I consider feminism, in theory and in practice, to be a huge a part of my identity. It’s a complicated part, an evolving part, and I talked about that here in regards to how my feminism effects and informs my role as a mother. When it comes to the theoretical and the macro-political, I know where I stand on most issues. I can apply what I believe to a story I hear on the news or an anecdote related by a friend. It’s not always black and white, in fact it’s mostly a grey-ish brown. But I can use reason and compassion (the main tenets of MY feminism) to find a position and speak for it.
All this intellect and intuition, of course, informs my day to day life as well. My personal decisions, the choices I make for myself, my daughter and my family. Feminism informs the way I eat, the way I speak, the way I listen, the friends I keep, the books I read to my child. I don’t think about it explicitly in every little decision I make, but if I consciously recall my thought process, it’s always in there somewhere. The personal, as they say, is political.
Sometimes, however, the choices I make aren’t in line with my political or philosophical beliefs. I’m not perfect, my decisions aren’t always consistent. This is something I struggle with, because I LOVE consistency and only like irony in terms of mustache themed trucker hats. Hypocrites make me edgy. Accepting my human tendency towards failure or contradiction is something I work on daily. I don’t have to be a perfect ______ (feminist/vegetarian/wife/mother/friend) in order to maintain my membership, especially since I’m the only one enforcing the rules. I am a work in progress, open to criticism, worthy of some leeway.
Whenever I read the claim from some fellow feminists that entering into marriage in and of itself is a feminist failing, I have to shake my head a bit. Don’t get me wrong, on paper I totally get this point…the patriarchy, the history, the inequity, I. GET. IT. I also know about the practicality of immigration issues. Tax issues. Family pressure. Social norms. The desire for a celebration. The nuance of real life. And I got married. And, I don’t mind saying, I love being married. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s nothing to do with god or Dave owning me or me not valuing my independence. For me it’s about us. About love. It’s about our commitment and having a ceremony that openly solicited the support of our friends and family in maintaining that commitment. Oh and it’s also about crossing borders together without going into windowless rooms for interrogation. Huge perk.
When I got married, I didn’t change my name. Marriage was a feminist ‘compromise’ I was willing to make, changing my name seemed totally unnecessary. In his heart of hearts I’m sure Dave had his own feelings about it, but he didn’t marry me for the purposes of name congruence and he never brought it up.
A few years later, I did change it. I hyphenated it. And though I wrote about it with humor and some melancholy here, I truly can’t explain to you why I did it. None of the reasons for not doing it went away, but something complicated was happening inside me and I wanted to do it or thought I wanted to do it or whatever it doesn’t matter now I did it. I never mentioned it to Dave until my i.d. with my new name came in the mail and I simply showed him. And though he never ASKED me to do it and didn’t seem to mind (at least not enough to get into a debate with me) that I hadn’t, he was genuinely touched. Which made me feel touched. And we hugged while wearing white linen in a field of sunflowers to the sounds of Enya.
A few years later, we had our child. A girl child, as it turned out, but even before she emerged and we new what her gender was, I had concerns about the name issue. Giving her only Dave’s last name seemed sort of unfair, but talking about this with Dave brought about blank stares in way of response. The kind of blank stare given when you can’t think of any actual words to say that won’t cause a conflict. A defensive, deflective, blank stare. For a man willing to at least DISCUSS anything, this reaction was unusual. And I was in Texas where I am basically, politically and socially, a freak of nature. And and and. A million reasons that I don’t really have and can’t explain, I didn’t debate or discuss or try to persuade. I basically accepted the blank stare and therefore the cultural norm and gave her his last name and my last name was put as a middle name and I moved on. Except I didn’t because I like to quietly obsess over things for years instead of actually moving on.
I brought this issue up again around V’s first birthday. I just kind of casually inserted into a conversation a vague question like ‘what would you think about having her last name hyphenated?’ and Dave just kind of nodded. That seemed like progress from the blank stare.
