Hey, let’s talk about something ridiculous.
Those of you that read this blog will know that I’m a feminist. I’ve talked about it. I’ve gotten worked up about some things. I’ve made my thoughts known. You will also know that I am married to a man, stay at home writing while he brings home the bacon from his manly job in construction, and I took his last name. (Well, maybe you don’t know that last one yet.)
I was under the impression that as a woman and a feminist, I could make these decisions if I wanted to–could, as a human, make whatever decisions I wanted to.
It seems, however, that some people disagree. Or, apparently, they think I can make whatever decisions I want, except for the ones I’ve made, especially changing my name. Because that’s not what a good feminist does, don’t ya know.
So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about, first, the whole name-changing thing, and then let’s think real hard about what feminism is and talk about that, too.
I will admit that I struggled with the whole marriage/name-changing jazz. I struggled with the idea of getting married at all, because, as my mother has termed it, I have always been “fiercely independent,” sometimes to my own detriment. I have written before on how I feel guilty for not having a paying job (for now) and working on my writing instead. (Although I did make 50 bucks on one story. Eat it.) And I also definitely struggled with the decision to take my husband’s last name. These are big decisions. They merit some struggling.
One day after I got engaged, I realized out of the blue, Holy shit I’m going to lose my last name. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before, but I really hadn’t thought of it. Men sometimes don’t realize, I think, what a huge thing that is. Your name that you’ve had your whole life, suddenly changed. It’s not just a name. It’s an identity. There’s some personhood wrapped up in it. Before I made my decision, I held the name in my mouth, said it out loud. Claire Springer. It sounded like a different person. Someone I had never met. This was exciting and sad all at the same time.
I didn’t know what to do. So, naturally, in the time-honored tradition of deciding things, I made a list. Here is what I (very subjectively) came up with:
1. Hyphenating. Okay, interesting. Totally possible. Except, it’s self-terminating. In the span of one generation, the children of hyphenators have to decide, when/if they get married, to change their name or hyphenate again. But then they would have three last names, and that’s just unwieldy. And then their grandchildren would have FOUR last names, and holy crap this shit’s getting insane. Hyphenating is not a permanent solution. If it was, the last name space on forms would have to get a lot bigger. Eventually, people would be carrying around drivers licenses the size of index cards, of notebook paper.
Also, the last names of hyphenated children tend to be abbreviated to initials, and then any children I choose to have would have to weather their way through school with the last name BS. I am not that cruel.
2. Keeping your last name. Wonderful! No change at all! No trips to the DMV and social security office! Huzzah! But there’s a hitch: if you have children, what name will they have–yours or your spouse’s? You could, I suppose, hyphenate their last names. But then see above problem. I’ve also heard the suggestion of giving boy children the dad’s name and girl children the mom’s name, and while this may be a fine decision for some people, for me the different names and the delineation by sex just rubs the wrong way.
3. Composite name! Some adventurous people blend their last names into a new one, like the gossip mags (Brangelina! TomKat!). This could be very cool. But our options would have been Springess or Burger. Neither really rolls off the tongue. And I was not about to be named Burger.
4. The husband takes the wife’s name. Awesome! I love this! I want to hug every man who has made this choice! I did (half-)jokingly try to get Todd to take my last name, but he had a good point. He’s the only person in his family that can pass on his name. His sister is already married and took her husband’s name, and I have two younger brothers to carry on the grand surname of Burgess. Also, in this situation, someone is still losing a name. Even if we gloriously switched to matrilineal society (yes please!), half the population would still be struggling with the last-name problem. Would it be kind of fun for men to have to deal with that? Yeah, it would. But let’s not get petty.
5. Keep your last names and don’t have children. Totally valid. (Except I think I want to. Eventually. In the very distant future.)
So there is no perfect solution here, at least not for me.
So what’s a girl to do?
The main reason I was hesitant to give up my last name was because I’m a writer, and I’ve started to make a (modest) reputation for myself under the name Burgess. It would be confusing to suddenly start publishing under a different name, and also I want all the glory to go to the Burgesses, because I am selfish. I also want all those fuckers from school to know exactly which Claire is raking in such success and glory. (Illusions of grandeur? Check.)
And then I realized: Oh wait! I can keep publishing under Claire Burgess even if I change my name! People do it all the time. Noms de plume and such. Problem solved.
(So that is what I’m doing, by the way.)
But then there was this rankling, nagging feminist guilt scratching at the inside of my skull, lodged there by certain persons who had made their opinions on my decisions clear, saying, la traîtresse! La traîtresse! (I don’t know why it was in French. Maybe since French women don’t shave as much.) That means traitor, by the way.
And to that voice, I say: 1. WTF? and 2. HELLLLLLLL NO.
Because here’s the thing about feminism. Here’s what it really comes down to. Here’s all the secrets. Time for real talk, friends. Listen closely:
I am a woman, and as such, I can do
WHATEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE.
These things I can do include, but are not limited to: marrying, marrying a man, marrying a woman, not marrying, having a monogamous relationship, having a polyamorous love fest, wearing dresses, wearing pants, wearing lipstick, wearing a mustache, having long hair, having no hair, shaving words or patterns into my hair, waxing, not waxing, waxing my pubic hair into the shape of the Queen of England, having children, not having children, staying at home with my children, having a career, having a career AND children, keeping my name, changing my name to Gobbeldy McDoodlefrumps, or even…
taking my husband’s name.
OH, THE SCANDAL!
Give me a break.
Women can make whatever choices they want to make, and that’s what truly makes one a feminist: making your own damn decisions, and giving other women the respect and independence to make their own decisions, too. The idea that women have to subscribe to some system of “feminist behavior,” that there’s some list of feminist-approved life decisions out there, is ludicrous. Absolute bullshit. That’s just another way that women’s autonomy is stripped away, but this time under the guise of helping us. That’s just another way of telling women what to do.
If you can’t handle that, maybe you need to do some intense introspection on what it really means for women to be powerful, autonomous, and equal.
BAM. That’s all I need to say.
So anyway, when Todd and I filled out the paperwork for the marriage license, I put “Springer” in the space for surname after marriage. I just wanted to. I had known from the very beginning that I wanted to, and I only struggled with it because of some imagined sense of feminist obligation. And that’s nuts.
Todd didn’t know I was going to take his name. We had talked about the options, but he left it completely up to me and was very careful to not apply any pressure whatsoever. I found out later that he never once thought I was going to take his name in a million years, and when I wrote it in the blank, he was floored with surprise. I swear to god I saw tears in his eyes when I signed the paperwork, because he knew what an incredibly meaningful thing that was, and I knew in that moment that I had made the right decision.
Taking the husband’s last name isn’t expected of us anymore, but it’s just as valid as all the other options, if that’s what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right for you. Whatever surname solution you choose, as long as you think about it deeply and find what you want, it won’t be anti-feminist. You won’t be a traitor to your sex. The only way you can be that is if you let other people and outside influences make your decisions for you. This applies to marriage and name-changing and everything else in the world. Be strong enough to do what you want.
But I’m still publishing under Burgess.