Feminism and Marriage (A Note to Men)

For quite some time now, Feministing has been one of my favorite blogs. It's good to read the thoughts of such intelligent and active people-- particularly since those people are younger than me. I don't know if other academics feel this way, but I sometimes get discouraged by my students' lack of outrage, or at the very least political engagement. Sometimes, I worry that-- beginning with my generation, the so-called "Generation X"-- young people have become more and more disengaged, to the point that we'll soon run out of activisits and will thus never again achieve progress in any of the important social or political spheres.

Anyway, so Feministing is good, is what I'm trying to say, even if you occasionally find yourself disagreeing with some of their assumptions or values (actually, I really don't, but I understand that many second-wave feminists have a problem with this next generation; I'd prefer to stay out of that discussion at this point).

Feministing also has an active readership that comments on their blog entries, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this recent entry on marriage and the pressure put on women to take their husbands' last names. Typically, it seems to me that most Feministing articles get about 20-30 responses; some really contentious points might get more like 60-80 responses; this one, so far, has 200 responses.

And what's really amazing is that these responses are all coming from intelligent, articulate people who are debating the issue respectfully and in good faith with each other. How often do you see that on the Internet?

Anyway, the discussions's really interesting, and there are good points being made on all sides (and I do mean "all" rather than "both," as the conversation isn't really about "changing one's name is good" vs. "chaning one's name is bad"). As many of you know, when we got married, Emily kept the last name she's had her entire life. At first I typed "we decided that Emily would keep her last name," but it wasn't really a decision that we arrived at-- it was Emily's decision, and as the man who loved her, I respected and supported it. Frankly, I can't understand the psychology of the man who feels the need to compell his wife to take his name. If she actually wants to change her name (like, if her last name is Hitler or something), then I can understand not objecting. But this is apparently a sticking point for a lot of couples-- in fact, Emily's told me that in previous relationships, when marriage was discussed, this had been a major point of contention.

Like I said, I don't really get it. When you build a life with someone, there will inevitably be really serious fights and the occasional hurt feelings. Being in a committed long-term relationship means that you'll occasionally have conflict over important issues-- sex, jobs, household work, why the fuck she owns so many Sting CDs, why the fuck he can't keep his old Justice League of America comic books from the 70s out of the living room. So why, gentlemen, go looking for a fight over something as inconsequential as nomenclature? Does it really matter to you what she calls herself? Aren't you just going to call her "honey" or "sweetie" most of the time anyway?

Like I said, if she wants to change her last name-- perhaps she feels that taking your last name is more of a feminist act than keeping her parents' last name-- it's not your job to change her mind. She's a grown up, and part of feminism is understanding that grown women have agency and are completely capable of making their own decisions on such matters. Being married means being mature and sensitive enough to put someone else before yourself; if you aren't mature and sensitive enough to let her make her own decision about her own name, you're surely not going to be able to handle the pressures inherent in marriage.

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