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I advocate feminism; I will also take my future husband’s last name. So?

July 30, 2010

Cross-posted at Small Strokes Fell Big Oaks blog for the series on feminism and relationships.  If you’d like to submit a guest post for this series at Small Strokes, see the guidelines here and submit your post to samsanator(at)gmail(dot)com.

I have issues with feminism. Wait, let me re-phrase that: I have issues with feminists telling me what feminism is or isn’t. What feminism should or shouldn’t be. Telling me that I’m not a feminist or I am in fact a feminist because of certain actions and life choices that I make. Thankfully it was bell hooks who proclaimed “I advocate feminism” so that I don’t need to prescribe to feminist rules.

Sometimes my personal life does not run parallel to feminism. Not against it; it’s just a different entity. The relationship with my significant other is one of them, for many reasons.

First off: we have a very equal relationship which would be so-called “feminist.” In the past, I have been in relationships where one person is needier than the other (by means of more attention). I have been in relationships where I have been put on the pedestal and almost fawned over. But no, my significant other and I are different. We both respect each other deeply. We are considerate of each others’ feelings. We adore each other equally. We listen and communicate well.

On the flip side, though, our relationship is very traditional. He will be a medical doctor and I’ll be a teacher after we both finish school. That means he’s going to make more money, while also working long hours, and I’ll have a somewhat regular 9am-5pm job, not contributing as much to the family income, and taking care of the kids. This is a nuclear family-esque set-up, but that’s how we want it. We will do everything we can for each other to pursue our own individual careers while also having a family. If it’s traditional, then so be it.

This has actually somewhat played out in our current situation (no, I do not have children) because he has started his third year in medical school on a surgery rotation. That means he gets up at 4am to go to the hospital and comes back home anytime between 7pm-8pm. Not counting every fourth night where he is on call at the hospital all night. He also has to study in the very little free time he has. Compared to my own schedule, I work Monday-Friday 9am to 5pm.

Therefore, I’m the one doing the household duties around the house–cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry. Don’t get me wrong–my significant other is probably a better cook than I am (though I’m the better baker), and in [most situations] is cleaner than I am. But he just doesn’t have time for those household chores. So I don’t do those chores for him; I do it for us.

Another thing: we recently got engaged. He gave me a gorgeous ring which I love. Yes I know what the feminist implications of wearing an engagement ring. For me, though, I am reminded of our love and relationship every time I look at the ring.

We will also get married and probably have a big wedding.

“Oh no!” some of you feminists might be thinking, “She’s a feminist and going to get married?!?!”

I’m still not sure about the white dress (because after all, my skin is beyond pale and white just doesn’t suit me), but hey, Feministing founder, Jessica Valenti, wore a “gray” dress (come on, that dress looks white, it might as well be white!). I will probably take his last name so that our family will all have the same last name. Hyphenation is out of the question; I don’t think there would be space on my tax form for the last name “Heroy-Fillingham.” My last name is my father’s, so what difference will it make if I take my husband’s or my father’s? Either way, if you’re a woman and facing this name-change decision, you’re screwed. I haven’t really thought about anything else in regards to the wedding ceremony, but it shouldn’t matter to you.

But I’m writing this out there for those women who advocate feminism but have fought for a long time how to balance personal life with political life. You can be a feminist and be in a relationship, as I’ve shown by example above. I know that the “personal is political” but those choices that I’ve made in my relationship are my own. Because what I choose to do doesn’t make me a feminist or not; my choices are my choices and only I can be the judge of them.

23 Comments
  1. woodscolt permalink
    July 30, 2010 8:27 am

    I think you can be a feminist at take your husband’s name, but it’s a choice that needs examining. There are other options – you could both take a completely different joint name, or hyphenate, or adopt a name composed of parts of his and parts of yours. And I think saying ‘it’s your father’s name anyway’ is a bit of a cop-out – there’s a difference between the name you have always had and taking on a new name because of the man in your life. Your surname isn’t always your father’s name in any case – I know people who have their mother’s name, or are hyphenated.

    But all of that is fine as long as the choice is considered, along with the long historical overtones of ownership that marriage has carried (not necessarily any more, but the echoes are still there). Like all personal decisions, it’s not that there’s a right or wrong answer, it’s more that sometimes, respecting someone’s personal decison is defined as not ever questioning that decision.

