The Last Standing Feminist*

*Well, I certainly hope not.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and it was brought sharply to mind by a post my cousin made on Facebook the other day. I know that he and I share opposing views on some things by virtue of the fact that he’s a practicing Christian of the evangelistic variety, but due to the fact that I can now “see where religious people are right and make use of what they have to offer,” I am able to meet on a common ground with him on a lot of things, love him completely and not just dismiss him out of hand. I am happy about that.

However, I knew that there would be days that one of us would say something that the other would positively not be in agreement with. That day came the for the first time just the other day. It wasn’t over homosexuality or abortion or some sort of tea party nonsense. It was when he made the statement (in sort of a very dramatic and definitive way) that he didn’t understand why women would get married and not take their husband’s name. That they just should do it, and get over it (mind you, a previous post was about how he was upset that his ex-wife hadn’t given up his name to go back to her maiden name, which I found somewhat amusing) and all of that business.

I definitely responded with several points about why a woman wouldn’t want to change her name, and mentioned the idea that marriage used to be (can still be) a purely financial exchange, pre-arranged, not for love, where the woman was treated as and included as part of a dowry/property exchange between two families. Not exactly romantic or really empowering.

There’s lots of other reasons. Professional. The idea that one remains an individual while creating a separate and whole union (the marriage). Maybe the guy’s name sucks. Or the woman is the last in the lineage of a particular name. Who knows. I most certainly would have no intention of changing my name in the event that I got married.

Here’s the stunner. For all the people I’ve known that I’ve considered really strong feminists … nearly all of them have changed their name to their husband’s last name. Some of them didn’t change their name when they got married, and then changed it later when they had children. I’ll tell you. I know my first duty as a feminist is to support everyone’s choices. I know that intellectually. So, okay. Do what you will.

But, really!? Especially the ones who went and changed it later. Because “they wanted to have the same name as their child.” Really? I just don’t get it. For all the people who end up divorced and mixed families and all that crazy bullshit that goes on these days, did they really think it would be too much to explain why they had a different last name than their child? Did they really think it would be too much to explain feminism? I don’t get it. Especially from these ladies, whom I’ve always considered such card carrying feminists.

Again. I know. Intellectually, my brain understands that it’s all good in the hood. Everyone gets to do what they want. But, my heart screams that the women’s liberation movement was just 40 years ago. We just got the RIGHT TO VOTE like in 1920. The right to VOTE. So, even all those Tea Party ladies who are all about running to the polls and making sure that their voices get heard and their agendas get pushed through and Sarah “Mama Bear” Palin and Michelle “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann get some press, well … they couldn’t VOTE or have a shitsay in the beginning of the LAST CENTURY (19th Amendment – 8/18/1920). Got it? Much less running FOR PRESIDENT or Governor or Congress or Mayor. Or going to college. Yeah? We square?

So, I guess that’s why it wigs me out that my friends who are intelligent and forward-thinking and pro-women are so quick to get in line with a patriarchial tradition. It makes me question if we aren’t making too light work of a hard matter, and if we aren’t taking for granted the hard-won battles that have changed the landscape of the American woman. The birth control pill and Title IX and Roe v. Wade. And question if we aren’t forgetting the fact that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Women still don’t make as much as their male counterparts, there’s still a lot of struggle to define balance between career and family and there’s an unspoken undercurrent of fear that men will never know – “Am I being discriminated against?” “Is that man going to try and harm me at this late hour?” “Why does that person feel the need to talk to me so condescendingly?”

And that’s just the nice, lily-white part of America. Take a look at the women in the rest of the world and at the darker part of the country and you’ll see domestic violence, the inability to take care of children on a shrinking income, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, torture and murder for simple things like sexual contact outside marriage, journalism, or anything else that certain societies decide they want to do.

So, I suppose in the grand scheme of things, what do I care if my friends change their names? I don’t know. It just seems like something to say that this is who I am, and I’m going to remain me, regardless of what else I do or the other partnerships and unions I create. There’s something essential and integral about a name, so I guess I just can’t see leaving it behind, even though I have the kind of name one might want to shed for a nicer, prettier, shinier one.

I’ll say it again, so we’re clear. I know that feminism is about making it so that everyone is equal – so that women get to make the same choices as men. So that I don’t HAVE to take someone else’s name, but my friend can still take her husband’s if she chooses. So, my friend can wear makeup at work, but I don’t have to. So someone can get an abortion and someone else can keep a baby. So, a woman can play sports and someone else can learn piano. So a man can become a teacher or a nurse and a woman can become a firefighter or a mathematician. Or a man can stay home with his children. That’s what it’s about. Allowing everyone the same freedoms and choices and the abilities to be who they want to be, away from social stereotypes.

But I think I can still have a preference, right?

(P.S. I didn’t get a chance to post this until today, so it occurred to me as I was walking in the door tonight; Hillary Rodham Clinton even changed her name, so I don’t know what the fuck to think.)

One thought on “The Last Standing Feminist*

  1. Then why do the feminists get all up in arms when a woman, by choice, decides to be a housewife? Keep the name, don’t keep the name, doesn’t bother me much, but please doen’t do the hyphen.

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