Sunday, February 26, 2012

Feminist Relationships: The Last Name Conundrum

This is the first of what I hope to be many installments of a weekly Feminist Relationships series.  This week's topic has been on my mind for the past couple of days since Jezebel linked to this study about how people in the Midwest are more likely than they were 20 years ago to judge a woman for keeping her last name when she gets married.  Apparently, ladies, this means that we aren't as "committed to our husbands" as name-changers if we choose to stick with the name we were born with.  Which I think is pretty unfair.

I have my mother's last name, which is not a common occurrence.  Sure, it was just because she got to the birth certificate before my father and they were unmarried, but it was still a point of contention for years.  I love my last name--it's unique and interesting, and I plan to have it for the rest of my life.  And if I were a man, I wouldn't even need to explain this.

Marriage is a patriarchal tradition in itself, what with it being a way for fathers to transfer their daughters from their property to their new husband's property back in the day, but that doesn't mean it isn't still relevant.  It's so relevant that legalizing gay marriage has been a massive and passionately-fought fight and is finally starting to be accepted in a number of states (way to go Washington and Maryland!).  I think that gay marriage's mere existence may help to take some of the patriarchy out of marriage--hold your horses, conservatives, that's a good thing--and make it a more egalitarian tradition.  So many things about weddings and marriage leave the two people involved on non-equal footing based on sex, and maybe that can change now.

The name change is the first symbolic act of submission in a long line of real acts of submission a woman is expected to perform within a marriage.  She is literally her husband's now; he didn't have to take her name to prove that he was hers but she sure had to prove she was his.  As awesome as my boyfriend's last name is, it's not mine and it never will be.  And fortunately, he could care less about that.

Yes, it's a red flag when your man cares about the keep-or-change question.  I know Cosmo will tell you that you should never bring up marriage on the first date, but for me this one's a dealbreaker.  Even if it's asked as an entirely hypothetical question, I tend to bring up the name change question on the first couple of dates because it is indicative of so much more than what's on the surface.

Anecdote redacted as requested by the person it's about. Let's just say I know someone who felt pressured to change her name against her instincts.

Now, I'm not saying that changing your last name upon getting married is bad.  I am a strong believer in the "I choose my choice" school of feminism, and if that is what makes you feel good about yourself you change that name.  I considered taking a previous boyfriend's name if we ever got married simply because it was so damn cool.  The problem comes when you change it because you're bowing to pressure from your future husband, his family, your family, or anyone else you know.  They can judge you all they want, it makes you just as committed to your marriage as any man should ever be considered to be.

Of course, as a last thought, this leaves open the question of who gets to give their last name to the kids.  I have made a hard-and-fast rule that boys can have the husband's last name and girls ca have mine and that's fine with me.  Lots of people go by the coin-flipping method.  A lot of people hyphenate, which is great but which would never work wit my already four-syllable-long last name.  I like the idea of leaving it up to equal 50/50 chance who gets to pass on their name.

I'm going to talk more about feminist weddings next week.  In the meantime, there are some interesting articles on this site about that very topic that you should check out.

Oh, and lastly, the boyfriend and I saw CMU's production of Sweeney Todd last night.  I would highly recommend it, if you get the chance you should definitely go see it!

1 comment:

  1. We get caught up in so much that is unimportant. The last name issue ought to be unimportant - something that people decide as their own choice. People mistake the 'trappings' of wedding for the wedding. The important thing is the public and permanent commitment of two people to be together without reservations.

    The piece of paper is important. The names on it are not.