Every year my seniors read Moliere’s Tartuffe. In that play is a scene in which Orgon orders his daughter to break off her engagement with the man she loves and marry the evil Tartuffe. She begs him not to force this and asks his permission to marry the man she wants.
“Haw haw haw!” I chuckle at this point. “Tartuffe was written in the 1600s. Nothing like this happens today!”
Or . . . ?
I bring up a web site on my SmartBoard that asks questions and lets the students text their responses so we can see how the class as a whole answered. The answers are always a little shocking. Look here:
The question reads, “A man should ask the woman’s father for permission to marry before he proposes.” The students could choose TRUE (if they agree), FALSE (if they disagree) and NOT SURE.
In the first class, 23 said TRUE and 9 said FALSE.
In the second class, 22 said TRUE and 2 said FALSE.
Overall, 45 said TRUE and 11 said FALSE. Only 5 were unsure.
Then I asked this: “A woman should get her father’s permission to marry.”
16 said TRUE. 15 said FALSE. 9 were unsure. (I didn’t get a picture of the other class, but responses were slightly higher in favor of TRUE.)
And before anyone asks if this is a weird group of students, I have to tell you–this is the norm. So much so, in fact, that I have a set of canned try-to-make-them-think responses:
“So what happens if the guy asks permission and the dad says no?” (Today more than one student shouted, “Marry her anyway!” To which I said, “Then why ask?” Another group of boys stated vehemently that if Dad says no, you end the relationship. “If the dad doesn’t like you, you don’t want to marry her,” they said.)
I also ask, “Ladies, what happens if dad says, ‘Yes! Welcome to the family, son! My gosh, I have to make some phone calls and tell everyone.’ And then your boyfriend pops you the question–and you don’t want to marry him?”
This is usually met with silence.
“Awkwarrrrd!” I add.
“It’s the right thing to do,” the girls maintain. “And it’s romantic!”
“Is it?” I ask. “I’d find it creepy and insulting that everyone else was consulted about my own marriage before I was, like mine was the last opinion that mattered. But that’s just me.”
The class folds its collective arms and glares at me. Psh! What does this old guy know about anything? He’s an idiot!
Occasionally, I’ll get a student who maintains that the asking is a pretty gesture–cute, but ultimately meaningless. Like putting flowers on a table.
“You may see it that way,” I respond. “But your fiance and father may not. When the marriage starts on the assumption–however cutesy–that you are second-class, you’re potentially signing on to a lifetime of similar treatment. You expected–allowed–it to happen once. Why shouldn’t the behavior continue? Should the boy drive on a date?”
“Yes!” This is always the answer.
“Why not meet him there, ladies? That way, if things go pear-shaped, you don’t have to figure out how to get home. Does the guy always have to make the first move and ask the girl out?”
“Yes!” Again, always with this.
“What happens if the guy is too shy, or doesn’t get the chance to ask you? You’re giving up on a potential relationship, ladies, because of social pressure you don’t even realize you’re caving into.”
“If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen,” said one of my students today.
“That’s what Snow White said from inside her glass coffin,” I countered. “Good thing the prince decided to go riding that day. What if he hadn’t? Maybe things would have gone a little better for Snow White if she’d grabbed the apple and smacked the old woman on the head with it. Then she could’ve ruled an entire kingdom as queen instead of just marrying a prince.”
More folded arms. More glares. Seriously, what does this old guy know?
Feminism is dying before our eyes on the triple-bypass operating table, and I’m in the weird position of being a middle-aged white man trying to convince a bunch of young women that they should be treated like people and not like a sack of eggs.
No wonder we have scandals like Gamergate, climbing college campus rape rates, and the utter failure to address income inequality between men and women. Part of me wants to say, “Okay, fine–you want a world in which you’re treated like crap? Have at! No skin off my nose. I’m a white male. I don’t have any daughters. I won’t suffer as your rights are eroded.”
But I keep knocking my head against the wall.
–Steven Harper Piziks