Why is this archaic wedding tradition still happening?

Just because something is a tradition doesn't mean it's good, writes Kasey Edwards.

Just because something is a tradition doesn't mean it's good, writes Kasey Edwards.

My friend is getting engaged. There's so much to do. The ring. Setting the date for the wedding. Choosing which Bryan Adams songs to include in the engagement party playlist.

But everything's on hold, because her father is overseas.

That's right, the happy couple is waiting until the bride's father returns so her boyfriend can ask her dad's permission to marry her.

It's not just my friends who think it's a good idea for two men to make decisions about a grown woman's future. There are even groom websites debating whether it's best to ask a father for his "permission" or his "blessing".


This particular website, subtitled Get Married Like a Man, encourages grooms to "Man Up" and suggests that, "The number one reason for not going through with asking her father… is that the groom is too scared of, or intimidated by him."

Some men even seek permission from their future father-in-law before they pop the question to their girlfriend — as if their girlfriend's opinion on the matter is a minor detail.

Why do women put up with this? Some women say it's romantic and respectful. Others just chalk it up to harmless tradition.

It's anything but harmless. In the good old days, a suitor negotiated with another man for his daughter as if she was no more than property. That's because she was no more than property.

A marriage was a transfer of ownership from the father to his daughter's new male owner who would then expect her to be financially and sexually subservient. That's not an exaggeration. 

As English jurist and judge Sir William Blackstone put it in 1765, "The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything."

Back then it made sense for a man to ask for a daughter's hand in marriage because he was essentially closing a business deal with another man.

But today when most women want to be equal in a marriage, this "quaint little tradition" is at best bizarre. At worst, it is a precedent for sexism and inequality that will come after the "I do".

Women's battle for equality in marriage is still being waged. I know of women who have been given sex quotas by their husbands. In essence, they remain sexually subservient as well. Add to this the frightening statistics around rates of domestic violence and you can see that many men still do consider their wives property for them to own and control.

If this ritual is just about parental respect and not perpetuating sexism, then why aren't women involved in process? Grooms rarely ask mothers' permission to marry their daughters, even though a mother would probably be better equipped to make a judgement about what makes a good husband.

And how often do brides ask permission to marry someone's son? That would be crazy, right? Men are free and capable of making up their own minds about how they want to live their lives. Whereas daughters… wait, what?

Whichever way you look at it, this tradition emerged from a place of misogyny, where men believed they had the right to control every aspect of women's bodies and lives.

If my husband had asked my father for my hand in marriage, there wouldn't have been a marriage. And it has nothing to do with my father's relationship with my husband. The reason is that my decision to marry has nothing to do with my father. Full-stop.

The disrespect my husband would have shown me by treating me like a child incapable of making my own decisions would have been a deal breaker.

This ritual symbolically diminishes the independence and degrades the status of women. It's baffling that people still think that it's appropriate, romantic even, to start to a marriage in such a way.

Just because it's a tradition doesn't mean that it's good. The treatment of women as a possession of men ought to be consigned to history's dustbin — along with any ritual that perpetuates such ideas.

Kasey Edwards is a writer and best-selling author. www.kaseyedwards.com