I’ve been noticing some Aussie newspapers have been featuring studies claiming there’s a recent shift in more people adopting traditional family practices. There’s apparently less people choosing to stay in ‘de facto’ relationships, women are choosing to give up career ambitions for full time motherhood, and claims that the number of women keeping their own name after marriage is dropping.
I get a feeling that the recent run of such articles is nothing more than a little cherry-picking to match the views of their largely conservative audience of the major newspapers.
Still, when I first started thinking about the ‘name change’ issue I was doing a bit of my own cherry-picking to support my previous belief that it should come down to the choice of the individual and nothing more.
But I keep coming back to one point – the main reason women take on their husbands surname is because it is traditional. Sounds very nice, doesn’t it? But this tradition is as warming in it’s origins as the tradition of slavery – the ownership of women being passed from one man to another. It comes from a time when women were seen as second class citizens, were denied basic rights and even considered genetically inferior to men.
To say we have ‘choice’ in the matter is also a bit deceptive. Unfortunately, social pressures make it very tough to exercise our ability to choose between options that are seemingly available to us.
A man may want to be a stay-at-home Dad but is too guilt-affected by the media’s narrow representation and definitions of ‘manhood’. A woman may want to keep her surname but may be overwhelmed by the raised eyebrows and constant comments of her immediate family and friends and simply ‘give in’ to avoid the hassle.
Social forecaster Bernard Salt says that modern women are ‘more secure in their independence’ and are choosing to change their name because they are ‘comfortable in the logistical smoothness that sees all family members having the same surname.’ This doesn’t seem like a reasonable justification to me. If it was really a ‘choice’, free from the assumptions of gender roles, there would be just as many men adopting their wives surnames.
I am a stay at home Dad slash writer. Reservoir Mum works full time as a researcher/academic and also runs her own business. Even though we are very happy with our lives, getting to this point was not without its battles. I faced the usual hurdles; among them was standing up against the ridiculous idea that I was less ‘manly’ because I wouldn’t be contributing financially for a while.
And Reservoir Mum encountered resistance in the early days that she was an inferior mother because she wasn’t staying home full time.
This pressure is not just the occasional bantering of family and friends but is constantly reinforced through media, product labeling, advertising, television programs and the like.
I know people who have wanted the same lifestyle that Reservoir Mum and I have but due to this pressure could simply not make the choice. These gender role expectations and pressures are still all around us and are very real in how they impact on the decisions individuals and families make.
So where does this leave me with the tradition of women taking on their husbands names? I’d like to say I’m okay with it, that it’s simply a matter of personal choice, but it seems to me that there’s still a level of inequality that makes pure choice unavailable to many people. I feel that, in many cases, there may be more coercion and relenting to social pressure in a woman’s decision to take on her husband’s surname.
When we see just as many men taking on women’s surnames, we’ll have a clear indication that gender role pressure is no longer impacting on the decision.