For those of you who daily keep abreast of the date (unlike me!) you will have noticed that today is February 29th. Yes, it comes but once every four years, the magical extra day added to the calendar’s shortest month, bumping up 2008 by an extra 24 hours.

The reason for this is practical. Adding an extra day ensures that we keep correctly attuned to the seasons, and don’t end up wearing jodhpurs and ear muffs when theoretically we should be basking in the golden glow of the sun and, excuse the language, sweating our tits off.

This has a strong historical precedent, and was first introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and later modified as the Gregorian calendar was developed (which is as far as my knowledge of its origins extends unfortunately). However, what is perhaps most significant about its sporadic quadrennial entry into our lives is the social significance it has: Yes ladies, get down on one knee and propose to your man!

February 29th is considered the only day when it is acceptable for a woman to propose to a her boyfried. Marriage is a tradition that is strongly rooted in the idea of male ownership over women. A woman takes a man’s name, moves into a man’s house, and then looks after the children. Of course, this has changed in contemporary Britain, and equality now forms a healthy basis of a lot of relationships. However, it is difficult to dispute that this is an institution that has its foundations in female disempowerment. A man takes a wife, a woman becomes a wife, she does not take a husband.

Speaking with a friend about the four-yearly phenomena of the leap year, she was horrified at the prospect of proposing: “I could never do that, it’s the man’s job to propose, I wouldn’t feel girly. It’s just not right, it’s weird.” I thought this was an interesting attitude. She is a strong, independent young woman, and yet she still believes that it is essentially transgressive for a woman to attempt to take control over her relationship in this way. But did her reaction express that of society in general? And If I am entirely honest, I was initially unnerved by the prospect of women proposing. It’s small-minded, and I am ashamed to admit that, although I can see essentially from where this concern emanates.

This lunchtime, a news report was filmed at a school where a female teacher got down on one knee and asked her partner to marry her as hoards of beady eyed kiddies looked on in amazement. It was a quirky news story, featured at the end of the programme and pedalled as “a good bit of fun.” It was entertaining, but surely millions of men (and women) propose to their partners everyday? While it is a leap year, does this sort of TV courage (while superficially inoffensive) promote that idea that it is not conventional for a woman to buy a ring? And what does this do but leave millions of women around the world unhappy and discontent, with marriage brochures clumsily stuffed under the bed, as they wait in anticipation for their partner, who has a lackadaisical attitude towards relationships, to propose, when if she felt comfortable taking the initiative they would probably both get what they want? Does media coverage of women proposing instil the idea that this is wrong?

Secondly, it’s considered comical for a woman to get down on one knee. Why? Because it is seen as an attempt to emulate male patters of behaviour. The gender boundaries are blurred, and this is where the humour arises. Yes, men traditionally have always tried to woo their loved ones in this way, but instead of seeing male marriage proposals as a template we as women have to follow, can’t we begin to cultivate our own stylised ways of asking for a hand in marriage? One that doesn’t involve recourse to a male stereotype? I think if we were to do this, then we could escape the belief that it is somehow inappropriate for a woman to propose any day of the year, and not one day every four when we’re told it’s ok to do. I do wonder how accepted it would be for such restrictions, however comical they were considered, to be place on male actions?

So basically ladies, if you want marriage, be proactive, do what you want and go get it when you want and how you want!