Is Asking Your Girlfriend’s Father For Permission Before Proposing Sexist?

Ryan Fan
Well, since I’m asking this question, you can probably tell where I am in my life, but I have had this question come up on more than one occasion.

A friend told me she would not want a boyfriend asking her father for permission to marry her. She said it was okay for a boyfriend to ask her father for a blessing, but it would be weird for someone to ask her boyfriend for permission. Another friend said he knew a lot of people who didn’t want their boyfriends to ask their fathers, since they thought it was sexist and it suggested women were a sort of possession between the father and the boyfriend. Also, why don’t boyfriends ask mothers as well, or why don’t women ask their boyfriends’ mothers?

Well, it can be a sexist practice and custom, but many men who are going to seek the approval of the girlfriend’s family are still going to do it out of a sign of respect. I know it’s something my girlfriend explicitly wants me to do, so perhaps each individual case is different and playing it by ear is the best strategy. But again, I also know many of my female friends would not want their boyfriends to ask their fathers.

In 2021, the practice of asking a girlfriend’s father for permission for marriage seems increasingly out of date. While men seeking to earn the respect of a family can be in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, perhaps I’m just overthinking it.

According to Liz Susong in Brides, the case for asking a father for permission is often that asking parents’ permission is a sign of respect. While most people and most women Susong talked to did not see the act as a necessity, many saw it as a potential husband informing the parents. Often the act was not performed in a transaction way, and many fathers tell potential sons-in-law something along the lines of “you didn’t have to ask.”

It isn’t always the father, and many might ask a mother or another person who’s close to the girlfriend. Again, each case is different but most want to show a sign of respect to their partners’ families.

But there are still many, for good reason, who see the act as sexist. One person told Susong:

“No woman is asking a man’s mother for permission to marry him. Why the double standard?”

Jill Filipovic at Cosmopolitan agrees it’s a deeply sexist practice. While as of 2015, a survey showed over three-quarters of men ask their partner’s father or parents for permission, but Filipovic shows the contrast that only 58 percent of brides say they knew a proposal was coming. This is a heavy contrast between men who asked their partners’ families and men who told their partners they were proposing and discussed it with them. Clearly, more men should discuss marrying their girlfriends with their actual girlfriends than with their families.

The practice of asking a father or parents for permission might be sexist, but some see it as a low priority issue in terms of gender equality. Women taking the last names of their husbands is another.

According to Filipovic, the custom generally comes from marriage being a property transfer. The act usually came with a dowry, and fortunately, much has changed since back in the day. Filipovic also questions the notion of respect, since respect for your partner in marriage should supersede respect for the parents.

I believe the act of asking parents for permission or a blessing should be a discussion between each individual couple. If, like in my case, asking for permission is what both people want, then it’s not problematic. But if a woman sees it as a sexist practice where she doesn’t want to be perceived as a business transaction or piece of property, then it is problematic. In the latter case, what’s intended as a sign of respect can actually be very disrespectful to the woman.

I find it to be a strange tradition, particularly in 2021. But this is where the world still is in many respects, as progressive as we may be. Ultimately, the practice is, yes, inherently pretty sexist when you think about it. But so is infringing on each woman and individual preferences and imposing dogma over choice.

There really is no easy answer to the question I’ve been pondering for the past week, but neither is any part of marriage itself or life for that matter. The answer to this question, on each individual case, is likely somewhere in the nuanced in between.

Photo by Alekon pictures on Unsplash

Originally published on P.S. I Love You on May 2, 2021.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me:

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