Can you take this feminist seriously?

While wandering around the internet yesterday I came across a comment that said something along the lines of “if you change your name when you get married, don’t expect to get taken seriously as a feminist”. Okaaay then. Now I know that this is a hot button issue for many people, but I’m not one of them. I am however, someone who came to identify as a feminist after I got married and changed my name. So does that make me a bad feminist, or not a feminist at all? Do I need to change my name back again to my father’s surname to be a real feminist? Or can I be taken seriously just as I am? Or does this rule only apply to feminists who get married while being a feminist?


SotBO: I don’t have an issue with anyone who chooses not to change their name when they get married. I don’t have an issue with people who choose never to get married. Whatever works for you, and it’s none of my business anyway.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, language, relationships

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44 replies

  1. What if you have a family that has been destructive and you take your husbands last name to create a separation? Part of being feminist is validating the choices of women and trusting them to employ their agency in a way that suits their lives.

    • That’s certainly a reason that would make sense to me, Renee. Or simply having a surname that a lot of people sniggered at – there are plenty around that some people would like to get rid of ASAP (although I’ve encouraged my kids to recognise the option of changing all their names entirely to whatever they wish via deed poll at age 18 if they want to – why wait around to get married? and what about if you’re a man who hates his family name?)

  2. I have one friend who took his wife’s name on marriage, because he wanted a break from his family. Surprised my socks off, because he’s as blokey as they come. I wonder how the not-a-feminist idea applies there?
    And I know two other couples who wanted to have the same surname as their partner, so they chose to have entirely new surnames on marriage – ones they had chosen for themselves. I’ve always thought they were kind of awesome.
    PS: Edit comments is working for me. Just in case you’re still testing!

  3. I think the problem arises when people presume there is a fixed, identifiable meaning attached to changing your surname to that of your husband’s. There is no room to play. And ironically they almost become the conservative ones in their conviction that it’s the other party who is indoctrinated by lineal traditional patriarchy.

  4. I don’t know if “Father’s surname” is the right term to use here. Perhaps ‘Surname at birth’? Because even if your surname at birth is your father’s it is now yours in the same way that men’s surnames are considered their own. After all a man’s surname is his “Father’s surname” too yet he can pass it on and lay claim to it in a way that women don’t seem to.
    Was the comment author seriously positing that any woman who takes her husband’s name is frivolous about her feminism?
    I would agree that due to historical context, taking a man’s surname upon marriage is problematic as a feminist action however I see that as theoretical. I know plenty of feminist activists who are quite serious about their feminism who have taken their husband’s name upon marriage.
    Blaming women for not being ‘feminist enough’ doesn’t seem particularly sisterly to me.

    • I think “birth name” or “family name” are the best terms, because not all cultures place the family names in the same position as we Europeans place them, as surnames. Your point is well made – it’s the name that we have had all our lives, and only women are routinely expected to change it.
      I decided almost as soon as I first heard that some women kept their own names after marriage that definitely that would be the path for me. I was probably about 9, and totally sure that marriage would be my path! A few years later I wondered whether I would ever want children (so why get married?) and also whether I should revert to my mother’s family name, but it didn’t feel right (it just wasn’t my name) and I decided that if I ever wrote a book then I would use her family name as my pseudonym instead.
      Our kids have both family names hyphenated, purely for pragmatic reasons when travelling – we wanted the names on their passports to match both of us. We toyed with the idea of creating a new family name by combining elements from both our family names, but neither of us could be bothered with the paperwork in the end. That’s why we’ve told the kids that we won’t find it a big deal if they want to change their name once they legally can. Confusion to future genealogists!

  5. Last time I checked Feminism above all else was about creating, maintaining and celebrating equality and CHOICES.

    The choice to take on your partners surname can be just as valid for as many reasons as sticking with your current surname. Anyone who judges another for whichever choice they make is missing the point, for mine.

  6. I’d only think that woman wasn’t a feminist if she expected everyone else to make the same choice as she had; or wanted to make other choices difficult.

