Monday, April 22, 2013

Name Change Wars and the launch of micro-Feminism

(Whoops, accidentally published a draft post I was working on for next week. Pretend you didn't see that, read on in this one...)
Recently I got into a heated online debate about these two articles:
Why should married women change their names?
I die a little inside when women change their names.

Essentially both of these articles are telling women to NOT change their names, not until men are half of the name changers and hyphens are normal, or until name changing goes out of vogue, or simply because nobody should ever change their name. It's like the precursor to the Mommy Wars, where everything you do or don't do in child rearing is evaluated against some moving-target ideal and the pinnacle of feminism and "having it all." Apparently Mrs. HisLastName cannot "have it all" either.

The debate centered around what feminism actually means. Some, including myself, suggested that the goal of feminism should be to allow women the right to choose what they want: kids or no kids, stay at home mom or career mom, change their name or not or hyphenate or make up a new name...
Others argued that you don't really have the right to choose those things because they are not equally socially acceptable or common or legal (men cannot change their last name using a marriage license in all states, in some they require a court order). What we settled on is micro and macro feminism.

On a micro level, every woman should get to choose what to do in this case. Every couple should have the full range of options and choose what works best for them. And that has to include a wife taking her husband's name. It doesn't become less of a valid choice because it was once patriarchal institution.

But on a macro level, the full range of options is not equally available and equally valid. Consider that when we got married, about 80% of the checks we got were to Mr. and Mr. HisLastName or Daniel and Stephanie HisLastName, regardless of whether Stephanie HisLastName was going to ever exist. Consider that when my coworker and her husband went together to Social Security Office to hyphenate their last names, the worker tried to discourage him from doing it because "When you get divorced, she can use a divorce decree but you'll need a court order to change it back." Consider that recently in Florida a man was accused of fraud after he legally changed his last name to his wife's.

So, though the articles don't make it well, there is an argument to be made here. The only way to make it so that all choices are available and equally valid, is if enough people blaze the trail by making those choices now. And I get that, and for some people that might be enough of a reason in itself. But I'm changing my name. My husband and I decided what we would call our family. In the end it wasn't a political move, it wasn't a feminist decision or an anti-feminist decision. It was a personal decision. What these authors fail to realize is that this, like all other decisions people make, is NOT about them.Weep all you want about my decisions, but nobody is changing their name at you.

And that's where I always go back to micro-feminism. I have noticed that the root of the Mommy Wars is thinking that another's decisions are a referendum on their own. The knee jerk response, then, is to prove why your choice was better, which means putting down the other choice. But it doesn't have to be this way. By making the opposite choice from you, I am not saying your choice was invalid or wrong. I am saying it was wrong FOR ME. That's an important distinction. Rather than attack my decisions, you should be so glad that I made them! The most feminist thing of all is to support women to make choices that make sense to them. To to recognize that there are a million ways to be a woman, and a million ways to be a person, and that all choices ARE equally valid. Political activism matters, but so does each individual.

Want to join my micro-feminism movement? It needs a catchier name, I think. And maybe some t-shirts?

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