Tomorrow is the one day in four years that, tradition dictates, women can propose to men.
Apparently Leap Day was designated the day for women to take control thanks to an agreement between St Bridget and St Patrick in Ireland, and was intended to create a balance between the traditional roles of men and women in the same way that Leap Day itself creates a balance in the calendar.
I’m not entirely sure why Bridget might have thought that made any sense, but perhaps she lost the rest of the days in a game of Poker.
So here we are in a world run by men, where – at least in the culture Ted’s growing up in – women aren’t second class citizens but they’re not exactly equal either. As an evolutionary psychologist I’m not particularly fussed about that: I’ve never been particularly fond of sociology.
Looking back at our ancestors tells us a lot about the way we work, and looking at animals – particularly apes, but we’re related to everything from fish to birds to giraffes – can tell us more about the ways in which our ancestors would have behaved. Men will always strive for power, wealth and status more fervently than women because they have to. They’re competing for the greatest resource of them all: someone to share it all with.
Obviously that’s the slightly romantic version. Actually what they’re competing for is sex. They need to pass on their genes and as women are the ones who carry the great cost of bearing and delivering children they’re the ones, among most animal species, who get to be choosy. That’s why male peacocks need huge decorative tails (even though they increase their chance of being eaten) while female peacocks are brown; male ducks have bright plumage, female ducks are brown; male bowerbirds decorate their nests, females (who are brown) choose the ones with the best displays – not enough bright fluff? No thanks!
So evolutionarily speaking there’s a reason why men appear to have the power in our society. There’s a reason why they strive to have the most, the biggest and the best. Which is not to say I think it’s right that women still don’t earn as much as men or reach the positions they want to reach in their careers, but I’m not a sociologist.
But, sociology it may be, I am concerned that Ted’s growing up in a world where we’re still being told that women only get the same rights as men on rare “special” days four years apart.
Yes, it’s tradition. No, we don’t really take it seriously. But it’s still sending a message out, and that message is summed up by one of my favourite jokes:
“I always treat women as though they’re equal.” (Richard Herring)
I hope Ted will grow up treating everyone equally, and that one day – should he decide he wants to get married – it won’t matter who does the proposing or what day they do it on. I want him to live in a world where he gets to choose what he wants to do and who he wants to share his life with, and where he respects everyone else’s right to do the same.
By the time he’s old enough to make that kind of commitment he’ll be able to marry a woman or a man, and hopefully by then we’ll be starting to forget that there was ever a time when that wasn’t possible.
I hope there doesn’t have to be a special day for that too, but I don’t think old Bridget thought that far ahead.
Equality aside, I still want Ted to gather his resources together to attract a mate. Of course I want him to pass on his genes so I get to be a Nanna, but more than that I want him to be happy, loved and cherished. Whatever day it is.