  7. I think there’s something important to keep in mind about this discussion in general, which is it is a rare person who is completely radically feminist, who has never compromised her feminism or simply failed to consider the most feminist option. It’s probable that we’re all here compromising a fair of the time. And I think a lot of the time (I can’t speak for every single married woman ever) either switching surnames is an explicit compromise or a time when feminist considerations didn’t come up explicitly and thus an implicit compromise may have taken place. For that matter, I suspect similarly that this is true for entering into a legal marriage at all or even a cohabiting relationship, especially in legal systems without same-sex marriage, or with systemic household work inequalities among other things.
    I don’t think it then follows at all that that person can’t be taken seriously as a feminist. To make an analogy, I’ve seen it argued, I think correctly, that if a woman describes being threatened or harassed that the most unhelpful thing to do is to say “you responded badly, you should have yelled/hit/called the cops” etc because it places the responsibility on the woman to respond ‘correctly’ to a situation in which she is victimised. Likewise, with the surname question (which I do not compare morally to harrassment!), especially given that it’s a time we experience a lot of pressure and for many women a lot of family dynamics suddenly come out into the open about names and heritage and approving and disapproving and making everyone happy. And women who feel they were influenced by that pressure, or who didn’t consider other options, or did but argue they made the most feminist choice possible can be part of a feminist discussion about it.
    In cases where they did experience it as a compromise at the time or subsequently it’s actually an especially bad thing to exclude people who’ve ever given way to the patriarchy from discussions. (If there is a person who hasn’t, that person may well be enormously privileged in many ways to be able to do such a thing.) It’s certainly important to acknowledge that privilege can be obtained through compromise in these things, such as the advantages that obtain to marriage and particularly to a patriarchally approved marriage style, but making compromises with power isn’t all privilege, and those who have done so undoubtedly have things to say about that power that people who didn’t have to compromise can’t say.
    For reference I am legally married to a man with whom I cohabit. More feminist relationship structures were certainly available to us. I am pregnant with a male fetus who we already talk about as if his (apparent) biological sex means he is also gendered male. We will almost certainly give a male-coded first name to him. I don’t think those are the most feminist parenting choices right off the bat and in fact some privileges apply to them. We don’t have the same surname and do not know yet what surname we will use for our son. Feminist considerations are explicitly at play there. I am feminist, but in action not the most feminist person in the world.

  8. It’s okay, I still fail because even though I didn’t change my name, our daughter’s surname is the same as my partner’s. Which is as much, if not more of a failing apparently.
    I kept my name because it’s my name as a whole. My surname isn’t overly important to me as a ‘thing’ the way my partner’s surname is incredibly important to him. We discussed other options, particularly for our daughter, but it really didn’t feel that vital.

  9. Re my comment, I see tigtog has something similar from a 2007 discussion, which I enjoyed:

  10. I didn’t change my surname and our children also have my surname. I am very happy about this every fucking day. I knew when I was a teen that this is the way I wanted it to be. I would have worried about it all the time, maybe not every day, but all the fucking time, if I hadnt’ done it this way. Fuck the patriarchy!

  11. @geek anachronism
    I don’t consider it a failure. You did what worked for you and your husband period. Had you used the hyphen option over time it becomes ridiculous in my opinion. What we did with our sons was to give their fathers last name but my last name as both of their middle names. Yes it is a sway to convention but I compromised on something that was important to my partner. Relationships and life are all about negotiation.

  12. We’ve had this very discussion at Shakesville before; there were a few people very irritated with me that I defended my choice to take Iain’s last name on the basis that my father’s last name given me at birth wasn’t my choice, so keeping it didn’t feel “less patriarchal” or wev to me. I can understand how other women might feel that it does, totally, but it just didn’t to *me*. (And this is no doubt in large part because I have a very complicated relationship with my father. See: Renee’s first comment.)
    I liked the sound of Melissa McEwan. [trigger warning] And legally changing my name also helped create one more layer of making it harder for the man who raped and stalked me for more than three years to find me again. That’s not a small thing, especially as a public writer. Googling my birth name comes up with nothing. (Nothing about *me*, anyway.)
    If Iain had insisted I take his name, I wouldn’t have. (In fact, I wouldn’t have married someone who did.) And we’ve talked about changing our last name to something different altogether, that’s just ours alone. It’s something we might do with a vow renewal down the road…
    .-= Melissa McEwan´s last blog ..Two-Minute Nostalgia Sublime =-.

