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OPINION: Turner-Smith proposing to husband Joshua Jackson demonstrates the removal of traditional limits based on gender and the potential for all couples to find their authentic selves in their partnership.
Happily ever after. Ask any woman what she thinks about when she hears those words, you are likely to hear about her favorite movie where the woman is rescued from a situation and the man that she loves sweeps her off her feet, asks her to marry him, and they go on to live happily ever after.
From our earliest memorable moments in life, women and girls are told that the path to a successful relationship and marriage is following the existing cultural mandate of patiently dating someone for an undefined time period and waiting for that individual to decide to ask for your hand in marriage. If that day never comes, you are left to contemplate why it never happened and greater society sees you as a social failure.
Recently, actor Joshua Jackson revealed on The Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon that his spouse, the amazing actress Jodie Turner-Smith, was the person in their relationship that popped the marriage question. As you can imagine, the response to this bit of information set social media abuzz with discussions on whether or not it’s appropriate for a woman to propose to her man.
For members of Generation Z, we find these types of debates by older generations on social constructs like marriage fascinating. We watched as our social media accounts filled up with dramatic statements regarding the action by Turner-Smith to propose. Feelings were all over the place and some expressed concern that a woman proposing could doom the relationship. Some of us have even been advised by older people in our families to not “make the same mistake.”
As with many things in our society over the past two decades, the rules for relationships have rightfully changed. The traditional norms of society that once locked women, and only women, in a place of secondhand status in a marriage are being removed. Simple things that were once taken for granted, such as the woman taking on the last name of her husband, have been abandoned. As a third-year law student, all I have to do is look at my own mother and see that she rightfully protected her own self and identity by keeping her last name in her marriage to my father and embracing the powerful woman she had become as an emergency medicine physician.
There will be those, especially men, who will argue that the act of proposing is an important foundation for the traditional relationship between a man and woman. They will remind us that by men taking this action they demonstrate to their partner, and the partner’s family, that they are committing themselves to this person. They will continue to share with us the belief that if we remove this tradition, we will damage the institution of marriage itself.
Unfortunately, many who express this feeling miss many of the realities of the world that we currently live in. Those same individuals that will argue that this tradition of the man making the proposal to the woman is important will ignore that the traditional formula and roles of a married couple were already facing significant changes.
Marriage is declining. People are getting married later in life. Even power couples, like Bill and Melinda Gates, are getting divorced instead of staying married. I wonder if who got on their knee and proposed mattered when Bill and Melinda Gates were facing a point of no return in their marriage?
Gen Z understands our reality is one that the traditional stereotypes of who can be in a relationship and what their proper role has long been abandoned. As relationships and marriages are no longer tied to traditional gender roles, generations like Generation Z and Generation Alpha will not approach them in the same way. Our relationship and marriage stories are likely to be dominated by actions that older generations will find fundamentally different and, for many, shocking.
At the center of this debate is the false belief that if traditional gender roles are abandoned in ceremonial actions like the marriage proposal, that we are somehow as a society devaluing people who would lose their old rigid positions in those actions. If a man wants to propose, the action by Jodie Turner-Smith will not stop him from doing that.
Joshua Jackson openly sharing their marriage story with the public demonstrates the new reality of relationship dynamics in our world. The old rigid boundaries that defined gender roles in relationships were tied to a system that was built on the foundation of women being less equal and of lesser value.
The reality is that we should be celebrating the engagement story of Joshua and Jodie for the empowering story that it truly is. It demonstrates the removal of both traditional limits based on gender and the potential for all couples to find their authentic selves in their partnership. That is exactly the type of happily ever after we all are looking for in our own lives.
Haley Taylor Schlitz is in her third year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the youngest graduate in the history of Texas Woman’s University and is an elected delegate to the Texas Democratic Party and was elected and served as a Joe Biden Delegate from Texas to the Democratic National Convention.
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