Leaps and bounds
So, February 29th comes round once more in its four-year trajectory through our lives, and on the stroke of midnight on February 28th, women all over the world will no doubt be queuing to pop the question to their beloveds and ask their hands in marriage. There are numerous theories as to when this particular tradition was invented: one version dates back to Ireland in the 5th century, when St Bridget complained to St Patrick that women had to wait such a long time for men to propose to them. In his magnanimity, the venerable saint decreed that on February 29th women would be allowed to propose to their sweethearts.
Well that sounds fair and equitable doesn’t it? I hope the women of Ireland were duly grateful for this rare opportunity. February 29th was considered to be not a ‘real day’ and therefore not bound by the customs of the law, so the Scots are said to have taken the process a step further in 1288 by passing a law allowing women to propose to men on that day. Those men who refused the offer of marriage had to pay some sort of fine. One such sanction was an order to buy the unwanted woman 12 pairs of gloves, with the understanding that by wearing them she would be able to hide the fact that she was unmarried and had no wedding ring to sport.
I also discovered a parallel tradition in the US regarding women proposing to men called Sadie Hawkins Day; Miss Hawkins was a character in a comic strip called Li’l Abner, http://lil-abner.com/ who at 35 was still unmarried (perish the thought). Her worried father decided to organise a running race where the spinsters of the town were allowed to chase the bachelors, and any man who was caught had to marry his captor. This was introduced into the storyline in 1937, and the idea caught on. By the 1950s, Sadie Hawkins Day was being celebrated each November across the country – a day of gender role reversal when women could ask men out on a date.
Now that women are free to propose marriage at any time to anyone of any sex of their choosing, I thought it might to be time to suggest some alternative new traditions in the spirit of feminist misrule created for February 29th all those years ago. Here are my suggestions, but feel free to write in with some of your own, with the understanding that we only expect it to happen for one day:
- Women are actually paid the same rate as men for the work that they do.
- Women aren’t expected to be brilliant at multi-tasking and juggling, and instead are allowed to concentrate on one thing at a time.
- The housework really is split 50:50.
- There are equal numbers of men and women around the boardroom table.
- There are more women than men heads of state.
You can of course indulge in some wonderfully frivolous escapism and watch Leap Year, where a would-be bride plans to lure her boyfriend to Ireland for February 29th so she can propose to him. Unfortunately, things don’t run quite as smoothly as planned. It reminded me of Bridesmaids, only of course minus the critical ingredient – a wedding, but you can see the trailer on Youtube.