In nine months I will be married. It doesn't seem that long ago I was sporting short hair, dockers, button-downs and ties and hitting the bars. Now, I have hair down to the middle of my back, wearing a f'ing Vera Wang wedding dress and participating full force in the bridal industrial complex. I'm currently taking a feminist studies class and it reminded me how I was when I first started doing my feminist/women's studies coursework for my MA: idealistic but still angry about how the world works. While I'd like to think that some of that rage is still inside me and I don't think I have become soft, I think I have become more tolerable and understanding of others and their beliefs.
There are some who may think that a woman changing her last name is “unfeminist.” To me this is a very tricky and personal decision for every woman who is about to get married. First, there is no one singular socio-political belief system known as feminism. There are multiple feminisms to reflect the diverse experiences of women around the world. However, the underlining goal of feminism is to improve the lives and experiences of women (and men) by ending gender oppression and injustice. Therefore, I find it difficult especially within this context to label the act of changing one's last name to her husband's as being “unfeminist.”
We currently live in a patriarchal country where surnames are generally passed down through men. Even if a bride were not to take her husband's last name she would still have her father's (or some other familial male member's) last name. There are multiple reasons why a woman may no longer want to keep her last name. Perhaps, she has negative associations with that name such as it is a constant reminder of an abusive or absent father or she may not like the way it sounds or more simply, she wants to mark this transition by changing her last name to her husband's.
Ultimately, this country unlike others, give women this choice. If a woman wants to change her last name then it is HER choice to do so. Now, if the future husband is a complete douche monkey and is forcing her to do this, or other patriarchal forces pressure her into it, then it is no longer a choice.
In some states men are allowed to change their last name to their future spouses, but in some they cannot. He can hyphenate it or they can combine their last names but he cannot take his wife's last name. Men should be able to be given the same choice for the same reasons I stated above. This is a deeply personal decision and I think it is unfair to judge or label women “unfeminist” if they make a conscious decision to change their name.
What have I decided to do? I'm taking on Mr. Nee's last name as an additional middle name. First, I want to honor my father and grandmother by maintaining my maiden name. Second, I have become who I am with this last name and I want to continue to do so. Third, Mr. Nee shares a last name with someone who is relatively well known in my field, shares similar research interests, and has a similar first name and I don't want to have to deal with the confusion that may spur from that. Finally, the most important reason is that I want to mark this transition in my life and show my love and devotion to Mr. Nee without losing me.
Weddings are a celebration of love and commitment. Not only between the two getting married but also for those in attendance, which is why, I'm having my father walk me down the aisle (at least part of the way). Yes, to some, this would seem “unfeminist.” However, for me, this is best way to honor my father and show gratitude. My father has been through a lot in life and in the last few years has seen little joy. I know that by doing this, it will make him feel happy and wanted. However, he will not be giving me away. I'm a person, not property. I'm not something to be given or received by anyone including Mr. Nee.
I definitely think it is possible to be a feminist and have a wedding, wear the white dress, have your father walk you down the aisle and take your husband's last name. It is about compromise and being open and understanding without forgetting who you are and what you stand for.
PS: I realize that this post is incredibly heterosexist and does not address the heartbreaking injustices that many LGBT-identified individuals deal with regarding marriage, name changes, and other basic human rights. It is so sad that in many places, marriage is considered a privilege. Everyone should have the right to be able to express their love and devotion to another person in a State-recognized union. If I had continued hitting bars in my younger days and found the woman/boi of my dreams, I would be denied this very basic human right.