I wrote a post a few days back on Catherine Deveny’s article on changing one’s name after marriage. Although I enjoy Deveny’s pieces in the weekend TV guide, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed many of her pieces in the opinion section, although I always try to keep an open mind.
The piece about changing one’s name after marriage seems to have gotten a lot of people riled. Deveny has written a reply article entitled: “I don’t give a stuff what you do. I’m paid to write what I think.” It appears that the response to her piece has been passionate, with some women supporting her view, but many other women attacking her view quite ferociously.
If Deveny had written an article saying from a personal perspective that she didn’t see why one had to change one’s name after marriage, I don’t think there would have been much controversy. If she had gone on to query why it is always the woman who changes her name, I think it would be valid. However, the bit in her previous article which really got my goat was this:
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.
I suspect it was these three sentences which earned her the angry responses, even from those women who agreed that they would not personally choose to change their surnames upon marriage, or that the surname change was a sign of the patriarchy.
I thought her article was judgmental in the extreme. It does give me the pip that someone trumpets the fact that she is “paid to write what she thinks”, but why should someone be paid for badly-reasoned thoughts? Since becoming a blogger, I have become increasingly disappointed with the mainstream media. Many of the posts I see in the blogosphere are far more reasoned than the opinion pieces in the newspapers: why doesn’t someone pay some of these bloggers to write an opinion? I think that the mainstream media just churns out some real rubbish sometimes, just to create controversy. Incidentally, in light of my incipient entry into the mortgage belt, and a notification of the second increase to my subscription to The Age in about 6 months, I think I’m going to have to cancel the subscription anyway, so I won’t be contributing to Deveny’s licence to write rubbish anymore.
Yes, there are important questions about traditions in terms of surnames, and it is interesting to think about the politics of the notions which underpin our society. I felt fine about keeping my maiden name before I had a child, but changed after having a child. I know of others who have made the same decision. I know of some women who changed names immediately upon marriage. However, I also know of many women who have not changed their names after marriage and children. All of these women are intelligent, capable and empowered women (regardless of whether they changed their name or no). I respect that each of these women had a choice, and I respect the reasons behind those choices. I certainly don’t judge anyone or conclude that a friend is stupid or “wrong” because of the choice she has made.
As I explained in the first post, I changed my name not because I married, but because my daughter had a different name to me, and I got this odd feeling that I wanted to “match”. I didn’t really think about it deeply, but perhaps there was a desire in me to conform to societal standards and expectations. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that I’m automatically stupid, conservative or insecure. In fact, all human beings have a desire to conform to societal standards and prejudices to a degree, otherwise we couldn’t live with each other. It’s natural. And as I’ve also explored earlier, societal standards and prejudices can be both positive and negative. I would be very unlikely to hear a racist or sexist joke in the ordinary course of things, in part because of the pressure of social mores, and to my mind, this kind of social pressure is a “good thing”.
Funnily enough I don’t recall any decision that my child would take my husband’s surname (it’s a bit of a blur, you understand). It just kind of happened. The powers that be just assumed, and I don’t think we questioned it. There were more important things to consider (eg, how to look after this crazy little helpless being which had landed into our lives). Also, my daughter’s names sound better with my husband’s surname. If they’d sounded better with my surname, perhaps I would have pushed for my surname?
I was wondering why we have the tradition about children taking the father’s name. Perhaps it’s something about fathers wanting to stamp ownership on a child. It’s obvious that a child belongs to a mother, because a mother bears that child within her body. By taking the father’s surname, perhaps men feel that they are also stamping their identity onto the child. So it’s not so much that women are insecure, but that men need to secure their position as a father. I know that men do feel a little left out when a child is first born because of the closeness between mother and child.
I think that there also might be a biological anxiety in human society insofar as fatherhood is concerned, from an anthropological/sociological/psychological perspective. There is always the fear that a child is the product of another man, because before DNA testing, a man just couldn’t know for sure… One might think that this anxiety on the part of men is crazy, until you read the case of Magill v Magill, the facts of which are explained in a previous post. Shortly, DNA tests proved that two of a man’s three children born during his marriage were not in fact his, but were the product of an extra-marital affair. So, I think it’s far more complex than Deveny’s rather glib attempt to blame the patriarchy. Perhaps children take the father’s name because men are insecure.
Incidentally, a point that occurred to me: I wonder what happens in same sex partnerships? Do partners ever change surnames when they enter into a long-term commitment? If so, whose surname do they take? What about the children of a same sex relationship? Which surname is taken by the children? It would be interesting to know what people do in that circumstance.
Yes, it’s good to think about these things, and it’s good to question why we do what we do. But I think it’s best if pieces on the topic are measured and acknowledge that part of the gift of feminism should giving choice to women – there’s no one right way for women to behave.