  13. I changed mine to my husband’s very anonymous last name from my dad’s family’s very unusual one. I was so relieved to be only one of thousands of Liz Millers from being the only Liz (Old Last Name) in the world. Esp. since it was becoming increasingly obvious how public the internet was going to make all our lives.

  14. I didn’t change my family name, and I don’t think my husband ever expected I would do anything except keep my name. His mother managed to be upset and annoyed that I wasn’t going to change my name, and managed to say that I was only doing it just in case we got divorced. Twenty years later, she still seems to think that, even though our marriage has lasted longer than her name-changing one did. Sigh.
    It’s not a choice if everyone is required to keep their name, or everyone is required to change their name.

  15. Twisty put it really well a long time ago, apropos of femininity / hair removal and the like if I remember rightly, that there are still a hell of a lot of pressures on us and there is no shame in doing what you have to in order to not get singled out and mocked every day. For instance, I do shave my legs – in the summertime. But the obverse of that is that we shouldn’t get hung up on leg shaving / name changing / letting our Dads give us away when we get married (b/c otherwise there will be hissy fit from ageing relatives) etc etc, as feminist things to do – they’re not – but they’re things all feminists, genuine feminists, do in order to fly under the radar. We can’t all be heroes. At least I hope I’ve paraphrased her correctly.

  16. I went through this a couple of days ago in my own home, when my husband told me, matter-of-factly: “You can’t be a feminist; you chose to be a stay-at-home mom.”
    My response: “Yes. I chose.”
    I thought giving women a choice was the entire point of feminism.

  17. As I see it, the problem is the cultural discourse that encourages people to take “woman changes her name” more seriously as an option than “man changes his,” that encourages women to feel less attached to their names than men do, that gives people a hard time if they don’t do the traditional thing with their names. It misses the point to police what any individual chooses when the choice comes down to it — whether they do it for a “good” reason or as a compromise with patriarchy. Isn’t a big part of feminism understanding how social structures work?

  18. Considering I moved across the country in large part to get the hell away from my emotionally abusive family, I think it’s a feminist choice to switch to my husband’s name when I married him as I started a new life that is *mine* and not beholden to anyone else.
    I guess you could argue “But this time you’re beholden to a MAN! Whereas last time you were beholden to a woman-headed family that completely crushed your spirit and prevented you from developing any sense of self and caused quite a few problems with dissociation that you are still struggling with to this day! It would be more feminist to stick with the latter option.”
    But I wouldn’t take that feminism seriously. Personally.

  19. I changed my name at legal majority from my birth name [father’s to my mother’s maiden name [which was her father’s… even matriarchy ended in patriarchy, but you have to start somewhere 😉 ].
    Given this, I must admit that I don’t understand why people use marriage as an excuse to change their names if they don’t get along with the other name-holders in the family, seeing as I can account from personal experience that it was relatively straightforward [cost me about $100, but I imagine it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a wedding license]. We talk about name choice, but ‘whatever you please’ doesn’t seem like it’s thrown out there as a valid choice enough. Why does the choice have to be between this guy’s name and that guy’s name, to be spurious? Incidentally, respect for my name is one condition of any marital circumstances. I chose a name I really liked and I am going to keep it until my glorious cremation.

  20. It misses the point to police what any individual chooses when the choice comes down to it — whether they do it for a “good” reason or as a compromise with patriarchy. Isn’t a big part of feminism understanding how social structures work?

    Yes, I agree and I have seen a lot of arguments that go essentially, “by critiquing these cultural practices, you are putting individuals engaging in them in a bad light or denying them agency, therefore you must not critique that practice”. It is self-defeating. Not so long ago women were choosing to have 8 or ten children, they were choosing to either have a job or get married, they were choosing to stay with men who beat them. Still do.
    I don’t think that feminism is just about giving women choice. There is no such thing as unfettered free choice but by buying into that way of looking at things all of the constraints become invisible, the subtle pressures to make or not make certain decisions can all be waved away. eg the scripture stuff – we are being told we can choose but in reality even when that is literally true and I know many people who find that their child is not withdrawn but just taken to the back of the classroom, the “choice” is between going with scripture teachers who bring lollies and other inducements and sitting in what amounts to detention, required by law not to do anything more constructive. That isn’t choice, that is herding people in the direction you want them to follow.
    Right now I’m choosing not to sleep darnit.

