I was sitting in one of my English classes in college when my favorite professor helped plant one of the very first seeds of feminism in my young, malleable brain.
(That sounded dirty. I didn’t mean it like that.)
I don’t remember what character we were discussing, or even what book, but I remember him asking,
“Is <character I can’t remember> losing anything in this marriage? Is she gaining anything?”
He was that professor who would never tell us the answer. Our hands would shoot up, or not, and we’d discuss it, or we wouldn’t, or some weirdo in the back of the class would provide some offbeat weirdo answer and we’d all giggle nervously and think what a fucking weirdo.
(This is the same professor who stood in front of the class and belted out an amazingly terrible but somehow perfect rendition of The Beatles’ Happiness is a Warm Gun.)
“She’s gaining a partner,” someone said. “She won’t be lonely anymore.”
“True,” my professor answered. “So she’s gaining a life partner. That’s true. Anything else?”
“She wants to start a family, and this will get her part way there,” someone else said.
“OK, also true. But is she losing anything?” my professor pressed.
“She has to have sex with the same dude for the rest of her life!” somebody shouted, laughing. Har har har.
“What else?” our professor prodded again.
Finally it hit me. She’s losing her name, I thought. She’s had one name her whole entire life, since the day she was born, one identity, and now she has to change it. She’s taking her husband’s name. She is his. She is him.
And her name? The one she’s had her whole entire life? That name came from her father, and his name came from the father before him, and his from the father before him, and on and on and on. Now here we all are, named for the men of our past, praying for sons to carry our names into the future.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I am engaged now. As far as I can ascertain, engagements lead to weddings and weddings lead to marriages and marriages lead to tricky questions about names. Whose name will I take? Whose name will my future children take? I wonder if Sean has to worry about this stuff? Probably not.
(Fun fact: only nine states enable men to change their surnames as seamlessly as women upon marriage, and this dude was recently accused of fraud because he took his wife’s name and it really, really confused the government.)
Plenty of strong and incredible women I know have taken their husbands’ names, and it certainly doesn’t make them any less strong and incredible. It makes things easier, so I’ve been told, especially when kids are involved.
But what about my name, that unique combination of consonants and vowels that has been assigned to me?
Luckily, it’s 2013. I can keep my name, or I can take Sean’s name, or Sean could take my name, or together Sean and I could create an entirely new name for our little family (we’d be Mr. and Mrs. Kittenmittens, obviously). And that’s what feminism is all about, right? Choices. It’s all about having choices available to us – the same choices – as the opposite gender, without those choices being determined by societal pressure or the types of toys we played with growing up. Real honest-to-goodness not-that-separate-but-equal-bullshit types of choices.
I think I’ll keep it. I think I’ll see this trusty name through to the end, when it’ll be stenciled neatly on a gravestone somewhere for all to see. Maybe I’ll have them include a little arrow pointing over to Sean’s grave with the caption, “She married that guy.” But only if Sean gets an arrow, too.
I am participating in a month-long writing challenge during February, so you lucky bastards get to enjoy a daily post until the end of the month!