A Feminist By Any Other Name

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

As posted on Small Strokes, where I guest blog.

A big issue in modern feminism is the right of mothers to breastfeed their babies in public. Even when I had no intention of having children, I was a big advocate of these rights. We also often hear that we should be careful not to belittle mothers who are unable or uninterested in breastfeeding. As with everything in feminism, it comes down to informed choice and some governing feminist body should not artificially limit those choices.

I was reading a blog post, the topic of which isn’t relevant, but in it there was this quote by Sally Quinn, a Washington Post journalist,
One thing I’ve noticed is that high-powered women today are all taking their husbands’ names. These women are in their 20s and 30s and sometimes in very high-powered positions. When I got married, I never would have considered taking my husband’s name . . . I think it’s a good thing. I think it shows that women feel more comfortable with their power.
That quote pointedly tells me that as a woman soon to be in a high-powered career, if I take my husband’s last name, it is because I am uncomfortable with my power. Anybody who knows me will tell you the last thing I am uncomfortable with is power. This attitude definitely floats around in the feminist world and feminists are told that taking their husband’s last name is submitting to the patriarchy. Just like being told I can’t shave or compromise with men, telling me how submissive it would be to take my husband’s surname really pisses me off.
My boyfriend and I have discussed the future and this topic has come up. At a BBQ I was quite drunk and at one point, for a reason I cannot recall, I turned to him and said, “by the way, I’m keeping my last name,” to which he replied he figured I would. I have no idea what lead to me saying this, but I do recall saying it. Sometime later the topic came up again and we started discussing it. He said that while he would support my decision to keep my last name, he didn’t love the idea. When I asked him why, he presented primarily emotional reasons. His best reason is that he is the last person in his family with his last name and thus it is up to him to carry it on. At this point I wanted to know that if we didn’t have a boy, was he going to expect me to keep reproducing until we had one (which would not happen); he said no (so what’s the point; it’s a crapshoot anyways!). I, on the other hand, have a number of logical reasons, primarily, career-wise; I would be known by my current surname and then it would change. I threw out alternatives, such as hyphenation, him taking my last name, or even creating a new surname from both, none of which he was really keen on.
At this stage I think it is important to mention that a year ago I was seriously considering (i.e. I’d printed off the forms) changing my last name to my mother’s maiden name because I don’t get along very well with my father’s family. I hadn’t gotten around to it because it costs money. Here I find my boyfriend and I at a minor impasse: it is important to him that I take his last name but I’m a feminist and feminists just don’t do that.
My boyfriend isn’t keen on a ‘traditional’ wedding (he prefers destination weddings), primarily for cost reasons, which is a good reason. I really want a ‘traditional’ marriage (i.e. not a destination wedding), for no other reason than I’ve already planned it in my head. Here is a great opportunity for us to play my favourite game: let’s make a deal (a.k.a. compromising). So I presented him with this: if I got to have my ‘traditional’ wedding (with a reasonable budget) I would take his last name, to which he agreed.
At this time, I would like to define submission,
the action of yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person
I can assure you, I am not submitting to my boyfriend; we are compromising. Just because I do something that was traditionally used to oppress women does not mean that I am oppressed. If society were to avoid anything that was ever used as a tool of oppression in the past, we’d have to give up race and sex-segregated schools [there are all-black schools in Ontario]; it’s a ludicrous proposition. What has to be emphasized is the choice to do something. By definition, if you choose to do something you have not submitted (assuming there is no duress). Rather than feminism telling me I’m a bad feminist because of X, Y, Z, what I would really love is for feminists to understand that being forced to “submit to the patriarchy” is the problem. So I will take my boyfriend’s surname if/when we get married, and I will still be a feminist because a feminist by any other name is still a feminist.

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