  21. Right on – Mindy, Rennee (3.19pm), tigtog (3.30pm) and Keri (6.36pm)!!

  22. Another point (now that it’s daylight and my mind has switched on, though in a somewhat zombie fashion) which Wildly Parenthetical raised in regard to the Christian Rossiter thread of doom is that the discourse of “choice” also tends to obscure certain kinds of decisions, accepting the results as part of the natural order of things in a “just so” fashion. The example she gave me was that the decision to have gender re-assignment surgery is framed as a choice whereas the decision NOT to have said surgery is not.
    Hoping WP will jump in here and elucidate, if she is reading : )

  23. Like many of you, I also have an odd relationship with my name. I don’t see it as my father’s name; I see it as my family’s name. And since I don’t have a good relationship with them, if I have kids I’m not going to pass it on. I think that would honour them in a way they don’t deserve. And my partner’s family is awesome, and they do deserve to have their name passed on, so it’s a pretty easy decision to make. Having said that, I’m not interested in changing my surname because it’s been mine for 33 years and would feel weird to be known as someone else.

  24. I wanted to say what Stentor said, but couldn’t find the words yesterday.

  25. On a purely personal level, I really like the symbolic nature of sharing a surname, whether that’s one person taking on someone else’s or creating a new one (I’ve always really liked the latter idea, ngl). I’d probably just change mine over if my partner/s were particularly attached to theirs for whatever reason. And while I consider myself a feminist, it’s an area where the meaning I attach to names has more personal meaning for me than the history attached to women being required to change theirs, as much as I have no desire to diminish the shit attached to it or the pressure a lot of women feel about it.
    As much as the personal is political, questioning an individual’s commitment to sparkle motion over such an intensely personal decision seems a bit of a jerk move, imo. And there’s a big difference between “I don’t think it’s the most feminist position” and “you’r a bad feminist”. The first I have no issue with, but the second puts flames on the side of my face.
    Then again, I changed my name completely about a year ago because Names Are A Big Deal To Me, so I know I’m in a highly biased position about them.
    (And wow, that was a tl;dr way to say “I agree!” /o)

  26. And there’s a big difference between “I don’t think it’s the most feminist position” and “you’re a bad feminist”.

    Exactly so, the latter is rude, presumptuous and gives feminism it’s reputation for moralizing and infighting.
    I firmly believe that the institution of marriage still operates in society as a primitive protection racket, but individual marriages can help to transform the way that marriage functions. Mine didn’t. I got married at my lowest point when I was exhausted from years of needing to fight off abusers ( I was pretty young so I didn’t know that was what I was doing). For me marriage really was a protection racket, even though the outcome for me was just an unsuccessful marriage, not violence and death as is the case for too many women. My decision to get married was not a feminist act, but I can see others doing a lot of work to forge new kinds of marital partnerships and influence policies so that the function of marriage will change and those are definitely feminist acts.

