Thursday, December 08, 2005

it's carnival time again.

the newest Carnival of Feminists is up at The Happy Feminist, and i highly recommend checking it out. of particular interest to me is the response to Linda Hirshman's Alternet article on stay-at-home feminists. though i haven't read the article myself, the reactions from bloggers that i hold in high esteem have been well-written and thought-provoking. Bitch Ph.D.'s My Married Radical Feminist Manifesto is particularly interesting (hey, what manifesto isn't interesting in some way or another? it's a manifesto!). i'm going to excerpt one small part of it, and then go on a small tangent from Dr. B's larger point. humor me.

To begin with, don't, for god's sake, change your name when you marry. What are the arguments for changing your name? "It's easier?" "It will make us more a family?" "It will be better for the children?" Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name.

to this proclamation i offer a rousing round of cat applause. nay, a cat standing ovation. i know many of you have a rotten tomato in hand already, but you know what? go ahead and throw it. i always try to be very civil and reasonable when it comes to the Great Name Debate, being generally respectful and non-judgemental of people's personal choices. but dammit, sometimes i get tired of all the explanations and the exemptions and the nuanced reasonings, and i just want to scream...well, something exactly like this.

amanda at Pandagon also made a very important point about the Great Name Debate and patriarchy a little while back:

...this post is to beseech my fellow feminists who made an un-feminist choice to change your name, please just own that choice and quit making excuses. It's seriously okay. Woman is not an island unto herself. And frankly, if we start blaming ourselves and other women for making choices that help them get by in the patriarchy instead of blaming the patriarchy for putting women in these situations in the first place, we come very close to agreeing to the conservo-bullshit that there's no such thing as oppression, just inferior people. With that in mind, please quit making these arguments excusing name-changing, because they are kind of embarrassing...

this is why, even though i have a pretty staunch opinion on the naming issue, i refuse to out-and-out condemn women who make choices that i myself would not make. it's the fault of the patriarchy that women are forced to sit around and agonize over this choice, and that men (by and large) don't really have to give it a second thought. i mean really, can you picture a group of men sitting around a table drinking coffee, moaning about how "i really want to take her name, but...i just don't know!"

i hate the fact that we're still going around and around on this issue, that 94% of women still choose to participate in a patriarchal holdout and take their husband's name (for whatever reason), and that ultimately this still divides women against each other more than anything else. but just because we recognize the ultimate underpinning of the whole debate is partriarchy itself, that doesn't mean that we can ignore the fact that the choices we make are also cultural statements.

now, speaking of owning un-feminist choices, the o.c. is on.


Toast said...

I was thrilled to death when my wife took my last name.

Roni said...

It really is such a pain in the ass to have to explain to people why I didn't take the hubby's name. Hello? It's because it's MY name!


Toast said...

If couples don't make a decision to share the same last name when they get married, then what, exactly, is the purpose of a surname? How does it get carried down to future generations? Endless hyphenated variegations? Some arbitrary scheme where daughters get the mother's name and sons the father's?

I know this will sound like an empty hypothetical to some, but if the tradition in our society was for the man to take the woman's name, I'd've been perfectly happy to take Tracy's name.

Of course, we could always just do away with surnames and that would end the problem. I could legally change my name to "Toast"...

kate.d. said...

toast, you raise good points. i think i find it easy to take a "don't change your name" position because i'm (as shake's sis eloquently put it awhile back) on the far left bank of the mainstream on a lot of issues, marriage being one of them. i honestly haven't quite sussed out why people get married at all, but that's a different conversation for a different day :)

i'm sort of fascinated by our obsession with names and the idea of names getting "carried down to future generations." obviously, the family unit is central to most societies, i don't debate that, but the way we choose to apply names/titles and the way we pass them along vary widely. and it's probably just because i myself don't plan on reproducing for the good of the species that i can be so blithe about the whole thing :)

in seriousness, though, i think that for people who are concerned about family continuity and such, we need to come up with something better than just falling back on the status quo because it's what we've always done.

GC (God's Child) said...

I once attended a lecture in school given by a teacher from, I believe it was, Kenya. He said that the surnames they give are just like the first names--whatever you want to name the kid. So wife and husband don't have the same name, and neither do the children. Nobody questions whether you are a family or not. Although, now, because of westernization, many people are changing their last names. The speaker himself had a very long name that had a special meaning. His daughter and his son had different names altogether which also had special meanings. Okay, I'm starting to blog in the comment section. let me shut up now.

Deborah said...

I didn't take my ex-husband's name, and we hyphenated our son's name. He (son) sorta hates it. People don't get it. It's the twenty-first fucking century, and I have had nothing but grief over the hyphenated son. I don't get it. It's like the 50s never went away.

I told my ex when we were getting married that I'd hyphenate if he would, but all of a sudden he was terribly attached to his name. Because, y'know, it's his identity. Guess what? Mine, too.

In response to Toast, the purpose of surnames is enormously varied, and carrying it down through generations has not, historically, been common. Eric the Red's son was Lief Ericson. His son was Somebodyorother Liefson. No surname was carried down.

Surnames, historically, were variable based on location, profession, identifiable features and so on. You get a surname just to distinguish you from the other folks with your same first name. Joe Smith is the Joe who is a Smith, as opposed to Joe Fletcher, the guy who makes arrows, or Joe Rosenbaum, the guy who lives near the red tree.

Names were passed down in families as a routine only when governments imposed it for tax collection purposes.

Betsy said...

My two daughters each chose a different name when they got divorced. My husband expected them to take his back and was apalled (tee hee) when one chose my maiden name and one chose one out of thin air. He saw it as a betrayal--I told him he was ridiculously old fashioned and didn't add that it was his fault for not being the most loving dad anyway (no point in that.. believe me) but I think it serves men right in a case like this. I think the father ought to EARN that privilege.

Toast said...

So what happens when two people with hyphenated names from each of their parents get married?

I dunno. Seems like a pretty harmless cultural tradition to me. Not saying it's for everyone. On the other hand, there's certainly nothing *wrong* with a woman taking her husband's name.

A story I related on Shakes' place a few months ago when this subject came up:

My first marriage: Wife kept her name. Wife and four sisters actually kind of *fetishized* their family name (so, yes, I know how annoying that hyper Name Pride can be). Marriage ended cold and childless.

My current marriage: Wife and I are crazy madly in love. Wife took my name. Wife wouldn't consider having it any other way.

Eh... Interesting correlation. I'll leave it at that.

kate.d. said...

nothing like the Great Name Debate to generate some comments! thanks for chiming in, everyone.

toast- i'd agree on leaving it at that, as names are obviously one small part of any infinitely complex relationship between two people, and drawing any large scale conclusions from one small differential would probably be reductive, no? :)

Toast said...

drawing any large scale conclusions from one small differential would probably be reductive, no? :)

But but but but...

That's my specialty!


Rana said...

It's a mixed bag among my friends. Some women have kept theirs. Some took their husbands' names because of tradition, but others because they disliked their own surnames. One couple ended up with him taking her surname, because he wanted more to be a part of her extended family than his own. Me, I suspect I'll keep mine (maybe taking his as a second middle name) -- partly because I like my name, and it's short, and easy to spell, and it goes well with the first, while D's surname is long, hard to spell, and would make me seem like the most Jewish person on the planet if paired with my first name (and I'm not).

Besides, we've already dismayed the traditionalists in the family by living together without being married -- what's keeping my name going to do that that hasn't?