Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Balance at home (installment the next)

Bitch Ph.D. has a post today responding to the article that I previously discussed here, which concerns the presence of an expectational "glass ceiling" for women in their home-life. She focuses on the prescriptions that the original article gave for avoiding this trap by making explicit choices about your own financial power and the sort of person you decide to marry -- Bitch thinks that the notion that marrying a liberal/feminist man is enough is misguided, and she goes further on some points that ring true to me. This one in particular, woke me up:
To begin with, don't, for god's sake, change your name when you marry. What are the arguments for changing your name? "It's easier?" "It will make us more a family?" "It will be better for the children?" Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name.
We like to think that the politicization of this choice is sort of a remnant of the past, that it doesn't mean much that more women now choose to take their husband's last name (as I learned from Maureen Dowd's earlier screed) But I never thought about the self-training that goes on when a woman accepts the notion that unity is hers to create or prohibit. Perhaps terribly obvious to everyone else, but very striking to me this morning.

(She has a number of other suggestions too, which some will find excessively strident, but which I think are wise and telling -- if we can't trust the previous generation to have raised competent human beings of both genders, then there may be some need for us to "train" one another in some of the deficient realms, and to consciously structure our lives to offset the inequities. If you realize that, then you can decide how to handle things. If you just accept your fate, both partners are at the mercy of the least prepared.)


Medley said...

Oh - that's a really good take on that issue. (I don't read bphd enough - something about the design makes me click away..)

Anyway, I don't say this very loudly or in too many places, but I was working on a project with a woman 10-15 years older than me whom I admire a great deal when I got married. She asked me whether I was changing my name. I said "No."

She said, paraphrase, "Oh good. Women who change their names just do not take themselves seriously."

She's a senior and accomplished academic and was so clearly exasperated and frustrated by this issue and what she'd seen in some of her students (even grad students.)

It has stuck with me for years now and I tend to think that she's right. There's a measure of seriousness that's just not there when relinquishing a key component of one's external identity can be done so easily..

And I've spoken with more than a couple of women who've confided that they wish they hadn't changed their names. I always say: "change it back!"

hammberry said...

"My advice is, go ahead and do what needs to be done. But let him know what you are doing every goddamn step of the way, and let him know that it pisses you off."
Am I trainable? Maybe. Would I respond well to this approach? Maybe not as well as Bitch Ph.D's beloved (if there is one).

ACM said...

(there is one)
well, somebody who literally drops their coat on the floor has already demonstrated that they're not interested in meeting you half way (and/or that subtlety hasn't registered). a lighter touch always preferable, where it has any chance.

but, um, I'm under the impression that a few ultimatums have registered with you along the way too... ;)

ACM said...

Actually, this is a different take on essentially the same thing that rubbed you the wrong way. She not only finds the nagging more exhausting than the housework, but points out that that (and other factors) make even this a lose-lose set of choices. Again, a more enlightened (I am tempted to say grown-up) partner can mean that some of these issues never even arise, but not everyone is willing to add that to the already daunting list of must-haves on their mating profile...

AboveAvgJane said...

I didn't change my name when I married. The children have his name, no hyphens or anything. This has sometimes made things tricky at school, although I think it is less so now that so many families are "blended" and likely to include people with different names.

What struck me, almost more than things like the name change, were the legalities. At the time I married, if he moved and I didn't move with him he could sue for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. That just seemed weird. Banks would close out a joint checking accout if the husband asked but would need the husband's approval if the wife asked. That sort of thing. It has improved in many of those regards.

With the names, people have to come to whatever conclusion is best for them in that particular situation.