    • July 30, 2010 9:06 am

      Thanks for your comment. I think that surnames are oppressive—see this http://challyzatb.tumblr.com/post/622731848 for what I mean.

      • woodscolt permalink
        July 30, 2010 11:26 am

        I’m sorry – that was Eurocentric of me. But my point still stands, that there’s no wrong choice – to take your husbands name or not, to marry or not – if the choice is made in context, and feminists who claim there is are wrong.

      • woodscolt permalink
        July 30, 2010 11:28 am

        What *is* wrong, though, is simply to claim that because it’s a ‘personal choice’ that it shouldn’t be examined, by you or by anyone else, and should simply be thoughtlessly ‘respected’.

  2. Anagha Sarpotdar permalink
    July 30, 2010 8:47 am

    Becoz the Personal is Political; the choices that we make reflects our mindset and attitude!

  3. July 30, 2010 9:15 am

    Because it totally relates to this topic of conversation, and because it is an excellent look at the name-change debate (and because I couldn’t have said it better myself…), please look here http://challyzatb.tumblr.com/post/622731848

    The article talks about the oppressions that queer people and trans* people and people from other countries and other cultural origins have faced throughout time, and that changing a name is more about what you identify with, not about what society tells you you should do – and not about what feminists tell you you should do, either.

    Personally, I’m getting married in October and I’m not changing my name. But I applaud Emily for coming forward with this article. Changing your name and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive, and it takes a lot of courage to come to the decision that you want to change your name, even when you know the feminist community might bash you for it.

  4. July 30, 2010 9:22 am

    Feminism has become a fashionable word. Today, everybody considers themselves to be a feminist while perpetuating a patriarchal reality. Look at Sarah Palin. She wants to be called a feminist just as much as you do. Of course, everything that she does (and everything that you do) is as anti-feminist as can be, but who cares about a small thing like actions when we can always hide behind pretty words?

    You can choose to lead an existence that is reduced to serving your husband’s needs and being completely secondary to him, that’s your choice and I don’t dispute that. Howver, your desire to justify your lifestyle in such a lengthy post and claim for it a decidedly unsuitable label of feminism shows that on some level you must realize that there is something wrong in abandoning your existence in favor of another person’s so completely.

    • Alex permalink
      July 30, 2010 9:49 am

      Feminist as a fashionable word? I must be living in an alternate universe. In every environment of my life, feminism is vilified as irrational and some sort of mash-up of man-hating, lesbian, homo apologetic, etc. In fact, one of the common academic discussions within our Women’s Studies department is how individuals constantly say “I’m not a feminist but…” meaning that they have ideals of equality, yet fear being labeled as the abject “feminist.”

      Furthermore, when you say that “Today, everybody considers themselves to be a feminist while perpetuating a patriarchal reality,” I feel that you are dichotomizing “real” feminists from “wannabe” feminists. This is not only erroneous, but unhealthy for progress. Everyone, feminists and anti-feminists alike, participate in the same social structures, such as the patriarchy that you mentioned. In order to achieve progress, we need to move away from thinking of patriarchy, racism, homophobia, classism, etc., as ideological traits that some have and some don’t. Although you are correct to say that everyone is perpetuating the patriarchal reality, it does not mean that none of us are feminists. Feminism as a label, at some level, should be used at the liberty of the individual. Why stop people from proclaiming themselves to be feminists? It seems like that step is the hardest. After that, it becomes an internal discourse.

    • July 30, 2010 11:02 am

      Thanks for your comment. My desire was not to show that feminism is more complicated than what some may make it be, black and white.

      However I strongly disagree with you about the “serving your husband’s needs.” I first want to say that househol chores need to be done, and I’m sure that you wouldn’t argue with me there. However, many people (in fact most) do not have the money to pay for someone to do that (hired help). If I did, I would. So it’s not “meeting my husband’s needs” but rather that I have time to do household chores, and he does not.

      Secondly, about the name thing which I didn’t mention in the article: My fiancé had offered to change our name together (to “Fillroy, a combo of Heroy and Fillingham), but I thought it would be silly to give up our names like that.

      Thirdly, my post was for feminists (as I assume you are one) like you who don’t seem to grasp that feminism and feminists need to recognize that our patriarchal reality is not only perpetuated by you and me, but it’s because our culture tells us it’s right.

      I wrote this post to not justify my existence, but also for people who understand that “feminist” is not my only quality an don’t want to be known just for that.

