I recently wrote about the notion in feminist circles that a woman who takes her husband’s last name is submitting to the patriarchy. I’ve received some criticisms that I didn’t necessarily expect. A few comments have said that by writing on this issue, I’m “fussing” with something unimportant. First off, my blog deals with feminism in general and the name thing is certainly apart of that. Second, I think they are totally wrong. Things like abortion, domestic violence, and victim blaming may be the big topics in feminism, but it isn’t always the best plan of attack to tackle such issues head on.
There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother where the characters began pointing out annoying habits each other had. When it was pointed out that the character Lily was a loud chewer, it was all you ever noticed. Often times we see things in our society and because they seem normal (i.e. they’ve always been that way), and we never challenge them. Once people are given the tools to understand why something is wrong, they begin to open their eyes. As a result, opening people’s eyes to the problem with the assumption that a woman takes her husband’s name opens their eyes to so much more. Abortion is a volatile subject and most people have very strong opinions. As we know, many people are anti-choice because their parents are and that was how they were raised; they never question why it might be wrong to force a woman through an unwanted pregnancy. For some of them, experiencing their own unwanted pregnancy opens their eyes. For others, by talking about ‘small’ things like surnames, the patriarchy is challenged on an issue that isn’t divisive. Challenging the assumption in North American society that women take their husband’s last name confronts the patriarchy and if people begin noticing all the areas that are ruled by the patriarchy, we can loosen its grasp on society.
When somebody tells me I am “fussing” with topics like surnames, I get a little irritated. The issue of surnames may, in the grand scheme, be unimportant, but it can create a domino effect. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the patriarchy isn’t going to fall in a day. Just like the game Jenga, we have to pull the bricks out one by one. We need to challenge victim blaming, street harassment, definitions of masculinity and femininity, and assumptions surrounding traditional gender roles. The fact that women still receive flak for keeping their maiden name tells me that this is in fact a problem worth tackling. When abortion is easily accessible for all women I would bet the farm that women will no longer face criticism for keeping their maiden name. Maybe when society stops assuming a woman will take her husband’s name, society will stop assuming all women view pregnancy as a blessing and that all women want to be pregnant. These topics are intertwined. Feminism is not just ‘one’ thing and we will not be able to solve just ‘one’ thing. Someday, soon I hope, the entire structure the patriarchy will collapse. So I am going to pull out the surname brick from the support beams and hope that that one brick will be enough to trigger its collapse. If it isn’t, I’ll pull another brick, and another, and another, because my surname is connected to your abortion.