This Image Challenges a Stubborn Gender Norm

April 21st 2017

Kyle Jaeger

One of the top photos on Reddit on Friday afternoon shows a young couple happily bucking gender norms.


The user who shared the photo had already proposed to his girlfriend. But she had apparently planned to propose, too — and decided to follow through.

The post called attention to the fact that gender expectations for marriage proposals remain stubbornly fixed in tradition.

The lack of empirical research on marriage proposals inspired Dr. Rachael Robnett, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada. In 2012, she set out to survey students at U.C. Santa Cruz — a famously liberal college — about having a women propose to a man. Her study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Research.

Of the 277 undergraduates her team surveyed, not one respondent said that they would want the woman in a relationship to pop the question. That was true of both men and women who participated.

"We did have some students who said that they don't really care either way," Robnett told ATTN:. "That's kind of progressive to say, 'oh whoever, it doesn't matter that much.' Nonetheless, it was still surprising that there was such strong traditional preferences at a very progressive institution."

The survey asked participants to submit an open-ended answer explaining their preference for a traditional proposal, and the most common response was an explicit "desire to adhere to gender role norms," Robnett said. "That's striking because in a lot of other domains of society, people — particularly college students — are enthusiastic about showing that they are flexible with respect to gender role norms, but with this particular question, they were quite enthusiastic about adhering to tradition."

Another common theme: many of the women expressed a preference for traditional proposals because they felt that it was "more romantic."


"The man proposes in a very special, unique way — and it's clearly a narrative that's something many people are exposed to and that gets ingrained from an early age," she said.

Since marriage proposals are still so deeply steeped in tradition, Robnett said she wouldn't be surprised if things began to change as people begin to challenge gender roles.

“This is a tradition that, until recently, has gone unquestioned," she said.