There are any number of unfeminist choices I make on any given day. I wear high heels a lot. That is partially because I have always walked on my toes, so having high heels takes away from my weirdness when I'm in a professional environment. But it is also partially because I like high heels; I like the different styles and I like how they look with skirts, and I like the few extra inches they give me. And yet, all of those things I like about high heels doesn't stop my continued wearing of them to be an unfeminist choice.
But getting married, changing my name, are not unfeminist choices on my list. At the moment, I'm not for getting married. Weddings, and their cost, kind of freak me out. It isn't that I don't like being the center of attention. I so do. It isn't that I don't like pouffy dresses. I like 'em a lot. It isn't that I don't like fancy parties with dancing and sit down dinners. All of those things are cool, too. But what I don't like is the idea that participating in a ritual somehow makes my relationship more meaningful than it was the day, week, or month before.
But if I were to ever get married, I wouldn't change my name. I'm a big fan of my name. I like the people who have my last name. I like the life I've had with it. I like how my first and last names go together. I like that people can find me with it.
But more than that, there is this nagging thought in the back of my head, and it is best summed up in this comment by Another Jill on the (long, long) Feministe thread:
more than that– there are some compromises that aren’t fair. Sometimes someone has to lose in order to to accomplish what both people want.
And the nagging sensation in my head is the one that asks, "And why is it that, in most circumstances, it is women who lose?" A while ago, my ex and I were having a theoretical conversation about marriage, and I told him I wouldn't change my name. He was, in a word, appalled. And at some point, I asked him why he wouldn't change his name to mine. "I like my name" was his answer. Exactly. For those women who want to keep their last names but change them for the ease of compromise, I understand that on the individual level, it is an individual choice. But on the whole, if women are the ones expected to acquiesce in this matter whether or not they wish to keep their own last names, and if the option is a completely foreign one to most men, then the individual decision relates to the system as a whole.
I'm not looking to get married, not now and probably not ever. But if I do, at some point, end up getting married, I'm keeping my name. If I have children (which I'm also not planning on), I'll want to give them my name. Because it is mine, and I like it, and I want it to continue on. I want my children to have my name (although some days, I think about playing around and giving my hypothetical boy children my name and my hypothetical girl children their father's name, or vice versa). It is a selfish desire, to be sure. But just because it is selfish doesn't mean it is wrong. Because Another Jill is right; there are compromises that have to be made in any relationship. I just don't think I'm automatically the one to make them in these specific matters. (Other matters, yes.)
That doesn't mean every woman should keep her name and give her children her name (if she marries at all). What it does mean is that, at this moment, my (theoretical, subject to change) choice is considered radical and/or political, whereas taking your husband's name or giving your children their father's name is considered normal. I want to live in a world where both options are considered normal, where there is a fair mix of husbands taking their wives' names, wives' taking their husbands names, husbands keeping their last names, wives keeping their last names, children getting their fathers' name and children getting their mothers' name.
I think SarahMC summed it up well on the thread when she said,
Exactly, and yet it isn't. And yet, women's names are still the only ones that are transient, when all names should be potentially so.
Men have bad relationships with their dads, shitty memories of nasty childhoods, unfortunate initials and cumbersome surnames just as often as women do. But you don’t see them ditching their names at the rate women ditch theirs. And that’s because adopting one’s husbands’s name is a patriarchal tradition, and yeah, we still live in a patriarchy. Until we no longer live in a patriarchy, that tradition will be loaded.
One reason men rarely think to drop their surnames is because, from the time they are born, their surnames are treated as though they belong to them. EVEN THOUGH they get their surnames from their own fathers JUST as baby girls do. And yet women still claim their surnames are “really their fathers’.” If that’s true, then the same can be said of men.
Alara Rogers' comment managed to articulate something that was sort of there for me in my head but almost completely absent from this post, and it adds more (and needed) nuance to SarahMC's point:
One thing I would like to note is that because feminists have fought so hard to give women the option of *not* changing their names, women actually have more options in this regard than men do. The female headspace includes both “change name” and “don’t change name” as reasonable options. And sometimes, as many posters have pointed out, “change name” is a great option to take, because if you do it when you get married, it’s free and it’s symbolic of your Great Love For Your Spouse rather than your Great Hatred Of Your Dad. But men don’t typically have that headspace available to them, and that’s because feminism has opened up options to women, but no one has really pushed on opening options to men. (Largely because the options men already have are the ones labeled as more powerful or better to have, and people don’t think in terms of “you know, it would be really great if I had the option to be weak and subsumed into someone else’s identity!”… but there are actually men who would take that option if they thought they could easily do so.)Emphasis mine. I highly recommend reading her entire comment, as this is only an excerpt from it.
It’s never a feminist act to change your name to your husband’s. It may not be a *sexist* act, it may not be a misogynistic act, it may not be an oppressive act, and you can commit that act and still be a feminist. But it’s never a feminist act. That being said, yes, there are good reasons to do it sometimes. The problem is that these good reasons are only perceived by women. Men hardly ever see these good reasons; thus men don’t have the option of cutting ties with their abusive fathers, or escaping the pressure of being a Junior (sweet jesus, I really don’t understand why there aren’t hordes of Dude Name Jr. changing their names to Dude Wifename because my god, exact same name as your father! *My* dad goes by Tetter, pronounced Teeter, to all his friends because his first and last names are the same as his father’s, and he’s not even a full Junior. And how much would it piss off the dad that you hated if you gave up being a Junior so you could carry your wife’s name? But few guys do it, even though there should theoretically be *more* men motivated to do so, as women don’t formally do the Junior thing.)
My ex wanted to change his name because he didn’t even know his dad. But he didn’t want to change it to mine, he wanted both of us to take a new name together, and I told him fuck that noise, my name is my name. You want a new name, great, but I won’t change mine. (In the end we never got married anyway.) My husband already *has* changed his name, to his adoptive father’s, when he was old enough to decide for himself that he would rather be New Dad’s Name than Old Dad’s Name, but this has made him even more attached to his name and he wouldn’t change it for anyone. So I do know men who have wanted to change their names to escape their biological fathers, and funnily enough, neither of them took their wife’s name or wanted to. It’s just not in the repertoire that little boys are raised with.