A woman's right to make her own choices for herself is an ongoing concern, particularly in our current political climate. Choices about what she does with her body, what profession she pursues, and whether or not she takes her spouse's last name after marriage. And believe it or not, this last one is still a very sticky spot, as roughly 50 percent of Americans think that the law should require women to change their last names to those of their husbands after marrying. I really want to drive this point home, so I'm going to repeat it, this time in bold: Half of U.S. adults believe it should be required by law to take your husband's last name.
What's more, researcher Emily Shafer made even more startling discoveries than this during the course of her study. The most common reason participants gave for believing that a woman should change her last name is that she should prioritize her marriage and family ahead of herself. In particular, men with less education say this is a must and believe that a woman who does not take her husband's last name is not as committed to their marriage. These same men also said that the husband would be more justified in filing for divorce if the wife works too much, by the way.
Slap me with a brick. It'll hurt less.
Where do I even begin? How about the pungent stench of patriarchy still stubbornly lingering in the air? It's a name, for Pete's sake. Since when did a name determine a woman's commitment to her relationship? And how come it doesn't work the same for men? And how come men don't have to change their last names? And how come no one questions men's commitment to their marriage because they opted to keep their own last names?
The double standard makes me feel like I'm in a black-and-white '50s sitcom, where the wife is scolded for speaking out of turn or burning dinner or failing to fetch her husband's slippers when he arrives home from work. I'm sorry, what decade are we in? (Hold my beer.)
AH! Right. The one in which a misogynist was elected POTUS, and now women are among one of the many groups of people at risk of further becoming second-class citizens. We've taken 10 steps back and are fighting for our bodies and our rights more than ever. People are trying to defund Planned Parenthood because "I don't want my tax dollars paying for your abortion! (Even though tax payer dollars actually don't pay for abortion by law.) ME SO ANGRY!"
Women (and many, many others — I can't state how many people are currently at risk under this administration enough) fear the leader of our country, who has made it abundantly clear that females are objects to be handled in whatever matter deemed entertaining. (*cough* "Grab 'em by the p*ssy," anyone?) This is the same man who said women should be penalized for choosing to have an abortion, even though he later backtracked and said that abortion providers should be punished instead. (AND YOU TOO, MR. VICE PRESIDENT. Don't think we don't see you back there.)
So it only makes sense that women should be penalized by law if they don't take their husbands' last names, right? No, no, no, no, and finally, no. What does that even mean? Would we be ticketed? Serve jail time? Can you imagine sitting in your jail cell? I feel like the conversation would go something like this:
You: "What'd you do?"
Other person: "Beat someone up. You?"
You: "Didn't take my husband's last name."
Other person: "What kind of monster are you?"
Women already face backlash in the workplace for reasons that men don't: For asking for a raise, for taking extended maternity leave, for dressing in certain ways. Now, we're getting it at home — no, not because we sometimes choose to be stay-at-home moms, and some people don't like that (although we also get flack for choosing to go back to work after having kids, showing that we just can't win). The other reason.
No, not because we're often specifically relegated to stereotypical gender roles like cooking and cleaning and child-rearing, either. The other, other reason. Yes, the name thing. Now we're naughty wives if we keep the name we already had. Shame on us.
I'm noticing a pattern here — one where women are endlessly criticized for putting their own interests first. Interests, I might add, that have no bearing on anything or anyone else. Please tell me about the last time you looked at a crappy marriage and thought, "You know, I bet it's because she didn't take his last name." (Not that the inner workings of someone else's marriage is any of your business anyway.) Go on. I'll wait.
To be clear, this is not a "taking your husband's last name means you're agreeing to submission" conversation — because if you choose to take his name out of your own desire, that's just fine. Instead, this is a "your last name doesn't define you, and it's your choice what you're called" conversation. Similar to how your attire doesn't define you, or how many people you've slept with.
As an engaged woman myself, I throw around the idea of taking my fiance's last name, mainly because I think it's pretty. I also think about combining our two last names into some last name super-hybrid. (Megan Grantello? Megan Mogranto? Megan Monegrantello?) But it should be a given that any choice is valid, whether it involves changing your name or not. And it's a deeply personal choice — one that no one else should have any say over but you.
It's sad, disturbing, and downright scary that we living, breathing creatures are still so simple-minded as to believe that the law holds a spot in something so personal as what last name we take — and even scarier that this is happening within the context of our current political climate. It demonstrates just how much women's rights are at risk — and not just from the people in the highest positions of power in this country (although yes, that is in itself very, very troubling). It's a prevailing viewpoint, and the only way for anything — anything — to change is for a giant paradigm shift to make that viewpoint not the prevailing one.
So we fight. Here are some suggestions for how. And more here. Because the stakes are too high not to.