If there’s one issue I’m prone to get a bit militant about, it’s the issue of women changing their names after marriage. To me, it is an outdated and unnecessary custom, that requires significant sacrifice on the part of the woman, but is never a choice faced by men. Worse still, the fact that it is often expected, if not demanded by men points to an insidious form of sexism still present in the modern day. Just letting you know my position, straight up.
Someone who doesn’t agree with me is Rita Panahi, who’s written a charming piece on the issue for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which has been rejigged for news.com.au. Ms Panahi is described as a “social commentator”, and has an issue with our new First Lady Therese Rein, along with other wives of new Labor ministers, not taking their husband’s surname. According to Rita, they’re going against a welcome new trend of brides embracing their husband’s surname, and are therefore rather silly.
Now pieces like this can get me fairly worked up, and have me describing someone like Ms Panahi as less of a “social commentator” and more of a “barmy right-wing old biddy”. But it’s just these kind of comments that get people offside. The Wah has told me I must avoid militancy in my argument, lest I upset or alienate readers, thus losing any chance I may have of convincing them.
There's never been an argument for name-changing that I haven’t managed to shoot down. But to avoid boring you all (at least for the moment), I will present a very simple case for why this practice is sexist and unfair.
Many women say it is their choice to change their name, as a sign of love for their husband, and with the purpose of creating a family unit.
I only ask this: What does a man do OF EQUAL VALUE for the woman?
Whether or not to change a name is an issue that overwhelmingly – I would say greater than 99% - confronts only women. Mr John Smith is Mr John Smith for life. He never even has to contend with Miss, Ms or Mrs, least of all having to decide whether to make the leap to John Jones when he marries Jane Jones.
It’s EXPECTED that women change their names. But there’s no equivalent expectation of men. Think about it. Working – both partners decide. Spending habits – both decide, or keep separate accounts. Having children – both decide. Staying at home with children – both decide, and perhaps both take turns. Retirement plans - both decide.
If anyone can tell me of a decision upon or during marriage, a declaration signifying eternal undying love and devotion that is exclusively the man’s - then I will buy you a Coke.
Thinking? Let me give you some space....
That's because there just isn’t one. A tradition that requires such an expensive and complicated sacrifice on the part of only one gender is a sexist tradition. And no amount of shrugging and saying "but it's just nice" is going to change that.
At the end of the day, if I’m marrying you, I’m committing to you. I know it’s a shock, but women are smart enough to remember who their husband is without recourse to checking drivers’ licences. And just because a woman may have a different surname to her children, doesn’t make her any less their mother (and after all, it's easier for a woman to pass off another man's child as her partner's than it is for a man to do the same thing: as many as one in ten Australian children have the wrong father's surname anyway!). The more children grow up with different surnames in the house, the more tolerant and progressive they will be regarding name changes as adults.
Many people say it's their choice to change their name, and they're right, it is. But is it really a choice when you're doing it simply because "it's the done thing" or "it's easier"? My aim is to encourage deeper consideration of this issue, taking into account the centuries' worth of social constructs at play here.