  27. [lurch] You rang? [/lurch]
    Yeah, Su, you completely represented my argument correctly 🙂 It’s basically to say that sometimes choices are political because they’re marked as choices (and so you become responsible for having been able to choose otherwise), rather than as just the way that things are (where you have no responsibility for anything whatever). I have real issues with people saying that feminism is all about choice, because it makes it sound like a marketers’ dream, and we can already see the ways that the white western capitalist version of feminism has been taken up to that end, with diet products and make-up and invasive surgeries being parsed as choices you can make to make your life better. This, of course, obscures that yeah, they might make your life better, but only because of some combination of the following: a) it makes you feel better, because you’re living up to some standard of femininity, for example; b) it makes you feel better because people treat you better; c) it makes you feel better because people think you’re more employable. That is, it obscures the extent to which these things marked as ‘choices’ have positive outcomes because they involve women acceding to patriarchal norms. (For the record, marking choices like these as politically significant is not the same as saying that to be a proper feminist, you must refuse all of these. I’m with Su and minna on this front).
    At the same time, I’m really really not interested in claiming that there are neutral, perfectly feminist choices, or that a feminist has a responsibility to always choose the allegedly ‘most feminist’ outcome (which really, I have two concerns about: 1) ‘most feminist’ according to who, and how did they get the magickal glasses of anti-patriarchy?; and 2) if it makes her unhappy, is pretty problematic: do we want a feminist politics which counts more than women’s desires?). I do think that there can be problems with women taking men’s family names, which is mostly that it invokes a (history of a) problematic sense of ownership, and often is treated as a woman ceding her identity to a man (obviously this is a contextually specific thing, but so’s everything, really!). For example, letters are still, often, addressed to ‘Mr and Mrs Bob Smith’. I’m not trying to say that none of these associations have weakened; I think they have, and those historical overtones have shifted. There are often, as well, other more personal reasons too which complicated the picture, as lots have pointed out above. But it’s incredibly rare for men to take their female partners’ names, and so there’s clearly some level of significance still at work here. The fact that a woman can change her family name with a marriage certificate, but a man still has to go through deed poll is still significant: it means that the status quo assumes women are drawn into their husband’s family. In the end, it matters what the name-taking means for individual couples (heh), and I’m not wanting to suggest otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it’s not reinforcing some problematic stuff. (To be honest, the ‘it matters to my husband-to-be, but not to me, so I’m changing my name’ makes me a little ‘urk!’ Why doesn’t it matter to you? Why does it matter to him?).
    In the end, this comes down to the knotty question of the individual and the communal. And they are, indeed, knotty, knotty questions that I don’t think can be resolved in any globalising way. But I react really badly to individuals claiming that because they experience their choice as ‘free choice’, it a) is (lots of things feel like ‘free choice,’ and yet involve massive amounts of cultural coercion), and b) is politically neutral (as if because an individual made the choice consciously, that changes the significance of the name-change). Similarly, I react really badly to those who claim that some woman isn’t feminist (or whatever-ist) enough because they are choosing their happiness over the needs of others/a political movement (which, let’s face it, can be a pretty feminist act sometimes given that women have been required to put their own needs last so often). Feminism isn’t about giving individual women new, tougher standards of individual responsibility to hold themselves to (as if they were the ones who needed to change), it’s about removing the structural disadvantage women face.
    One final thing: I think that there’s a fair bit of heteronormativity circulating in this discussion, and it makes me uneasy. I’ve gone on too long already, but I think there’s some issues about how only certain family units are formed and protected in our culture through marriage-based name-changes which is getting a bit obscured.
    .-= WildlyParenthetical´s last blog ..HealthBase Cures All Ills =-.

  28. Good point WP, I should have owned my heteronormativity privilege. Perhaps when we finally get around to equal rights for gay marriage in this country (my goodness the sky hasn’t fallen in) then issues such as who takes whose name will become irrelevant.

  29. “magickal glasses of anti-patriarchy”
    Where can I get me some?
    I also think I agree with every point you made, WP.

  30. ”Similarly, I react really badly to those who claim that some woman isn’t feminist (or whatever-ist) enough because they are choosing their happiness over the needs of others/a political movement (which, let’s face it, can be a pretty feminist act sometimes given that women have been required to put their own needs last so often)”
    Good point.
    I was one of the above who commented about feminism being about “equality and choice”. Maybe I should be more specific. For me – I cannot speak for anyone else -it’s about equality OF choice.
    If we shifted the situation slightly, and we take the SAHM feminist being told she isn’t feminist because she isn’t out living the choice of the working mother that feminism fought for, I think we lose sight of WHY we fought for it in the first place. We didn’t do it so to hem ourselves into a feminist dreamland where every choice is a political choice or we’re told we can’t be taken seriously as a feminist if we do something that promotes the happiness and well-being of our family – whatever that family is. Where is the equality or freedom in that? Do we fight to get out of a patriarchal society to be equally under the thumb of a panel of women telling us we aren’t feminist “enough”?
    Do we have to completely subsume ourselves to our causes to be true promoters of that cause? Do we have to submit our families – regardless of their own personal beliefs or it’s make-up – in the same way?
    I don’t believe so. And if that IS the case, I won’t be party to it. I won’t be party to ANYTHING so judgmental and – in it’s own way – normative. If every feminist makes the political choice before her own happiness, is that anything but shifting the norm?
    As for this conversation being heteronormative, probably so. In suppose when we talk about something that is so personal we tend to look at it from our own viewpoint sometimes to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Then again, how do you talk about a specific situation – woman takes mans name – without being heteronormative?

