Friday, September 30, 2005

On naming names

Okay, so when the real problems of the world start to get me down (or everyone else has blogged about them already, and I have nothing to add), I can always count on the "Woman to Woman" column in the AJC for some low-hanging fruit, if only because dear Shaunti Feldhahn has a tendency to be an absolute tool. Like, all of the time. But today, my search for snarkable light reading brings me to their topic du week, "Should women still change their last names when they wed?"

My first reaction: Is this argument actually arguable anymore? Have we not, as a society, progressed to the point where the only answer to that question is, "Er, if they want to"?

My second reaction: Oh, uber-feminist Diane Glass, please don't come across as a tinfoil hat, conspiracy-theorist, tyranny-of-the-misogynistic-majority nutter. It's there, it's an option, but there's room for so much logic.

My third reaction: If I end up agreeing with Shaunti on this, I'm changing my name to Alberta and escaping to Canada to start a new life in Vancouver.

God wasn't listening to my pleas (but then, we knew that). Diane has this to say about name-changing:
A woman who marries in America today has no restrictions in marriage, other than those self-imposed. Changing your last name has been repackaged as a show of commitment to a relationship meant to rationalize kowtowing with sweet notions of femininity and wedded unity. But if you ask most men if they’re willing to change their last name in the interest of wedded unity you’ll likely be met with an astonished laugh and curt “No”. Among men, the idea of taking his wife’s name as his is considered a sign of weakness and submission.

Women’s rights are about having choice and I believe women have every right to ignore history for the sake of keeping peace. But women should acknowledge the real meaning behind this tradition and the message being sent to their offspring: Women’s identities aren’t as important as men’s. Brides may not want to take a stand on their wedding day. But a future without an eye to the past is like going forward blind.

Or, to sum up, women used to be totally subjugated, and taking a man's last name was a method of that subjugation, so taking his name, even if you do so willingly, means that you're all for subjugation. I think the "and are poisoning the cause of feminism for all time" is only kind of implied.

I will admit that there are times when symbols of past subjugation should be avoided, so as to avoid the mere perception of support of said subjugation. Case in point, the rebel flag, a big bone of contention here in the southeast. Rebel flag-wavers complain that they aren't racists, that they're just proud of their history, and that people shouldn't associate the flag with slavery because slavery is, like, so 150 years ago. The response is usually something in the neighborhood of, "So, what does that flag stand for now?" and the answers vary greatly but are universally weak.

But what if a symbol really has lost its original meaning? Or what if it has always had a more prevalent, less offensive meaning? Case in point, the current conservative temper tantrum over the Flight 93. Oh, my freaking God, it's shaped like a crescent. Yup, it sure is. A crescent, like the symbol of Islam. Grab the wife and kids, we're gettin' out of this crazy town.

Setting aside, for the moment, the question of why a symbol of Islam would be so objectionable, it's a crescent, y'all. It's like a circle, but with an arc missing, making it an incomplete circle. It's kind of like a horseshoe, very much like the letter C, precisely like a tasty, flaky French pastry. Does the fact that a tee-niney minority of people can see the devil himself in it make it so objectively evil that it should never, ever, ever be drawn, printed, planted in a field, served on a breakfast table, or used in the kourse of regular konversation?

For the record, Diane, there are plenty of reasons a woman might change her name that have nothing to do with subjugation. My mother did it because, among other reasons, her maiden name is Slovak and thus unspellable and occasionally mispronounced as "bull cock" (of course, she had no idea of what she was getting into with my father's last name). Other women do it because they don't want their kids to have to hyphenate, or because they like the idea of one family unit under the same last name. There are guys out there who are willing to give up their last names, and Los Angeles major Antonio Villaraigosa was Antonio Villar up until he met his wife, Corina Raigosa, and combined their names. And didn't it turn out well?

I'll agree that it's important for a woman to know what's been going on with her gender throughout history, to recognize what women have gone through and what progress they've made. It's important to know where we've come from, so we don't get complacent and end up back there. But you can't give a woman the right to choose for herself, and then complain because you disagree with the choice she made. I have the choice to wear or not wear makeup and high heels, and I choose to do both - live with it. If I choose to take my husband's name as well, you can live with that, too.

But just so you don't think Shaunti went all reasonable on us this week, here's what she had to say:
Like it or not, female name change is our societal convention. While some women need to protect their name recognition for professional reasons, many don’t. And when those women proactively choose to go against convention and not take their husband’s name, they are actually choosing to signal their independence from him … when interdependence is what marriage is about.

University of Virginia professor Dr. Steven Rhoads, author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously, put it to me this way, “Not changing her name does risk sending him a subtle, negative message. It emphasizes independence rather than emphasizing the fact that they’re connected. Men are used to being independent, and taking the same name is a way of emphasizing that times have changed and we are a team. That sense of being bound together, that she wants to be dependent in some way, brings out the best in men.”

For better or for worse, a woman’s name decision will send some sort of message to her husband. The reality is that a society that exalts independence — and produces a significant number of divorces — might benefit from exalting the benefits of true interdependence.

Oh, Shaunti, quit being such a freaking tool. If a man is so damned concerned about interdependence over independence, then he can change his name (or combine them, as with Tony V. above). If I choose to keep my own name, it'll probably have more to do with a best seller on the bookshelves with my maiden name on it than my independence. Maybe I'll hook up with another Slovak guy, and his name will be less pronounceable than mine. Maybe it'll just sound funny with my first name. Or yeah, maybe I'll get to the altar and realize that I like being ACG more than I'd like being ACSomethingelse. But what I know for sure is that I won't be standing at that altar with a guy who's going to take offense and freak out at something as minor as a last name. If your relationship is strong, it's because of communication and cooperation and all of the things that make for a strong relationship, not because of a couple of words and/or a hypen on a marriage license. And if Mr. Feldhahn isn't that secure in his manhood, then maybe I do feel bad for Shaunti.

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