Leap Year and its extra day of February 29th is, in Western culture, traditionally the day when a woman can propose to a man.
This tradition is said to date from 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. St. Patrick then said that females could propose on this one day in February during the leap year. Bridget then proposed to St. Patrick, who graciously declined, but gave her a kiss and a beautiful silk dress as consolation.
In the 13th century, Scotland (allegedly) passed a law allowing women to propose to a man on February 29th. Any man who declined had to pay a fine, which might be anything from a kiss to a silk dress.
In some European countries, tradition dictated that any man who declined a woman’s proposal on February 29th had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves. Evidently the woman could wear the gloves to hide her ‘embarrassment’ at not having an engagement ring.
In these days of supposed gender equality, I started to wonder whether this tradition is now an anachronism. Society no longer ‘prohibits’ women from proposing, but does ‘custom’ still expect the man to propose?
Do we expect the man to take the initiative in our romance novels too? Or should the independent modern women we create in our novels today propose to their men?
What do the readers of romance novels want? Do they still want the man to propose, preferably in some romantic setting: candlelit dinner in luxury restaurant, exotic Caribbean beach, under the bridges of Paris– etc etc? Or are modern women quite happy to accept a woman’s proposal in a romance novel?