  31. I don’t entirely disagree, Keri, but the thing is, I think every choice is political; in fact, feminism has fought for the recognition that the personal is political, partly because women’s circumscription to the private sphere was used to deny them rights for a long time. That means that choices are political not because feminists made them so, but because they are: because they contribute to the structuring of our society. That doesn’t mean that people should subsume their desires to ‘the cause’ (which I think is pretty clear in my comment above, so I’m not going to go on about it), but nor does it mean that their choices aren’t political.
    And in answer to your final point, Keri, as with every form of privilege, if we don’t pay attention to the exclusion (that is, if we only attend to our own viewpoint), we will miss it. To attend to the heteronormativity in this situation, I’d recommend that we look at the extent to which name-change being normalised in relation to only heterosexual relationships works to produce and protect only very specific relationships as state-legitimated: heterosexual and (at least theoretically, for the most part) monogamous, and (again, theoretically, or more specifically, ideally) reproductive. That is, the ‘normal’ and privileged way for families to be formed is around heterosexual, same-family-name-having man-and-wife-and-kids. This means that the ‘complications’ associated with non-heteronormative relationships, whether they be gay, lesbian, poly, or involve trans people whose bodies and identities often have to pass through hoops in order to be deemed able to marry, are the result of the privileging of a particular kind of relationship, and particular conventions of name-changing. And paying attention to the developing conventions of gay and lesbian marriage in other countries can help us to pay attention to sexism as well: so far as I can find out online (not very far!), the majority of gay and lesbian marriages do not involve name changes. This would suggest that it’s something very specific about heterosexual relationships which means that it’s still most acceptable for a woman to be drawn into her husband’s family, rather than the other way around. And that that really does mean something about marriage and its role in maintaining heteronormativity and associated sex roles. And really, that’s only the beginning!
    .-= WildlyParenthetical´s last blog ..HealthBase Cures All Ills =-.

  32. Yes, I agree – every choice is political, and some choices more than others. My problem is with telling women that if they don’t make the politically “correct” choice based on whatever political cause they are part of that they are somehow “less” of that cause. That kind of blanket judgement takes none of our personal factors into consideration, and just moves the norm, for mine.
    Your last point has raised two things to the front of my mind – obviously, I must own my privilege – my partner is male, I am female and as far as our families go mine is supportive enough that I feel very able to make whatever choice I want when I do eventually decide on the name issue.
    Secondly, with the change in legalisation and recognition of same-sex marriage in some countries that will – I hope, I pray, I march – will occur, we have an excellent opportunity to change attitudes and practicalities with name changes. If – and I don’t see why we shouldn’t – we change the marriage certificate to remove gender as a field, we could also just have tick boxes that indicate whether Person A or Person B is changing their name, or neither.
    .-= Keri´s last blog ..The US health debate, in one sentence =-.

  33. FWIW: I don’t think “feminism is about choice” which is usually meant to say “we cannot examine the social structures that make up oppression because to do so would necessarily imply that certain women are doing something aligned with oppression.”
    I do think that our range of thought on these issues is very, very narrow. We are stuck in “Is it feminist for a woman to change her name to her husband’s when she marries?” When you get down to it, marriage itself can never be feminist. Neither can any practice deriving from marriage.
    My view, here, is influenced by my experience. And what I see in my experience is that familial abuse is a very feminist issue. The way children are named is a feminist issue (not simply name after mother/father, but the cultural idea that we have ownership of our children, they are our objects, and not full human beings in their own right until majority, if even then – etc. – and also the tying of one’s name/identity to a certain family structure) How we build and structure families is a feminist issue.
    When I was born, I had my mother’s name, because my father kicked her out when he found out she was pregnant — and she would not give his name to anyone (to prevent him being sought out for child support). When I was six, my mother married a longtime family friend, who “adopted” me — said that he was my father, and was placed on my birth certificate as such. So my name was changed to reflect his. My mother divorced him within a year, but did not have the money to challenge in court his paternity to get my name changed back. So she and I kept that man’s name for the rest of my childhood.
    Then, when I was twenty one, I moved across the country, married, and took the name of my husband. We are building a life together that is ours, and only ours.
    The way I see it, there are many more antifeminist land-mines in my childhood experience, and the source of my surnames during that time, than in my marriage.
    That’s why I feel our focus is too narrow. It’s like we’re stuck in “Option One, father’s surname for life” or “Option Two, father’s surname until marriage, then husband’s.” But that’s not where feminist analysis ends on the matter. There is so much more.

