Looks like Tessa’s article on HuffPo brought out some of the crazies, some of the crazies-masquerading-as-rational, and even the rational types who are somehow made crazy by this topic. My wife may disown my take on her thesis, but to me it’s simple: if you live in a world where you are expected to take your husband’s last name, you live in a sexist world.
Moreover, a world that naturally assumes that any children you have will automatically bear the father’s last name… well, that’s sexist too. Even if the mother fought the power and still goes by her maiden name. Those facts are simple, but the real question is this: does this particular sexism actually bother you?
To put it another way: you are allowed to determine if something pisses you off or not. You are also allowed to ignore certain slightly-imperfect aspects of our society. You are also allowed to change your last name if you want to, or if you don’t care one way or the other. What you cannot ignore is this – a culture than constantly discards the mother’s name is teaching your kids something about gender equality.
Often, mothers don’t just lose one name, they lose two – their maiden name, and then their original middle name (when it’s supplanted by the maiden name). Guys, put yourself in that position. Imagine getting married and contemplate taking your wife’s name, and losing your middle name for good. My guess is that 99.999% of you contemplate it with an odd feeling of sickness, as though the mere suggestion were disturbingly unnatural.
Of course, the comments on Tessa’s article were best when unintentionally funny, like this one:
“Like just about everything else these days this is yet another thing to tamper with. Sometimes it is nice to stick with the way its always been done if only for that reason alone. Not everything has to be changed all the time.”
Yes indeed. Like slavery, stoning, and thalidomide.
Another one, carefully throwing baby out with bathwater:
“I can’t believe the first thing the author and many other ‘hyphenating’ women feel is that taking your husband’s name is patriarchal and sexist. Anything and everything is offensive if that is how you choose to view it.”
Well, actually, no. Just the thing the article is about. The one you were responding to at.
And here’s yet another genera, the “voice of authority” looming oe’r us all:
“The custom of children receiving the father’s last name is a question of paternity. The mother is incapable of denying her role since she carries the child in her womb for nine months but the father may not even realize he has a child… If he gives his name to the child it means he has accepted his responsibilities as a father… A couple could just as easily take the wife’s last name but that requires you come up with a rationale as to why that option is better than the standard approach.”
First of all, in the age of DNA, paternity is no longer in question, nor is “giving” your name to a child. Secondly, Tessa’s article is not asking anybody to take the wife’s last name, she was discussing why we hyphenated Lucy’s.
Ian Richard Williams, Lucy Kent Blake-Williams and Tessa Ellen Valentine Blake enjoy Catalina Island, summer 2011
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I had no problem discarding the notion that I needed Tessa to bear my name, or that Lucy had to use it exclusively. I honestly could not care less. Then again, I always chafed at the “ownership” tradition of marriage, such as the use of highly-visible wedding rings and codified childrearing roles within the relationship. It seemed like a relic from the 12th century.
Does that make me Johnny McEqualPants, an emasculated sparrow boy, snorting in asthmatic disdain at the barbarians who forced their wives to kowtow to their will? Or is it just luck that I happened not to give a shit? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure about this: whether or not you care, whether or not you kept your name or didn’t, if kids take the man’s name 95% of the time, that says something.
You may have a sentimental fondness for everyone in your family having the same name. You may simply like the tradition. You can even think it’s a little unfair and be okay with it in this instance. But if the husbands were to honestly tell you how they’d feel about taking your name as the “JUST MARRIED” car drives away, that painful unease has a definition: sexism.