Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yet Another Post...

...I want to put into the hands of my students, both male and female, but especially female.

Every semester I have three or four students get married halfway through the semester.  I'm not Sally Swearingen anymore, they will giggle, now I'm Sally Benton.

I sigh and mark the roll book appropriately.  I do not give them my Feminist Lecture 112B, no matter how much it burns at the base of my gullet.  (I do not burst out with my rant about how they will be coming to me in two semesters giggling how they are Sally Weston now, either; oh no, I restrain myself.)

But seriously: wtf? I long to say.  Is this not 2010?  Why are you "taking his name"?  Beyond the fact that it is extremely annoying for me, the professor, to keep track of just who the shit you are if you are changing your name every semester and a half, do you not understand the meaning behind this tradition?  Do you not understand what you are doing when you "take" his name?

I actually did go off on this once, when a sweet little lamb in one of my literature classes asked me why I was Dr. Delagar rather than Dr. My Husband's Name.

"Why would I do that?" I demanded of not just her but of the entire class.  "Don't you know what it means when a woman is given her husband's name upon marriage?"

The woman who asked the question stated, very boldly, "It means she's committed to the marriage."

Committed.  Interesting choice of words.

"It means she becomes part of her husband's clan," I corrected, as patiently as I could.  "It means she becomes part of his chattel.  Like his cattle, or his pigs, or his kids."

They scowled.

"Why doesn't he take your name when you marry him?" I asked.  "Wouldn't that mean he was committed to the marriage?"

"Because that's not how it's done," she said.

"Right.  But why?"

She folded her arms over her chest.

"Maybe because he's not property and you are?" I said.

"It's just your father's name anyway," said one of my smarter male students from the back row.  "Right?  So what difference does it make?"

"So it's just your father's name anyway," I said to him.  "So why don't you give it up and take your wife's when you marry her?"

Which  I didn't mean to make the class laugh at him (really, I didn't, I'm just seriously sick of guys thinking they're SCORING with that stupid question) but they all did.

I waved them quiet.  "It's my name," I said.  "Your name is who you are.  No one should ask you to give it up.  No one should want to take it away from you, for any reason.  Anyone who wants to, seriously.  You should seriously think twice about a relationship with that person."  I took a breath.  "And this isn't Tennyson, so we should move on."


Vance Maverick said...

"She hath no loyal knight and true / The Lady of Shalott." Or there's some bride-of-Christ stuff in "St. Agnes' Eve". Or, given the context, I'd be tempted to show them "In Memoriam" and say, see? now this is commitment.

delagar said...

Heh. Yeah.

dorki said...

Ah, the name thing. The first "why is that so?" that I faced as a child. The more it was explained to me the sillier it seemed. Only in adulthood was the oppressive nature of it clear.

That is why my wife and I kept our own names (and the fact that it would be WAY too long if hyphenated).

Seriously, why would anyone want to change their name unless it was something like "Ingelbert Humperdink" (playwright of Hansel & Gretel)?

Bardiac said...

Yep. Talking to our students sometimes feels like a nightmare from the 50s.

But all the students are above average, blah blah.

sugaredharpy said...

So yeah, I do indeed mention this in EVERY class because we study art history and how such "tradition" is interesting, because it's so pretty fucking new. Considering none of the women artists we study, nor the wives of the men artists, nor the women patrons changed their name upon marriage.

And neither did I. So I do indeed try to get this point across to the women in my classes, and to the men to not even think about asking a future spouse to do it.

delagar said...

Sugared Harpy -- Ha, interesting! Is that because they're not from the English culture, or because they're artists? I know in Spain, for instance, the rules of naming are entirely other, as they are in Asia and the Levant.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those girls. (There are a lot of us...we read your blog with enthusiasm and a great deal of passion, by the way.)

I know what you're saying, and I wasn't particularly happy about figuratively becoming by husband's "property" either, being of the feminist breed. However, we are on even footing in our household. I did it because it's what people do. It may not be right according to a feminist's agenda, but just because I took his name doesn't mean he wanted to own me or that he treats me badly in any way. I took his name because I'm proud of it. I also did it because I don't want my future children to have to answer "Why do your mommy and daddy have different last names and why do you have two names?" for the rest of their lives. Kind of like a time-saver.
It didn't change who I am, who he is, or who we are. It is just this society's way of saying, "I'm his wife. He's my husband." That way, no pesky college students will ever make me explain my name.