(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here.)
What is the tradition?
Before proposing to the woman, the man is supposed to ask her father's permission for her hand in marriage. This is sometimes watered down to asking for her father's (or maybe even both parents') blessing for the marriage.
What is the origin of the tradition?
For much of human history, women were continually under the guardianship of a male relative. While single, this would be their father; once married, their husband. Marriage literally passed control of the woman, her property, and her life from father to husband, so of course the father's permission was required.
Why do people still follow it?
Those who still involve asking the father's permission maintain that it is a gesture of respect to the bride's father. It is a way of giving him a head's up and allowing the father to make sure the man will be able to support his daughter.
Why is that crap?
Why just the bride's father? Even if the mother is also involved, why just the bride's parents? If the bride's parents are concerned and want to give approval that the man is a good match for their child, why isn't the groom's parent's also concerned that the woman will be a good match for their child and want to give their own approval? This stance explicitly puts the two parties to the marriage at different levels; the male party is treated as an adult and full member of society, while the female party is treated as a child who isn't capable of looking out for herself.
Not to mention that today, both parties to a marriage are usually legal adults who have lived on their own, away from their families of origin, for years. If a couple were young and moving directly from their parents' homes and protection into marriage, it could almost make sense to involve the parents and allow them to give final approval for the marriage take place. But even so - only if it were applied equally to both bride and groom. It's not necessarily the tradition per se that's sexist and degrading to woman, but primarily the unequal application of it.
Also, the "making sure he can support her" thing. Hello, twenty-first century. While there may be times in a marriage when one partner provides the financial support to the household to allow the other partner to pursue a non-income-producing endeavor (such as further education or raising children), there is no reason to assume it's the woman who has the lesser earning potential or higher likelihood of stepping out of the workforce.
What am I doing with this tradition?
I told my parents long ago, before any potential husband was in the picture, that if if anyone I dated ever asked for their permission, or their blessing, or anything along those lines, they were to tell him no, and then let me know about the situation so I could dump him.
If my parents had any qualms about my fiance, I would absolutely hear them out and take their opinion into consideration. Not because I'm a woman who needs their protection, but merely because my parents and I respect each other as adults, and I know they care about me and would only be looking out for my best interest. I also believe that my fiance would do the same if his parents expressed concern about our marriage. But it would be up to each of us to hear out our own parents, who know us well and have earned the right to provide input to our lives. Not for either of us to seek out the approval of the other's parents.
Also, I'll be the primary breadwinner for the next few years while Abe goes back to school.
How did/will you handle this tradition?
I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!
Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.