I’ve noticed that whenever a woman defends having taken her husband’s name, or defends dressing provocatively, it’s invariably stated, “After all, feminism is about choice.” Well I’m not pleased with having women who choose tradition, or patriarchy, telling me what feminism “is about”.
Take the word “choice”. Somehow, when a woman explains her decision to take her husband’s name as a choice, it feels like she’s using the term in the sense of “I choose vanilla; you choose chocolate”, i.e., there's no implication, no greater statement being made; it's simply a matter of what you like and what I like. But the difference between choosing ice cream flavors and choosing which name to use is that the former has no values attached, while which name one uses very much reflects one’s values.
In this sense, I can’t really go with “feminism is about choice”. To me it’s akin to an African-American saying, “The civil rights movement was about choice, and I choose to sit at the back of the bus.” Unlikely, I’d say. So why is feminism any different? Feminism is about choice in the sense that it’s about women having choices other than the traditional ones; we don't need feminism in order to opt for tradition -- traditional roles have been "freely available" for the past 10,000 years.
Therefore I see feminism as being about parity (notice I didn’t say “equality”, God forbid), i.e., being on a par with men; and when I take someone else’s name, I’m by definition not on a par with him. Ditto when I intentionally dress (or dress my daughter) so as to objectify myself in men’s eyes. How can I be on a par with someone who views me as an object?
Moreover, it doesn’t strike me that someone who chooses to take her husband’s name is sincerely concerned about her “choices” being jeopardized. In a world where at least half of all women retained their birth names, such a woman might indeed feel pressured to do so, but we’re not even close to that world. On the other hand, stay-at-home moms do feel pressured to work for an income, but I doubt that that pressure is coming from feminist circles; more likely it’s economic pressure coming from within their own households.
In actuality, it’s democracy that’s about choice. In a democracy, we’re free to choose traditional lifestyles a la Amish or ultra-Orthodox, as long as we don’t impose them on the rest of the citizenry. Yet it seems disingenuous for women making traditional choices to invoke feminism in the defense of those choices, especially when it’s only when it serves them that they even bother to acknowledge feminism.
And, what exactly are they acknowledging when they say, “feminism is about…”? It appears to refer to a rather fuzzy code for “Some 1970s struggle that ended the Dark Ages”. How many of you who parrot “feminism is about choices” have actually read feminist literature, taken a gender studies class, or attended a consciousness-raising session?
I rather conceive of feminism as precisely being about questioning assumptions, pushing the boundaries, even rocking the boat, and yes, doing the uncomfortable thing. Taking your husband’s name does none of these; an eight-year-old wearing a top emblazoned with “So Many Boys, So Little Time” is making a statement…unfortunately a twisted one.
I will rejoice when we get to a place where retaining our names is the comfortable thing; when Western society finally strikes that sartorial balance between repression and promiscuity. Until then, please don’t drag feminism in when defending your having chosen to settle into comfortable, traditional roles.
Added February 13, 2011- quote from Haxer Beck2:
"Traditional ladies didn't have to pay for anything, but they didn't get to have sex until they were married, and the only decisions they ever got to make in their lives were whether to say Yes or No to an offer of marriage, and what they were going to wear.
Modern ladies get to do whatever they want (as long as it's considerate of others), AND they pay for that privilege by taking full responsibility for their own material support and well-being.
A woman can pick either system and still be a lady -- but she can't enjoy the rights from one system and ditch its associated responsibilities."