Marriage Proposals: Business Negotiation or Disney Movie Denouement?

This article originally appeared on Lip mag 
(http://lipmag.com/culture/marriage-proposals-business-negotiation-or-disney-movie-denouement/)

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So, before I start I’ve got to admit I’m feeling a little bit like a radical feminist troll at the moment because every time I go on mamamia.com.au, “feminist” women’s news blog site, I find something I vehemently disagree with. A few weeks ago I blogged in response to their cute little playlist for women to continue doing the majority of unpaid household labour to, arguing that we should ‘boycott all of that mumsy-“I-enjoy-cleaning-once-I-put-some-cute-indie-pop-rock-on!”-post-feminist-let’s-all-have-it-all-bullshit’. I fully recognise that feminism is diverse and multifaceted, with pockets that resonate with some women more than others and that this difference is legitimate and important; however, for a website that claims to provide coverage of the things that ‘all women’ are interested in and talking about, I find some of their content a bit questionable.

My latest beef with Mamamia is Natalia Jastrzab’s opinion piece on the rise of (gasp) ‘the mutual proposal’. Jastrzab’s opinion (which she is wholly entitled to) is that mutual marriage proposals are nightmarishly unromantic, her personal preference being that a man proposes traditionally to her. By annoyingly referencing a scene from the first Sex & The City movie, in which protagonist Carrie and her love interest Mr Big unceremoniously decide to get married over the domestic banality of chopping vegetables, Jastrzab claims that ‘the mutual proposal is gaining traction in the relationship landscape.’ According to Jastrzab, there is this growing trend of partners discussing their romantic life paths as equals and coming to mutual decisions instead of the traditional feigning surprise and excitement when your long-term beau decides to make you his wife. I fail to see how the traditional view of marriage can make sense in the same way in a time where long-term de facto cohabitation and even not marrying at all are both socially acceptable and widespread. The bride dressed in white to symbolise virginity and purity. The father giving away the bride. It all seems rather anachronistic.
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Jastrzab’s article sports the demanding title ‘I don’t want a mutual proposal. I want the guy to ask me.’ Sounds a bit Varuca Salt, to me. But who can blame her? As women we are still being socialised to aspire to old-school life paths, with a wedding still being seen as “The Most Important Day Of Your Life.” As Jastrzab also points out, the proposal is up there in The Most Important/Romantic Things That Will Ever Happen To You Ever. Forget that time when you woke up hung-over next to your partner with a bag full of cold McMuffins that the guys from the party last night stuffed through the letter slot in the door on their way home at four AM. Or that time when he tried to read you The Iliad as a bedtime story but couldn’t pronounce all the names. All that stuff could never compare to the way he pops the question. It’s every little girl’s dream: ‘ever since I can remember I’ve always held up the proposal as the romantic event to beat all romantic events.’

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Elle didn’t get the proposal she was after In Legally Blonde…

Reading this I almost felt a bit cheated. I’ve never had that fairy tale, Barbie princess, hetero-normative fantasy. My parents weren’t married and they never really made a thing of it. Love is just love. You don’t need a big self-indulgent circus to justify it. But if that’s your thing, that’s fine. I’ll come and help myself to the open bar and make some drunken speech about how I always knew you were right for each other, especially after that time when we were all living together and you used to accidently steal each others socks. And I don’t care how you decided to put it all on. We should be grateful that we can even have this argument, considering that non-heterosexual couples still don’t get much of a choice either way in many places. For couples who have to travel inter-state, or even internationally to get hitched somewhere where it is actually legal, this involves significant negotiation. Jastrzab’s traditional hetero-normative view of the romantic marriage proposal potentially brands these already marginalised relationships as unromantic because they may not involve the ol’ ‘will you be my lawfully wedded wife?’ Q-bomb.

It shouldn’t matter whether you’re sitting around in your kitchen wearing oversized band t-shirts and smelly socks or if you’ve booked a table for two at the swankiest restaurant in town and have a speech prepared. What really matters is the connection between two people who want to spend (pretty much) the rest of their life together. Even if it takes putting up with their facetious jokes and Star Wars references that you don’t understand.

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Four Eyes (take your glasses off so I can get a look atcha)

I wear glasses and have done for quite a while now, and a recent altercation I had with a creepy old stranger got me thinking about how women with glasses are portrayed in popular culture and the implications this has for bespectacled femininity in the real world.

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So I’m going about my business when this old geezer attempts to flatter me by saying how pretty I am (and how I should go away with him in his Winnebago), but he stops his lecherous tirade to ask:

“Would you mind taking off your glasses so I can get a better look at you?”

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This got me thinking about what our dominant Western idea of feminine beauty is and how short-sightedness really doesn’t factor into that. Barbie didn’t wear glasses, unless she was being a (sexy) secretary, or a teacher or something. Glasses for women are not seen as a permanent fixture of their physical identity, but an amusing costume piece that can be coquettishly removed when serious (sexy) stuff is about to go down.

Think about all the times in movies when women wear glasses- more often than not, towards the end of the film, the four-eyed heroine will undergo a Cinderella-like transformation in order to be an acceptable (sexy) partner for the male love interest/hero, and no longer a strange, intelligent, feisty, mysterious, frump.

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Then there is the converse of this- the sassy, cute, extravert, socialite, (dare I say it) ‘bimbo’ will slap on some frames to look clever, serious and boring in order to intimidate her social prey. (For example, in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods puts on glasses to go to Law School to win back her ‘himbo’ {male bimbo} boyfriend). Glasses have gained popularity in this vein with the recent trend in hipster glasses, thick black Ray Bans (or equivalent), sometimes even worn without lenses… I don’t know if this is good for women who actually need prescription glasses, or insulting…

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What is it about glasses on women in mainstream Western popular culture that just seems to say smart, cunning, over-achieving, cold, quirky bitch? (Is this necessarily a bad thing?) And why can’t a woman protagonist/character/love interest be successful in (heterosexual) love as well as in her job/education/whatever and still sport a pair of specs?

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I think it, again, comes down to the ways women are represented in relation to technology in our culture – Glasses imply culture and intelligence through (apparent) prolific reading (or just not eating enough carrots as a kid?), which was traditionally a pursuit of the male academia. Also, glasses themselves, are a visible technology, a contraption, an apparatus that obscures the ‘natural beauty’ of the feminine face.

I received a catalogue from my optometrist recently in which there was an advertisement for contact lenses targeted specifically at women, because (it was implied) glasses are more of a hassle for women than they are for men. In the ad there was a picture of a dowdy, bookish and clearly unhappy woman in thick black glasses, then voila! There she was with no glasses, make up and (sexy) clothes. All better.

I guess I just wanted to say to the next creep who tries to chat me up only on the condition that I remove my glasses:
I reject the sexist cultural assumption that women in glasses are irritatingly bookish and intelligent, but once they take them off they will miraculously morph into docile hyper-feminine fuck puppets!

The glasses are staying on.

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