  5. Elizabeth permalink
    July 30, 2010 9:59 am

    Great post Emily…am glad to get turned on to your writing. I agree 100%. Our names don’t make us, rather our actions and beliefs. You’re still you with a different name.

    • Alex permalink
      July 30, 2010 12:09 pm

      But in our current context, we have the ability and opportunities to change our name; thus, our names reflect our worldviews and the paradigms through which we work.

      • July 30, 2010 1:10 pm

        I don’t know about that, Alex. Lots of people have the ability to change their names, but really, it seems it doesn’t reflect a worldview or paradigm at all. Rather, not changing one’s name seems to reflect society’s (and feminism’s) standard of what it means to be a “successful” upper-middle class, white, heterosexual, cis female – not what it means to be anything else outside of that standard.

        And that, my friends, is what has turn off so many people to feminism. Is isn’t just about the upper-middle class, white, heterosexual, cis women! It’s about ALL women. Or, at least, it should be.

      • Alex permalink
        July 30, 2010 1:48 pm

        Ashley, but is there not a point where one has to choose between perpetuating the norm or subverting what is expected of you? Of course, many women conform to the norms without thinking twice. But if one takes that necessary time to reflect on the problems of changing one’s name, I can only hope that they would reject that propriety. Like you showed, there exist intersectionalities that characterize the hierarchy among women. But by consciously choosing to change one’s name, are we not implicitly privileging the white, upper-middle class, straight, women, and even more so, men? After realizing how our actions are bolstering an corrupt system, is it not perverse to continue to act without an attempt at subversion?

      • July 30, 2010 4:22 pm

        Alex:
        But by consciously choosing to change one’s name, are we not implicitly privileging the white, upper-middle class, straight, women, and even more so, men?

        I don’t think consciously choosing to change one’s name privileges white, upper-middle class, straight, cis women. There are lots of people, of all races, classes, genders, and sexualities who choose to change their names for many reasons. I do, however, think having that choice is a privilege of being a white, upper-middle class, straight, cis woman. For many women, it simply is not an option – I’ve listed many examples of this, and I’m sure you can think of many more. Emily, here, has the privilege to make that choice, and has weighed her options, critically examined her thoughts and privileges and desires, and made her choice. I’m not sure how Emily’s choice, in particular, to take her husband’s last name is privileging men more than the decision to keep her father’s last name (which is the case here, as Emily stated in her post). Sure, you could argue that they could create a separate name and both change to that name, or she could pull a bell hooks and change her entire name completely, but sometimes that type of option just isn’t practical or carries a whole new set of connotations the family doesn’t want to support either.

        After realizing how our actions are bolstering an corrupt system, is it not perverse to continue to act without an attempt at subversion?

        So, then, if that’s the case, you might argue women should have abortions because THAT right to choose is a basic feminist principle, and so many people fight against that right? Or you might argue that women should enter science and math programs and careers because women are underrepresented in those fields, even though literature and teaching are their true passions? The list could go on and on here, but I’m assuming you would not argue these points and would acknowledge that there are many reasons for and against having an abortion, and only the woman can make the right choice for herself; people should follow careers that make them happy and that suit them. What, then, is different about the choice to change one’s name, if one has the privilege and ability to make that choice? There are many reasons for and against changing one’s name, and, ultimately, the person has to live with that decision and be happy with that decision, and all the pros and cons that come with it (and yes, there are cons to keeping your name. I’ve already experienced many, and I’m not even married yet).

        I guess I’m just not sure why some feminists feel the need to dictate this particular choice that women make, but not the others, which are just as important to the feminist cause, and just as personal and political. You can subvert the patriarchy in all sorts of different ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you always should.

  6. Erik permalink
    July 30, 2010 12:51 pm

    Emily –

    What you’re saying is that everyone should do what they want. If feminism has a definition, isn’t that it? (given all the caveats about no harm to others, etc.) And that, silly as it sounds, is profound and reaches far beyond only ‘feminism’ as a thing. I believe strongly in this philosophy. Doing what you want does not mean doing what men do, nor does it mean purposefully not doing what women have done, generally, in recent history. I wish this were more of the feminist focus, the doing whatever you want part.

    Here’s just a couple of thinking points – (I don’t completely know what I think about, nor am I sure of the veracity of, these following points, I just thought of them reading your article so I’m going to ramble a bit, forgive me).

