Today we celebrate a holiday so rare that it only comes once every four years: Leap Day. Traditions associated with Leap Day include throwing huge parties for (/making fun of) those unfortunate enough to have been born on February 29th (“So are you seven or twenty-eight today?”), and women asking men for their hands in marriage. Wait, what?
That’s right: for those of us (myself included) who missed out on the 2010 Amy Adams rom-com Leap Year, apparently there exists an obsolete tradition imploring women to flip the gender script and propose to their dearly beloveds — so long as they do it on the 29th of February. The origins behind this myth are rather dubious. Luckily, the fine folks at Slate prepared this history lesson to educate the rest of us on the rich cultural significance of everyone’s favorite quadrennial holiday (Election Day enthusiasts notwithstanding).
While the ostensible purpose of the tradition was to invest women with a little more authority with regard to their love lives, it inadvertently gained notability as the butt of many an early twentieth-century joke, as seen in this slideshow, which features postcards that date back to as early as 1907. The majority of the images depict female proposers as homely, physically imposing, and decidedly desperate.
Leap-year-postcard artists often drew women resorting to violence in their attempts to get a man to marry them and showed women as bigger, stronger, and more forceful than men. “These domineering women were commonly depicted as unattractive aggressors,” writes Parkin in “Glittering Mockery: Twentieth-Century Leap Year Marriage Proposals.” Evidently, the woman in the red dress is so unappealing that she needs both a dagger and a hatchet to get this guy to agree to marry her.
We suggest avoiding all of them as potential Leap Year greeting cards. Maybe try a someecard instead?