There’s been some buzz (and some headdesking) in the blogosphere re: this study, presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, showing that 70% of Americans think women should take their husband’s last names when they get married, and 50% think it should be a legal requirement. Apparently, the survey was nationally representative.
There is plenty to say about this survey itself, but I want to address some things I’ve read in the coverage of this story. I’ve read a bunch of comments, on various blogs, from women who don’t know how to deal with the pressure they’re getting from their boyfriends or fiancés, peers, and/or families.
Even women my age (27) face not only the expectation that they will take their husbands’ names, but serious pressure. I don’t know if this pressure is one of the last cries of social conservatism as it dies out, but I hope that’s the case. It’s troubling either way, and I’m sure it’s scary to deal with personally. So I thought I’d list rebuttals to some common “arguments” in favor of name-changing. There is no argument for this tradition (woman taking man’s name) that is not sexist. The protests you’ll hear after you poke holes in the reasoning is proof of that.
My first instinct is to say “run” to any woman whose guy insists that she name herself after him. But that’s probably not going to happen. So what about:
Family unity requires all family members to have the same last name.
Is this a response to the high divorce rate or something? Marital stability does not come from both parties sharing a surname. The parent-child bond is not disrupted if there is more than one surname between them. If it’s important to someone that a family be designated like a sports team, then the husband can always take the wife’s name. The couple can also choose a new name or they can both hyphenate their names.
Taking the man’s name is a sign of love / commitment / respect.
This claim is especially jarring because it is so blatantly sexist. By this “logic,” the vast majority of married men don’t love or respect and aren’t committed to their wives. Why is the onus on the woman to show alleged “respect” or “commitment” in a way that he is not expected to? But it’s not about logic at all; it’s about the belief that women respect and love men by subsuming themselves to them.
It’s just a name! Why is it that important to keep yours?
If it were just a name, men (and their families, and friends, and your family and friends…) would not have a problem with women who are unwilling to change theirs. If it were just a name, men would give up their own names and assume their wives’. If it were just a name, why bother with any of this name changing business at all? It’s not “just a name,” to those who fight patriarchy or those who parrot the party line.
Then there’s the one I’ve heard from feminists and patriarchy promoters alike:
A woman’s name is just her dad’s name, so either way she’s going to have a man’s name.
Baby girls and baby boys are typically given their fathers’ names at birth. Does the name just not stick to the girl the way it sticks to the boy? It just floats over her head, waiting to be swapped out?
If a woman’s surname belongs to her father, then a man’s name must belong to his father. In which case, not changing one’s name upon marriage is no different from a man’s not changing his name upon marriage. Women’s names are “theirs” just as much as men’s are theirs. The practice of giving children their fathers’ surnames is a patriarchal one. It’s one worth challenging and changing. Using it as an excuse, or a tool to pressure women is lazy, and it’s sexist.
I’m sure there are others. People come up with some twisted reasoning in their attempts to preserve antiquated, unnecessary traditions. Fight back!