    – People forget that a lot of the oppressions that feminism aims to fight against were not, generally, born from any sort of intentional misogyny at the outset. They evolved from pragmatics – which is exactly what you’re talking about, Emily, right? Your seemingly ‘traditional’ roles or schedules have nothing to do with any sort of gender hierarchy or cultural narrative – it’s just easier, it just makes sense to do it that way, in your current situation, so why wouldn’t you do it that way? My relationship is the same. If I’m home and the laundry needs doing, then I do the laundry. Duh. This is how the so-called ‘traditional’ roles, which eventually evolved into oppression, began. In many Native American cultures, men were equal with women; in fact, often the very idea of a gender hierarchy would not have even been apart of their cultural lexicon. But men tended to be bigger and could throw spears farther, so they did the hunting and the women raised children, chewed hide into leather, planted crops. Men and women worked alongside each other to build long houses. And then, slowly, we entered a time when the practical benefits of monogamy and divided roles within the family became less and less necessary and, with the advent of certain technologies and advancements and what have you, were no longer imperative for survival, and hence what was once a pragmatic practice became a power struggle (because, a la Stanford Prison Experiment, you give people arbitrary power and they will abuse it) and wah-la, we found ourselves abusing and oppressing women for hundreds of years. The point is, Emily, that you’re getting at something really important that I think is lost on a lot of so-called ‘feminists’: it’s about doing what you want. It isn’t and shouldn’t be about practices or expectations. Too often feminists define their movement not by empowerment but about how far they’ve come in filling roles that have traditionally been filled by men – but what kind of feminism is that? No, feminism should not be about getting a corporate job or going into politics or not cooking because that’s what men have decided is worthwhile (for isn’t that just as oppressive? letting men decide what is and isn’t a respectable pursuit or activity?). Feminism, like all political struggle (and don’t think men don’t face a certain brand of it themselves) is about freedom. And freedom opens when you have the ability to make choices based upon what will increase the quality of your life. If that works out in such a way that the woman in the relationship does most of the cooking, well, that doesn’t make it anti-feminist, or whatever.

    -What does concern me, however, and I now realize this will run somewhat contradictory to what I just wrote (as always, these sorts of things are much more complex and paradoxical than they seem on the surface) are the *rituals* that are deeply rooted in oppression that continue to this day and have nothing to do with pragmatism, but were in fact born from pure oppression. The big wedding, the white dress, the engagement ring – all of these things, while they have admittedly become somewhat skeuomorphic, are not about pragmatism; no, they exist for the sole purpose of ritual, which is, by its definition, symbolic, and inherently so. Everything about things like diamond rings is artifice, and in this case it’s an artifice deeply rooted in oppression. There’s is nothing intrinsically valuable about a diamond – we just made up that it’s worth something (and lo, we allow children to be dismembered in our pursuit of them). I often joke that humans, like so many animals, just want shiny things, and we try to force a completely arbitrary value system upon them to try and convince ourselves that our sentience is superior to that of raccoons. The importance of these sorts of things is invented by our culture. The history of the engagement ring, its original purpose, is much more weighty and significant than its arbitrary monetary value, and whether or not the intention is there, the ring signifies, by its very nature, possession. The idea, unlike gender roles, is inseparable from the object. The same goes for the white wedding dress. Or weddings at all, for that matter, or for monogamy. Whether you mean to or not, by adorning oneself with these sorts of socio-historical objects, you enter, even if just a little, that tradition of what is in essence cruelty towards women. The value of these objects and rituals does not have purpose, like divided roles in the home once had purpose (in fact, pragmatically, polyamory makes much more sense these days – more people to split up increasing amounts of responsibilities, more income, less children per adult to curb the population problem. Perhaps in 200 or 300 years, the norm will have changed, as pragmatism is by far the most powerful cultural force (often trumping even religion)).

    -Also, your point about the name change “it’s either my husband’s or my father’s” doesn’t hold. Here’s the simple reason why: one is the result of facticity and one is the result of choice, and, in the case of names, it is a choice that symbolizes sublimation. You are born into your father’s name – that was the choice of your parents. You did not choose to take that name. But you will choose to take your husband’s name – and there is serious weight in that. When you are born with a name, you spend two or three decades building your identity tied to that name, because that is the name you were given as a child and as a child you don’t have the sort of agency that would allow you to choose otherwise. And then you marry and you trade that identity for living on one side of an ampersand. No, your ‘identity’ is not about your name, of course, but in a way it also is. Names have a lot to do with how we understand ourselves and how we understand others – as objects, as concepts, as a set of historical actions, as things in the world.

