The f word

No, not that one.  I was listening to some good, old-fashioned public radio this morning and the topic was feminism.  Or, more specifically, the guests were two women editors or writers from different Brittish “zines” (not sure I’m hip enough to use that word — probably would be able to better fake my hipness if I didn’t put the word in quotes) about women’s issues.  Not a fan of that phrase either, really, but nothing else is coming to mind.  I missed the beginning of the hour (as well as some of the middle and certainly the end), but the content seemed to be not-so-much Glamour or Cosmo-type stuff, but maybe a little more realistic.  And maybe a bit more, um, well, harsh?  Like, I think one of them was talking about how they had had an article on different types of rape.  Anyway, one zine was called The F Word and the other, I don’t know.  In any event, the topic of feminism was really the topic of the hour.  The women were saying that it is still an important movement and while great strides have been made, there is still more work to do, etc.  All fine.  Then the calls came in.  I heard only one, but it really irked me.  Maybe I’m too sensitive, or an ass, or just dumb, but the caller really raised my blood pressure.  First, she stated that she was 28 years old, considers herself a feminist and has been married for five years.  Ok, fine.  Then, though, she wanted to complain that when she got married, she didn’t change her name and while she thought this would be fine, it wasn’t smooth sailing because sometimes telemarketers called and called her by her husband’s name.  Outrageous, I know.  And then her second complaint was that she was a stay-at-home mom to her four-month old baby and she was treated differently now.  Holy cow.  How anti-feminist.

Ok, I’m sure I sound insecure or self-involved when I complain about this, but please bear with me.  Changing your name, or not changing your name, upon marriage is a personal decision that, in my opinion, is no reflection on a woman’s views on feminism.  I’ve never understood how sticking with the name you were given — most likely your father’s name — somehow gives a woman feminist cred, whereas choosing to change your name to your partner’s is antifeminist.  It also seems to me the controversy over this is a way to wedge a divide between women and pit them against each other.  Women (and men, for that matter) change their names for all sorts of reasons.  Some change to their husband’s name because they view it as simpler to have the new family to be under one name; some change because they simply like the new name better; some change because they want to shed the name of their father; some because they like the tradition; and some maybe because they like the symbolism it has in starting a new life.  Women also keep their names for a myriad of reasons.  Some because they feel they are already established professionally and don’t want to risk confusion; some because it’s simply a pain to change it and do all the paperwork that it entails; some because they don’t like the symbolsim of changing it; and some because they just like their own name.  None of these reasons strikes me as something that undermines or preserves feminism.  In fact, in this day, I think it is almost as common to change your name as to not.  So, to the 28-year old who was annoyed by the telemarketer, I say there are probably almost as many women who are annoyed by feeling they need to justify their name change to friends or family or strangers who view the change as weak.

As for her baby concern, I think my reaction to it is a little harder to ariculate.  Mostly, I guess, I felt I shuddered that this woman seemed to be playing something very close to the victim card.  I was comforted, though, by one of the editor’s reactions to it.  She pretty much said, “Well, I don’t know what to do about that.  You are a different person in some ways.”  The host of the show seemed to feel the caller’s pain, but the Brit certainly did not.  The thing is, I guess I just don’t feel sorry for stay-at-home moms feeling they are treated differently than before they had their child or children.  Not that I am suggesting that they be the vicitms of discrimination or  the like, but more that — well, you are different now.  I mean, being a childless woman, I certainly feel I am treated differently by people with kids than I am by those who do not.  And in most instances, I don’t really begrudge that.  Of course I don’t know what it’s like to have a child.  I think my friends with kids and I still have lots to talk about, but there is certainly something that we really differ in: one of us has little ones relying on us all the time and, I would think, that that makes the world a very different place.  On the other hand, I think my world can be larger in some ways — I don’t always have to think of someone else’s needs first.  I am free to do as I like, in most cases.  I don’t view either one, in and of itself, as superior to the other.  They are simply choices.  So when a woman decides to have children, and then decides to take herself out of the work force, of course it’s going to be different than if she hadn’t.  Your priorities change and that’s going to be obvious to those around you.  Women who work outside the home — with or without kids — are going to relate to you differently should you stay at home.  I am sure that women who stay at home also relate differently to those who work.  Neither is correct or feminist or antifeminist.  They are just choices.

I wish I had articulated these thoughts better, but there it is.


4 Responses to “The f word”

  1. 1 gwendolyngarden January 30, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I actually think this is perfectly articulated. I didn’t change my name for myriad reasons. None of which implies judgment on those who do or don’t. You are SO correct that each individual’s decision is not political. I think the only political inferences we can draw from name changing are that as you said, on the whole a lot more women keep their old names now than they used to, and I think feminism has helped allow all women to make the choice instead of being forced to change. But this only applies on a broad social trend level, I agree that feminism is basically irrelevant to whether one changes ones name or not. I think this also applies to kids– on the whole feminism allowed women to have the choice to work or choice to not work or choice to have kids or choice not to. Applying these broad brushstrokes to individual choices is a little pointless and irrelevant.
    I also can’t stand it when people complain about being treated differently by their friends once they have kids. As the editor said, they are different. That was what I noticed about getting married, that people treated me differently- I wasn’t always comfortable with it but I knew it wasn’t because they were sexist or something, it was because I was, basically, different.

  2. 2 gracieandkate January 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Congrats to Gwennie for being the 1,000th comment!

    And I do completely agree that feminism deserves a shout out for all sorts of reasons, including that it did “allow” women to choose whether to change their names.

  3. 3 rose January 30, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Wow there is so much good stuff here…not even sure where to begin.
    First off I will share my personal decisions. I decided (for the time being at least) not to change my name. I personally feel attached to my name and feel like I would lose part of my identity if I changed it. I don’t mind it though when people say Mrs. Gollnitz. I do like the idea of having the same name for simplicity and family unity reasons. It just sort of makes things easier. Since we don’t have children though I just didn’t feel it necessary to make any changes. When we have kids starting school…I might add his name on..(still wont drop mine). We’ll see.

  4. 4 gracieandkate February 2, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I think that’s another fairly common thing, actually. Not changing your name initially, but maybe later on. I also have a cousin whose last name was Collins and her husband’s was Smith, so they made their married name Collinsmith. That doesn’t work as well with DeLuca and Gollnitz, though.

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January 2009

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