The only flak I get is from fellow "feminists" who are totally riding my ass about taking his last name. Every message of "you should do what you want" seems to have a subtext "do what you want as long as you do x,y,z to prove you're a *real* feminist". I'm really surprised by this response given how very liberal and unconventional my fiancee and I are especially with regards to gender roles. It's gotten to the point where a couple people I must work with told me I've "sold out" even though they too struggled with the question.
Normally, that sort of attitude would tempt me to give a very polite and gentle version of "fuck off cause your crazy is polluting my peace". But it actually distresses me that anyone would think I'm some sort of future stepford wife. I can't even cook! I know the high road is to shrug it off and I've been playing the avoidance game... but out of a defensive pride, I occasionally try to explain my reasoning to them. On the flip side, I feel way too proud to bother listing out my resume which would clearly articulate how much I've dedicated to gender rights-- because why should I need to?
What's your advice on how to respond so that I feel like I'm not a doormat but at the same time says "Dude, totally not your sounding board for your rant against patriarchy. Move on." But you know, in a way that doesn't make them hostile to me since I actually have to work with them. Reasoning has not worked, polite discussions and requests for them to respect my choices has failed. It's as if they want me to yell at them to validate their judgement that I'm somehow unbalanced.
Distressed at Work
Dear Distressed at Work,
Ahhh, the name change game. Ever since Lucy Stone herself chose to remain Lucy Stone herself, a bride's choice to keep or change her name has come to signify the depth, breadth, and width of her commitment to feminist ideals.
Personally, I whole-heartedly endorse the recent (and mostly gay) trend of coming up with a whole new last name for both of you upon getting married. One way to accomplish this is by combining your two last names. For instance, if you're Anonymous Johnson and he's Jon Anonson, then you would obviously become Anonymous and Jon Johnymous. Alternately, you could just pick a brand-new, totally-out-of-nowhere name for yourselves. How about Awesomeface? Or perhaps Baddassleby?
No no, I kid because I know that your question isn't really about changing your name. The truth is, you're entirely sure that it's what you want to do, and I assume you have your reasons for that. Maybe it's really important to your fiance's family. Maybe you don't like your current last name as much as his. Maybe you knew a kid growing up whose mom had a different last name and it always seemed weird to you and then that kid's parents got divorced and secretly you always attributed it to the name thing in your mind. The fact is, it doesn't matter what your reasons are. Your mind is made up, and I congratulate you for coming to your conclusion and remaining confident about it.
As for those bitches at work...I mean, I'm stating the obvious by telling you that their bullshit is NOT about you, right? You're a feminist and you know it; you don't have to prove anything to them.
The traditions associated with a wedding - wearing white, exchanging rings, changing your name - have multiple contexts, including but not limited to the historical, the contemporary cultural, and the personal. Smart people with access to information know that many of the symbols in contemporary marriages come from some pretty arcane historical roots. So people do what they do in every situation that has complex personal implications as well as cultural significance: they bargain, they rationalize. I'm sure you've heard stuff like:
"Sure, I'll wear white at my wedding, but there's no way I'm changing my name!"
"No way am I having some big church wedding with a white dress, but I of course require a huge diamond upon my engagement because, you see, I am worth it."
And so on.
The problem with the framework here is that it's all about what everybody else thinks. If you are choosing to do the ONE AND ONLY THING in the extensive litany of marriage traditions that these other women chose NOT to do, then they're going to act all superior about that one thing because they're still insecure about it. Maybe they're insecure because they DID buy the big white frilly dress and have their fathers give them away. Maybe they're insecure because their husbands' families have always been hurt by the fact that they didn't change their names. Because the choice not to change their names was the big symbolic gesture for them, they get freaked out when a like-minded person chooses something different or doesn't attribute the same gravitas to it as they did.
As for what to do about it, let me offer the following potential responses:
Yes, I am taking my fiance's name. Do you know what it is? It's Gofuckyourself. Yeah, he's Thai.
Damn right I sold out! The patriarchy is actually paying me SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS to change my name! Cha-ching!
Well, my fiance and I worked out a deal: he does the dishes, folds the laundry, and gives birth to the children, and I take his last name.
Tell me, Coworker, did your wedding guests appreciate the subversive tongue-in-cheek farce of your white wedding dress, or was the irony pretty much lost on them?
Okay, here's a real one:
Look, changing my name is my choice, and I have my personal reasons. It has nothing to do with the gender balance of my relationship. If it bothers you, that's your problem.
Alternately, you could tell your coworkers about this "really cool" blog you found with a bunch of "really awesome" entries on being a
LEAVE HER ALONE, BITCHES!
So good luck. And remember, feminism is about freedom, and you're freely making a free choice, and everybody else is free to fuck off. Thanks for your letter!
If you want to be cool like "Distressed" and send me an email, but you don't want to use your real email account because I might be a rich widow in Nigeria who wants your bank details, then feel free to make up an email address and send me a letter. I would post the account details that "Distressed" set up but my SysAdmin/fiance advises against it.
Send advice letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you're a robot! That's fine! Robots need advice too!