    I guess my point is this – there is pragmatism and there is cultural narrative (c.f. Lyotard, et al.). One, while it may result in defined and different roles for men and women, is not inherently oppressive. The other, because of its very pointlessness and artifice, is inherently oppressive because, whether recognized or not, whether you interpret the symbol as it was historically intended or not, allows for the continuation of a tradition that works, albeit subtlety in many cases, against equality. It isn’t unlike the case of the cross on public land. Sure, the cross has become a sort of ubiquitous symbol that may just signify death or mercy or deliverance – but in reality, it is, by its very nature and origin, much more weighty than that, it means much more than that, even if perhaps you want to use it in a way that doesn’t. The now arbitrary nature of gender inequality is echoed by the very arbitrariness of this ceremony and symbolism.

    This debate, or discussion, or whatever, I feel is at the heart of feminism and what ‘feminism’ should be trying to accomplish.

    • Alex permalink
      July 30, 2010 1:59 pm

      As Rosler laid out in her piece, “Well is the personal political?,” of course feminism, and all humanist endeavors, should be striving for freedom. I feel that her point was that efforts towards freedom and social justice that focus on self-liberation and the individual are deplorable at worst and futile at best. I think that radical, Marxist, and postmodern feminism have there merits in the fact that they often see things systemically rather than as a sum of individuals or ideologies. So, yes, freedom is good, but simply accepting another’s actions without critical reflection and putting it into a social context is quite problematic.

  7. Erik permalink
    July 30, 2010 1:06 pm

    And out of curiosity, does he wear an engagement ring?

  8. July 31, 2010 1:21 am

    Just curious. You say, “I don’t need to prescribe to feminist rules.”

    What in your opinion are feminist rules?

    And then you say “Sometimes my personal life does not run parallel to feminism.”

    How are you defining “feminism?”

    One more question. Today you can vote. You can own a house, a business. You can apply for any rob, drive and own a car, demand a payrise etc. etc. You can do anything you want as a woman! You have the right to your own body — birth control. The right to abortion.

    But these were not gifts that men gave to women on a platter.

    There were rights that women fought and many died for. That’s right — women died so we can have the right to vote — and other rights.

    My question to women who want to use these rights is if you are a feminist it is not just about using the rights that other women have fought to provide YOU with! Being a feminist is doing for future generation of women what the previous generations have done for you! That is continuing the fight for a socially and legally equitable society.

    What have you done to contribute to this fight? Unless you have you are no feminist. You are only a user!

  9. a woman permalink
    July 31, 2010 8:21 pm

    I made the very conscious, very deliberate choice to change my name.

    For starters, the name my father passed on to me was the name of his mother’s ex-husband. 1) there was no genetic heritage. 2) The ex-husband was very very very bad news. 3) For some of these reasons, I think my parents had even considered taking on her name when they married… but such a thing was Not Done at that time.

    Then there was the patriarchal abusive nature of my family of origin. Retaining my surname would have condoned my father’s and brother’s insults, derogatory language, and violence.

    I suppose if I had really wanted a name from my own heritage, I should have reverted to one of my grandparent’s surnames instead. But due to geography, I wasn’t close enough to my grandparents to truly want that either.

  10. maria permalink*
    August 2, 2010 4:39 pm

    this may seem a bit late…but by assuming that a woman loses her “identity” (as what, really?) by the symbolic act of taking a name…seems a bit general. are all men being equated with anti-feminist priorities?

  11. August 6, 2010 5:18 pm

    Well, as been said before- feminism is about choice. It’s about choosing what you want to do and not what your society or your family or your husband dictates to you. You can choose whether you want to change your last name or not and it’s a privilege not all women enjoy.
    Regarding the political vs. personal issue, I think that it’s best to find a compromise. Being a radical uncompromising ideologist can end up in hurting yourself or your loved ones, remember to be kind and human to the people around you, they’re more real and important than ideas.
    I chose to keep my family name, for several reasons, but I still had a traditional Jewish wedding, although with a more liberal Rabi. That was my choice and the path that I’ve taken, it’s a personal decision and that worked well for me and my husband, but each and every couple I know has taken a very different route that fits their way of life.

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  1. Name Changes and Privilege | Small Strokes
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