Yesterday on Twitter, I happened across a tweet from fellow Bryn Mawr alumna @StephHerold (that’s not why I follow her, but it does make me smile to see other Mawrters out there, YES THAT’S WHAT WE CALL OURSELVES YES I KNOW IT’S RIDICULOUS):
Feminists who’ve gotten hitched: what’s one advice you’d give to a feminist tying the knot? #feministbride
— Steph Herold (@StephHerold) September 18, 2012
My own answers (because of course, I cannot limit myself to a single thing, even though, you know, that’s what she asked for) were to write your own vows, and to pay for the wedding [yourselves]. Steph kindly retweeted other responses she was getting, and while I agreed with a lot of them, one in particular just didn’t sit right…. Don’t change your name.
At first I didn’t think much of it, but then seeing it paired with advice to keep your own bank account, your own job, your own credit cards, and possibly your own residence (Ok, no one, that I know of, offered that tidbit, but you don’t come here to read well-reasoned rebuttals, you come here to watch me froth at the mouth, so. A little exaggeration is in order), it started to really, really bother me. All the responses encouraging Steph to keep her own last name made it seem like CHANGING it was a deeply non-feminist thing to do, and thus by association, that the women who have changed their last names are not feminists.
And then I got pissed:
Just because it’s pissing me off: taking your partner’s name when you get married is not inherently unfeminist. #feministbride
— Noemi (@NASeason) September 18, 2012
Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way, because I stopped counting at 100 @-replies, and while the number is pitiably small, no other tweet of mine has ever been retweeted 11 times (take THAT, verified tweeters!). I got responses from women who had changed their names and women who hadn’t, women who grew up with last names that were different from their mother’s, and women who changed their names personally but not professionally.
Sure, the original reason a woman might take her husband’s last name can be viewed as non-feminist- but we live in mother-fucking 2012. Of course, I can’t be SURE, but I would be willing to bet a significant amount of money (say, $1000) that all the women who have access to Twitter did not BELIEVE, upon marriage, that they were being transferred, as PROPERTY, between their father and their husband-to-be. I’m not even sure the women who lived at the time when women actually were treated as property actually BELIEVED themselves to BE property, because otherwise we might still be in that place, instead of where we are now (you know, with the right to vote and shit).
But now? Now there are as many reasons women change their last name as there are women. That’s what feminism bought us- the right to choose (thanks to @pinkiebling and @purplelara for pointing that out). What if your father was an asshole? What if your last name is impossible to spell, and you’re just fucking tired of dealing with it? What if you like your partner’s name better? What if you MAKE UP A WHOLE NEW ONE?
Now, my own case is… different. I’m a lesbian, right? So while I consider myself married, I am actually not married in the legal sense of the word (except in Canada. Canada: getting shit right since 2003). I’m domestic partnered, which means something in some places, like here in California, and dick-all in other places (current count is THIRTY-NINE states that do not have domestic partnership/civil unions), and even where it DOES mean something:
…without legislation to enforce the agreement, all such provisions of the partnership may be ignored by hospitals, healthcare professionals, or other persons, and may be held invalid by state courts in disputes over child custody or over a deceased partner’s estate (Wikipedia).
In light of those facts, I’d actually go so far as to say that the fact that I changed my last name to match my partner’s is not only feminist (I didn’t take a MAN’S name, after all), it’s deeply subversive to what the majority of the United States considers “family.” Myself, my partner, and our daughter all share a last name. Last names are the easiest and most obvious markers of family (ever meet someone with an unusual last name and then later meet someone else with the same unusual last name? You wonder if they’re related, don’t you?)- I couldn’t think of a better way to publicly announce our family status when most people don’t consider us one.
I don’t think my lesbian status makes my name change different from any straight woman’s- it just makes us all independent women making smart choices for ourselves and our families.