find instances of Bachelor’s Day from literature in the past couple centuries, such as Catherine Arrowpoint in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and Polly in Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate. In 2010 the film Leap Year, starring Amy Adams, put the February 29th tradition into movie-form.
Although we applaud the air of female empowerment that surrounds the day, we have to agree with Parkin when she says it does more to belittle women’s power than to enhance it. It’s 2016, and women should be able to talk about their futures and desires with their partners openly, instead of being forced to treat it like yet another patriarchal tradition. We don’t need a designated day to tell us to propose. If you feel like popping the question, pull a Monica and get down on one knee. And guess what? You can do it on any damn day of the year.