A new study conducted by Facebook shows that younger women are opting not to take their husbands’ names in marriage. The statistics, which show that a third of all married women in their twenties chose to keep their own names, whereas only 12 percent of women in their 60s decided not to take their husbands’ name, have been hailed by some as a sign that younger women are "embracing feminism."
While I certainly support women who push back against this tradition, my elation with regard to this development is muted. Maybe fewer women are doing it, but many continue to take their husband’s name in marriage despite the fact that it’s no longer required. That women continue to do this voluntarily tells me that our concept of “romance” and commitment are still firmly rooted in inequality.
There are no persuasive arguments to defend the practice of taking on your husband's name in marriage. You just like the idea? Fine. Say what you mean –- your idea of romance is tied to symbols of submission. In many ways, we’re all susceptible to that. Hey, I made my first boyfriend buy me the tiniest diamond ring you could find (twice, in fact, as the first was lost in a tragic toilet-flushing accident) because I had internalized the silly notion that diamonds were connected to love and romance despite the ethical implications of diamonds. Say what you mean, and then question it.
And to those who say it's "less confusing" for the kids? Kids are not quite as dumb as you make them out to be. My mother kept her maiden name and somehow I managed to understand that she was my mom. Family pressuring you to follow tradition? Fine. I hear that. It’s hard to fight deeply ingrained family traditions. But that’s still about patriarchy.
To me the name change issue is a moot point. It’s about patriarchy. Period. Just because we can make a choice about whether or not we want to buy into it doesn’t remove that reality.
But I want to move beyond that conversation. To me the real question is: Why marry at all?
Never in my life have I been interested in getting married. I’m interested in love, commitment, long-term relationships, and the sharing of dogs and groceries. What marriage has to do with any of that is lost on me.
When I was younger and decidedly uncommitted, engaged in a series of one-night stands and regular booty calls and told people I didn't want to marry, they assumed it was because I was committed to singledom –- that I just wanted the freedom to fuck around for life. I was told I’d change my mind once I fell in love.
But I did fall in love. A bunch of times. And still I found myself unable to find a convincing argument for marriage. “Security,” said my mother. Security? But people cheat all the time. And 40% of marriages end in divorce, which strikes me as a particularly costly, time consuming, and exhausting way to break up. Break ups are almost always horrible, do I have to add lawyer fees to that?
Marriage doesn’t guarantee your partner will with treat you with love, kindness, or respect for life. It doesn’t guarantee you safety, nor does it ensure your partner will support you or help with housework or childcare (in fact, marriage has long guaranteed pretty much the opposite). Marriage has been an institution within which women have suffered abuse, rape, murder and forced reproduction. It’s an institution that guaranteed men a maid and someone to bear and raise their offspring.
The legal arguments don’t pan out for me either. In Canada, at least, being in a common law partnership guarantees couples the same rights and privileges marrieds are entitled to. It seems more productive and more progressive to fight for common law rights than it does to fight for an old, tired, regressive, and unnecessary institution such as marriage. What exactly are we trying to hang on to?
I hadn't realized my anti-marriage position was such an abnormal thing until I hit my thirties and everyone around me started getting married. It seemed almost automatic, like an alarm went off: “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time!” It was as though people didn’t even think about it –- marriage was just the "natural" next step.
It became apparent that, for most, marriage was an assumed part of their future so I started having the conversation with potential partners early on.
"Just so you know, I don't want to get married or have babies," I'd warn my dates over drinks.
"Ever?" they'd ask, confused.
"Well, no. Not ever. Unless you, like, need citizenship or something equally practical."
I’ve explained dozens of times over: "Yes, I want a monogamous, love-type relationship. No, I don't see what marriage has to do with any of that." The assumption that I simply didn’t want to commit confused me. "I'd love a life partner, this is a political decision," I’d clarify. I don't think it's a stretch to say that, for most men I've dated, I was the first woman they’d ever heard such a thing from.
Women, in particular, are taught that a marriage proposal is something that validates them. It means they are desired -– that a man wants to “lock it down.” And yes, I understand how a proposal could make one feel loved. And of course we all want to be loved. But is it so difficult to imagine that love can exist without diamonds and white dresses and an institution that made women into chattel? Things to be traded among men? Is it so difficult to imagine that people might commit to and love one another, just the same, without that piece of paper?
It seems that if women were truly “embracing feminism,” they’d reject such an unnecessary tradition so firmly rooted in sexist practices and ideas. While you can’t guarantee commitment or “till death do us part,” you can guarantee is that marriage, over time, has harmed women more than it’s helped them. Rejecting marriage seems not only a political choice, but a practical one. And hey, you can still have a party.