05 September 2007

Mrs who?

I quite liked this article by Catherine Deveny in The Age

Why do some wives still change their names?

Catherine Deveny
September 5, 2007

Insecure or conservative or stupid women are bowing to the wishes of their husbands.

WHO the hell is Jana Rawlinson? Jana Wendt I know, Jana Pittman I know, but Jana Rawlinson? So I check out the snap. It looks exactly like Jana Pittman. But her name is Jana Rawlinson. How bizarre. That has to be some crazy coincidence. A woman called Jana with a different surname who looks exactly like Jana Pittman. And, get this, she's a hurdler too. Freaky.

Oh, I get it. She has put a few noses out of joint in the past so she's keen on a bit of incognito action. You'd think she'd change her first name too. Then it dawned on me. She has got married, bizarre enough in itself these days, and changed her last name to her husband's. What an anachronism. Maybe she changed her name to go with the chastity belt, the crinolines and the stick "no thicker than his thumb" that her husband is allowed to beat her with.

Wake up! We are in 2007. Women are no longer owned by their father and then their husband. So why are some women still changing their surnames? And why do some men still want them to? It's sad, it's misogynous, it's archaic, it's insecure and it's unnecessary.

Why would you do something so drastic simply because you decided to delude yourself it was easier? Because you are deeply insecure, deeply conservative or deeply stupid. And in deep denial.

I ask women why they change their last name. They tell me "it's just easier". It's not. How easy is it changing the name on everything from your driver's licence to your library card? It's not. Many of the families I know have up to three different surnames and have no problem at all.

If people really believe that mum, dad and the kids having the same surname is easier, why doesn't the guy change his name? Why don't they flip a coin and it's heads we go for her surname and tails we go for his? Because it is not about it being easier. It makes me despair. We've come all this way and we're still here.

Many women will say that their husbands wanted them to change their surname. So they did. Here's a flash for you sister: if you do everything that your husband wants you to do, you may find yourself teetering round in a pair of stilettos and an apron all day saying, "Shall I fix some more food for you and the boys?", or wearing a burqa.

Thanks to feminism, women should be allowed and encouraged to do anything they want. But the question I ask is why do some women still want to change their surnames?

And not the stock answer they give, but why, deep in their hearts, they feel the need to dilute themselves.

So I kept reading the article and Jana has won a couple of gold medals. Good on her. She has an eight-month-old son and she was doing it for him. Here's a reality pill for you, Jana. You weren't doing it for him, you were doing it for you. He doesn't care.

Then it goes on to use the word "supermum" to describe her. How can a woman who has handed over her kid to be cared for by someone else while she has pursued her dreams with little or no thought to what the child needs or wants be described as a supermum? A supermum is a woman who has done the weekly shop with four kids under five and not killed any of them. If Jana had won the race with the baby strapped to her back while pushing a shopping trolley, I would have called her a supermum.

People are bagging Jana for putting her career above the needs of her young child. Which I can understand. What I can't understand is why the father is not mentioned at all. And never is.

Whenever two parents are working and the child is propped up on the sideline waiting for its turn, why is it only the woman who gets bagged, as if the father has no responsibility for the care of his own child? Why, when a woman is working, does she always get asked, "Who's looking after your children?", but the father never does? We need to take the focus off the role of mother and put it on to parents as a team.

Men have become much more hands-on fathers in the past 10 years and it has been magnificent to see. The kids, the dads and the mums have benefited greatly but we still have a long way to go. Dads, here's a sure-fire way of getting lucky tonight. Try this line: "I've made the lunches, done the reading and filled in all the excursion forms. The clothes are all laid out and I'm just going to put the kids to bed."

Duh! Being called Mrs is becoming fashionable again. But having the husband change his name is an interesting and anti-patriarchal idea.

Non-Australian readers really do not need to know who this Jana Pittman/Rawlinson is. It was used as an illustration. But click here if you want to know.

Thank goodness half the working week has gone. Two more work days before the weekend again.

Last night's episode of Torchwood was really cool (which I had recorded).


emily said...

Yeah!!! I have first season of Torchwood to bring home to you . . .

Bogdan, the editor said...

I took my husband's name when we married, but not because "it's just easier." The columnist is right: It's not easier. In fact, I've stopped using Paypal, for example, because it has some real issues with my name change. (You'd think it would be an easy thing to change!) BUT. I think I'm different than most women. I didn't change it for my husband. I changed it because I disliked my surname in the first place ... because it wasn't even my "real" family surname. My grandfather changed it when he came to the U.S. to try to get around racism and to get a job. At first, I was going to change my last name back to the original surname at age 21 ... but by that time ... I had met Andrew and well, I like his surname just fine.

Great post. I love reading social commentary.