Leap year freakery: why 29 February isseriously weirdIts a big year 2012, a year fat with events. This summer theres the Olympics (double PE withan inflated sense of self-worth and even more rules about plimsolls), theres the end of theworld itself in mid-December (argh!), and before that, on 29 February, theres Leap Day, theone day every four years when women are encouraged to propose to their boyfriends.One day every four years. One day out of 1,460. Thats around 0.068% of the time, comparedwith, like, 100 minus 0.068% of the time, when its thought to be completely inappropriateand really quite gauche. Thats weird, isnt it? Seriously – isnt it? I do have to ask, because Iknow sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes I think things are weird and then they turnout to be completely unweird, like keeping condiments in the fridge, or belief in God, so I doneed to be told. It feels like bad maths, more than anything. It feels like the marriageequivalent of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, a day of mild hysteria and awkward chatabout GCSE options. A day that occurs so infrequently it seems to revel in its oddness, itswrongness – its the antique stamp with a missing perforation, a thing whose abnormalityadds value.And it happens on 29 February. Because this is a day that shouldnt really exist. Its a blip onthe calendar. Its out of time. Its the midnight of the year – a no-mans land, a gauzy curtainbetween night and day, a time when ghosts appear. Leap Day is the day when weird thingsare allowed to happen, when the usual structures can melt just slightly, when spoons bendand women are given this inch of power, this moment they can ask for what they want.The American tradition, Sadie Hawkins Day, is based on a 1930s comic-strip character whowas so ugly no man would ever propose to her. Some historians believe the British tradition(dating from the 19th century) spans the whole leap year. Others say it was tightened to justone day as men felt too vulnerable: if women were planning to propose, they were expectedto wear red petticoats as a warning – the opposite of a red rag to a bull; a sign for the manto run away. Online, postcards from leap year 1908 show women catching men with butterflynets, and old maids with many chins setting silver bear traps.But its not that women actually do propose on the 29th – its that the day highlights the factthat the rest of the time its the mans decision. In the "tradition that legitimises thesubjugation of women" charts, its right up there with the taking of the husbands name, isntit. As a day of pseudo-strength, when the woman is gifted a few hours of power, it servesonly to underline her powerlessness the rest of the year, the rest of the four years.
Why do we perpetuate this bizarreness? Why today, when its widely realised (in myextended world at least) that men are no more afraid of commitment than women, why mightthey feel emasculated by a proposal in 2011 but not 2012? And what would happen if womenwere encouraged to propose marriage whenever they were ready for it? Would morerelationships shatter? Would the high street be a parade of weddings? Would Britain turninto a 3D-version of Bridezillas, one long, long hen night, the sky dark, sunlight obscured bypenis-shaped deely boppers, a wave of black sambuca slowly washing all rubble, all mini-sausage rolls away to sea?Or would it be, sort of, OK? Would it help make us all less freako about relationships?Would it help make women less anxious, less driven by "rules", and men more likely tophone them the day after simple sex? I do have to ask, because sometimes I get things wrong.