It’s a Leap Year for those using the Gregorian calendar, noteworthy because we get an extra day in February to correct the slight difference between our calendar year (365 days) and the actual amount of time it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun once (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds). Over the last few days I’ve heard several news stories about the Leap Day tradition of gender norms being inverted, so that women are able to ask out or propose to men. I was either entirely unaware of this or perhaps I learn it and promptly forget it every four years, but Laura E. sent in a link to a set of vintage postcards posted at Slate that illustrate the existence of this idea in the early 1900s. The postcards present this upending of the accepted gender script as a terrifying situation for men, who become prey to suddenly emboldened husband-hunters:


“John! I have some thing to ask you. Don’t be in a hurry.”

“Ah, say Mabel, please let me go home?”

The dog: “Poor John. I see his finish.”

In a recently-published article on this tradition, Katherine Parkin points out that women in such postcards are often presented as larger, brawnier, and more aggressive than their poor male prey; the women empowered to ask men to marry them are inherently unfeminine:

For more on portrayals of gendered dating/proposal norms and the Leap Year exception, see the full Slate slideshow and Parkin’s article. Now excuse me, I’m going to go see about ambushing myself a husband.

[Full cite: Katherine Parkin. 2012. “Glittering Mockery: Twentieth-Century Leap Year Marriage Proposals.” Journal of Family History 37(1): 85-104.