  34. Mindy, if you’re talking about the commenter at The Dawn Chorus then the context is important. I think it was in response to a very conservative critic of the Deveny article, who stated that she was “PROUD to take HER husband’s name”. It came across as very preachy and anti-feminist, so the comment you’ve quoted was (I think) more about saying hey don’t come to a feminist site with that shit. That’s how I read it at the time. I don’t think it was a case of administering the feminist litmus test or revoking feminist cards or anything.

  35. When you get down to it, marriage itself can never be feminist. Neither can any practice deriving from marriage.

    Would you expand on this amandaw? I really agree that the institution is not feminist as currently constituted but if it were not confined to heterosexual couples, wouldn’t that actually be a rather powerful tool in unpinning status from heteronormativity? That would be as good for women as it would be for the range of couples who cannot now marry, I think. Currently women’s rise in status when married is wholly dependent upon her husband, and if the partnership breaks down, she plummets down a vertiginous slope, she becomes less than a single woman.

  36. Sorry- that was me, I didn’t put my full email address in so my gravatar didn’t come up.

  37. Yes, thanks Tigtog. Sorry about that.
    I see a big problem with what I have said at 37. I will try again: Wouldn’t breaking down the heteronormativity of marriage confer benefits on all women, not just the women who are currently excluded from marriage, by uncoupling status from heteronormativity? If those two things could be split then I see potential benefits for single women, be they cis- or trans-gendered as well as for same sex couples and other couples who cannot now marry.

  38. @ Linda – I didn’t read it that way, but I agree that your reading is probably more correct for what was an off the cuff remark. I still think it is an interesting issue to ponder whether our identities as feminists are so caught up with our surnames.

  39. I’m not entirely clear about your first line, Amandaw, but I really agree that there’s a tendency to move way way too swiftly to the question ‘is this feminist or is it not?’ which curbs our critique of these social structures in ways that are really problematic, as you point out. I’m not positive about this, but I think part of it is approaching feminism as if it were about individuals, and about ‘feminist identity’, which is thought to be achieved through the accumulation of feminist choices. I think this is really problematic politically, partly because approaching each issue as if the urgent feminist political drive is to answer the question about its feminism closes down critique and debate, and tends to silence those perspectives which aren’t shared by the majority, in its haste to ‘decide’ whether or not it is feminist (usually hasty because we need to ‘get on’ with being feminist). It doesn’t give us a chance to really come to grips with the complexity of our social world.
    In case it wasn’t clear, my point was more that situations like yours really do matter to decisions made about changing your surname, but that the change of surname doesn’t represent those complex issues, and as such there’s a way in which it reinforces the status quo. It has political effects, but in no way do I think this means you made the ‘wrong decision’ (as if that were my place anyway!) or that it’s ‘not feminist’ to approach the question as you have. There are, obviously, other ways in which it has been a challenge to the status quo (of concealing familial abuse), and that’s significant, even if they matter, or are demonstrated as significant, more at a personal level than a larger, shared communal one. I wouldn’t want to pretend these situations are simple, just that they, and our choices in relation to them, are never not political.

  40. We need to reframe this issue, because “To change, or not to change” gets us nowhere. These threads are deeply divisive and uncover little new territory.
    Instead we need to challenge others about their assumptions on women changing their names upon marriage. How to do this? Here are a few things of the top of my head:
    When someone asks whether a bride is changing her name, ask whether the groom is changing his name. If they are amused, ask them why.
    We need to get rid of the term “Maiden name,” and replace it with “birth name” in every day conversation.
    Gotta think of more, but the momentum is lost.

  41. Uh. “These threads” should be “discussions whether to change or not to change” are deeply divisive. This particular thread is getting at exactly what I meant. That’ll learn me to read the full thread before commenting. Wildly P & Su, Right on.

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