Dear Well-Meaning Feminist Male Friends and Colleagues,
We need to talk about what happened. I’m not talking about the incident when when our co-worker cracked that inappropriate comment at the holiday party, or the faculty meeting where Prof. Curie was asked, again, to take notes, or when that high-profile Nobel laureate said something really offensive at his talk. Remember the other day, when that guy started yelling abusive language, got up in my face, threw some sexist slurs my way, and wouldn’t back down? It was a situation that could have easily escalated, but didn’t. I was glad you were with me afterwards. The glass of water, the cookie, the comforting words, the advice on how to handle it with HR — those were all really helpful. Thank you. But that’s not the part I want to talk about. Continue reading
This is the third post in a three part series about changing your name as an academic. Be sure to check out our earlier posts: Changing my surname was a personal choice, and No good options: when your name change indicates a gender change.
I kept my name when I got married. Growing up, it had never even occurred to me to change, and by the time I got married keeping it had become a matter of principle. The process was quite smooth (considering there was no paperwork), and aside from correcting a few stubborn family members who insisted on mailing things to Mr. and Mrs. Husband, my choice has been drama free. I’ve had my share of awkward customer service interactions, and I’ve had to explain to strangers that my husband and I have two different names. We don’t have kids together yet, and so haven’t had to decide how to handle that (right now we’re leaning on any hypothetical baby taking my last name, since my husband has a child with his last name already; it seems only fair.). I had already published under my own name, and it was nice to not have to worry about making any changes — to my drivers license, my CV, my Social Security card, my life.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched a growing number of my friends and colleagues get married. Naïvely, I’ve been surprised that the vast majority of them have taken their husbands surnames. I watched as some of my staunchest feminist friends have had to defend their choices — or, more commonly not defend them. Because what you do with your life and your name is your choice; you don’t have to defend it. This is the promise of third wave feminism: we are now responsible for our bodies, our selves, our lives. Our choices.
Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy…Run! it’s coming for our choices!
But… What happens when our choices are the same choices that The Patriarchy would have made for us? Bear with this clunky metaphor for minute — I don’t mean to think of The Patriarchy as some sort of 1950’s supervillain that bears a mysterious resemblance to the Mecha-Hitler at the end of Castle Wolfenstein. Rather, the patriarchy in this context is shorthand for both an overwhelming societal pressure (the kind our great-grandmothers would’ve faced); but also a more subtle, insidious socialization.
Basically, after decades of feminism, it surprises me that so many heterosexual married women still take their husbands surname. Is it really is a choice, if the choice isn’t changing?
I married young—at the age of 21. I come from a conservative, traditional family, so the decision to change my name was never really a question. Of all the married couples I knew, almost all of the females had changed their name upon marriage. So I, too, changed my name, without much thought to the matter. It was exciting and I felt like an adult following in the footsteps of the cousins and siblings before me. But, not too far into the marriage I started experiencing a bit of an identity “crisis.” After the novelty wore off, and especially when on autopilot, I wouldn’t always respond to my new name. For 21 years, I had been Gracie X and suddenly I was Gracie Y. Who exactly is Gracie Y? I don’t know, it just didn’t sound like me. In my mind, I was still Gracie X, but people were calling me something else, my signature was strange, and I just missed being who I had always been. I also didn’t expect the baggage of the new name in a new town. At the time, my husband’s family didn’t have a stellar reputation in the small town in which he grew up. (I was a kid, so why would I think of this, and marriage is supposed to entail riding off into the sunset, right?). Anyway, I was unaccustomed to the bad vibes I got when people heard my last name. Continue reading
There is a plethora of research on the causes of hostile environments for women in academia, and on why we have an underrepresentation of women in many fields. There are support groups for women, societies entirely devoted to women academics (broadly and field-specific), workshops for women in academia, and countless articles and blogs devoted to the topic.
These initiatives are important, but here’s the thing: gender equality has to be a collaborative venture. If men make up the majority of many departments, editorial boards, search committees, labs and conferences, then men have to be allies in the broader cause of equality, simply because they have more boots on the ground. And, as much as I wish it weren’t so, guys often tend to listen more readily to their fellow guys when it comes to issues like sexism. I’ve also found that there are a lot of guys out there that are supportive, but don’t realize that many of their everyday actions (big and small) perpetuate inequality. So, guys, this post is for you.* Continue reading