Catherine Deveny writes ironically that her recent column on why do women still change their names upon marriage seems to have realised her “aim of whittling my readership down to three”.
It was a case of Team Deveny versus Team How Dare You. Game on! Poke that animal in the cage!
Now, some of the critics of Deveny’s original column had a point about it being judgmental, even though I’m a fan of women who keep their own names. Riffing off her discovery that Olympic medallist hurdler Jana Pittman is using her husband’s surname Rawlinson on the track now, Deveny did use some pretty pointed rhetoric.
Insecure or conservative or stupid women are bowing to the wishes of their husbands.
Why would you do something so drastic simply because you decided to delude yourself it was easier? Because you are deeply insecure, deeply conservative or deeply stupid. And in deep denial.
She was obviously looking for a reaction on that, and she would have expected some blowback. What surprised Deveny was the breadth and depth of the angry response to her column:
I’ve poked the cage of private schools, clipboard-carrying parents, unnecessary caesareans, 4WD owners, even God, and I have never been so overwhelmed by a response (equally positive and negative). Team How Dare You were extremely defensive and highly emotional. There was a stunning lack of clear rational thinking in every response. It was glaringly obvious that many women who have changed their names have a deep conflict about the true motivation behind their decision and the convenient excuse they present to the world. The blokes were just as illogical. And angry.
This week she argues that for all the hostility, nobody came up with a valid response to her original questions. From the first column:
I ask women why they change their last name. They tell me “it’s just easier”. It’s not. How easy is it changing the name on everything from your driver’s licence to your library card? It’s not.
I’ve never had a reasonable answer to that question when I ask it, either.
In the end, this paragraph in her original column, getting back to the issue of Jana Rowlinson, is probably what brought out the deeper underlying hostility about her questioning current marital arrangements:
Whenever two parents are working and the child is propped up on the sideline waiting for its turn, why is it only the woman who gets bagged, as if the father has no responsibility for the care of his own child? Why, when a woman is working, does she always get asked, “Who’s looking after your children?”, but the father never does? We need to take the focus off the role of mother and put it on to parents as a team.
Everybody wanted to ignore that part of her column so hard that they dialled up the volume to “vitriolic” on the more simplistic surname issue. Even the sainted Kerri-Anne Kennerley, apparently, was so offended that she resorted to broad-brush stereotyping of Deveny as someone who “probably couldn’t get a man”.
Deveny seems more bemused and amused than alarmed by the baying of the How Dare You brigade. Just as well, they’re probably going to be hanging on her every byline, looking for something else to be offended by, for weeks yet.