AT THE WEDDING of a friend recently, I stood among close friends, showering the newly-married couple with marigolds and rose petals, a lump forming in my throat as I prayed for the couple’s happiness. In the midst of this sentimental moment, I heard a familiar voice declare with great satisfaction, “At last, she is Mrs. (husband’s last name).” The happy haze dissipated rather suddenly as I whirled around to catch the look of smug contentment on my friend’s husband’s face. All was well with the world, the woman had been palmed off from father to husband, and this was precisely how it should be, his smile suggested.
With as much civility as my tart tongue could muster, I informed him that it is possible she may not change her last name post matrimony (like two of the three women in our group), to which he replied in an annoyed, challenging tone, “Wanna bet?” The exchange that followed has no place in this post. But the interpretation of my supposedly neo-liberal, out-to-cause-trouble comment was enough to irk him greatly. And have him make every effort to put me ‘in my place’.
Woman Rocking The Boat = Dangerous = Needs To Be Shut Up.
Time and again, I am amazed at the reactions of seemingly educated, liberal and urbane men when the issue of women’s last names is broached. It is assumed that when a man and a woman go through the rituals of marriage, in whatever way, shape or form, the end result will necessarily include the woman removing her last name of birth and adopting that of her husband.
Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been.
Why? Because somebody’s got to do it!
Why? Because we’re a patriarchal society.
Why? Because…. oh shut up and stop being such a nagging pain, Dilnavaz!
It isn’t merely the assumption that is cause for my concern. It’s the rather vitriolic reaction to the challenging of the status quo. The resentment thrown at a woman for daring to retain part of her premarital identity, should she choose to keep the last name she was born with. I’m all for individual choices. If your husband’s last name floats your boat, hey, go right ahead and make it Rumpelstiltskin, for all I care. But to subject a person, nay, a woman— always, always and always a woman — to criticism for exercising her right to her own name is unacceptable and indicative of a still-medieval mindset.
As with other feminist issues, I am given either weary or annoyed looks, and told not to stir trouble where there isn’t any. So your trying to take away something I was born with isn’t a problem? You bet your birth certificate it is! Pretending to be a globally-educated man of the world and then throwing a tantrum and refusing to marry your fiancée unless she adds your name to hers reeks of hypocrisy and this is one stench I refuse to wallow in. As my mother very sensibly puts it, (is it a default setting, this sensible mother thing?) it’s not so much the actual act as the mindset behind it, and I have a nagging feeling that plenty of men I know need to work on changing their outlooks rather than their wife’s name. Right, Mr. Ooh-Look-At-My-Fancy-Surname?