Feminism is hard. Every feminist will tell there is something different you need to do to be a proper feminist. Anything from never wearing pink to not cooking, not staying at home with the kids, or dressing ‘femme’. The institution of marriage is steeped in patriarchal history. Obviously, women used to be considered to be property of men, and being part of their household were of course expected to take their husband’s last name, and bear them many children. In some countries, sadly, this idea is still perpetuated. I realize as a cis-gendered heterosexual white woman born to the middle class in America, I have been given more privilege than most of the people in the world. The only way I could have more privilege is to be born a man under those same circumstances, and possibly with more money. Brad and I had a long conversation about whether we would get married rather than having a domestic partnership. Fortunately for me, Brad is also a feminist, and so the decision about whether or not I would change my last name is up to me. I ended up deciding to change my last name, because I legitimately like his better. (We can have a discussion about those reasons later, but really it doesn’t matter in the long run.) In any case, I can say with complete confidence that I am doing it because I want to, and not because I feel any pressure from society, my family or friends to change it. What really annoys me is when people say that it is an anti-feminist choice to change my name. Changing my name is one aspect of who I am as a person and the choices I make. While the tradition is steeped in patriarchal history, it doesn’t apply to our society today. Brad isn’t paying my parents for me, I fully intend to wear a white dress while not a virgin, and our wedding will be preformed outside by someone who is qualified by the state, but it not a minister.
The problem comes down to when feminists proscribe how other feminists should behave in order to be properly feminist. This was the big issue with the first wave of feminism, when white middle class feminists assumed that all feminists, regardless or color, class, or social standing faced the same issues in society as they did, and not other issues. (This is also a big issue among the LBGT culture, where gays or lesbians are judged by their number of same sex partners and looked down upon for having hetero relationships, but that’s a different post.) Either way, it’s othering. It’s a way to determine who is ‘properly’ feminist, and who isn’t. Cailtin Moran (a famous feminist) is not a fan of heels and purses. I personally love my 4” stilettos, and buy a new purse every four months, but neither of us is a ‘better’ feminist than the other for our choice in footwear. As Zooey Deschanel put it “I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?”
As one of my friends mentioned in a recent conversation (whom I won’t name here) “It’s othering, when this is supposed to be an inclusive movement. Female genital mutilation is anti-feminist; dowries are anti-feminist; forcing women to have children they didn’t plan for is anti-feminist. Choosing to take a name because you feel like it isn’t. The meaning ascribed to it by society may not be feminist, but that can evolve and change, as the meanings of many things have evolved. To me, the problem lies with society’s perceived meaning of the choice, rather than the choice itself. Kind of like how abortion isn’t bad, or having lots of sex isn’t bad, but society ascribes a meaning of loose morals to it. That doesn’t mean we should discontinue the practice; rather, we need to engage in education and build a movement subverting the current social paradigm and encourage a change in definition.”
While I am in a position of privilege to be able to change my last name to my husband’s, I resent the implication that that one act somehow lessens my involvement in feminism. I have a Bachelor’s in Engineering, I work in a field dominated by men, but I also love to knit and sew. None of those individual choices defines my feminism, this one act taken out of the context of my entire life shouldn’t define my feminism either.