A year or so later I brought it up again, but with more concrete resolve. I said something like ‘when we get home next summer, I’m thinking of looking into what the process would be to change her name to a hyphenated last name.’ And Dave said, in what I saw as progress from both blank stares and silent nods, ‘sure, let me know what you find out.’
When we got home that summer, I did just that. I asked my dad (family expert on all probate issues), contacted the court, and got the paperwork. I brought it home and told Dave ‘I got that information about changing her name, turns out it won’t actually be that hard. Let’s do this thing!’
His reaction was…not what I expected. He was angry. Irritated. Felt I was pushing him for my own pleasure. Did not understand why I wanted to do this. Blank stares and silent nods gave way to a full on angry argument with yelling. A very, very rare occasion in our marriage. His anger led to my anger, his reasoning led me to fury. I started crying. He got more upset. It wasn’t pretty.
In Dave’s defense, despite that fact that I had obsessed on this in my own mind for 2.5 years and brought it up in a breezy way a few times, he felt blindsided. I had never let on to the way this had plagued me, I had never clued him in to the internal strife I felt. He thought the middle name compromise was sufficient, and he didn’t see the point in changing course.
In my defense, I had flat out equity and logic on my side. We both made the kid, we both have last names, we put them together with an oft forgotten punctuation mark and move on. I saw this as totally logical, and I did not (silly me) consider that the emotions I felt towards this issue could be met with emotion from Dave. Different emotions, for different reasons.
Change is really hard. No matter how much you believe the uniquely American myth that we are all special special snowflakes that can do and say and feel what we want, societal norms and cultural cues are hard to break free from. Even when they don’t make sense. Even when they don’t fit your special snowflake family. After our fight, which ended simply because Dave left the house to go for a run and not because we had resolved anything, I really thought about why this would make him so upset. I thought about all the ways manhood and manliness and machismo are pushed on him every day in the same way that unrealistic and often offensive ideas of the feminine are pushed on me. I thought about how, despite my level of awareness, I am still so highly engaged with and influenced by so many of society’s rules for my gender. And why should he be any different? From absolutely neutral point of view, a hyphenated name for a baby from two people who have different last names does make sense. But since when do any of us operate from that point of view? It was ignorant and probably insensitive of me to assume Dave could do that without any time to process my ideas considering that I had spent nearly 3 years processing this issue myself.
After his run, where he apparently ran out most of his rage, Dave went and sat alone for a while. He told me he thought about the reasons he was so angry. He mentally listed his reasons for not wanting me to change her name. He said the list included pride and bravado, the sense that he was having to ‘give in’ to my desires. But at the end of this internal conversation he says he concluded that despite his emotions and conceptions being real to him, he considers himself a man of logic and reason and there was no logical or reasonable rationale for us not to change her name. He told me he still didn’t like the idea as much as I wanted him to, but that he reminded himself that he knew me when we got married, knew me when we decided to have a baby, and knew he shouldn’t have been so surprised by this request. He said the mental conversation ended with dialogue something like ‘This naming thing isn’t part of a religious tradition or something for us. My name will still be part of V’s name. Why shouldn’t Lane want her name part of the name as well? Dammit.’
In July, we filed all the paper work and appeared in court. I thought this was more of a dotting i’s and crossing t’s situation, but we actually had to swear the oath and sit in the witness chair. Honestly, besides the fact that we were hyphenating my daughter’s name and thereby ending 3 years worth of laying-bed-thinking-about-this, that was the biggest thrill I had had in a while.
When the judge asked me ‘What is the reason for this name change?’ I said ‘….Feminism?’ She smiled and said ‘So noted.’
When the judge asked Dave ‘What is the reason for this name change?’ he said ‘Because I love my wife.’ Which, for family court judge who deals with divorces and custody battles and child support claims all day, was a special thrill. She said to Dave ‘I have to say, I don’t hear that much in this courtroom. And now you are in the court record saying so.’
I love you too.
Photo by the amazing Samantha Elizabeth