Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Belle Vierge

I was pretty absent from the internet yesterday, dear readers, because I have come down with the lurgy. It was pathetic, and I mean that in the old-fashioned sense of the word.  All you need to know about it is in this Instagram from Monday night and this Twitter conversation from Tuesday afternoon; you don't want any other details, I promise.  I'm a bit better today so I'm delighted to host what I'm sure will be an involved conversation in the comments here by turning Betsy Transatlantically over to one of the most passionate - and, at the same time, amongst the most open-mined - bloggers I know: Belle.

Belle, aka Belle Vierge, writes over at Finding My Virginity about being a Christian feminist living "outside the virgin/whore dichotomy."  Many of the topics she covers seem like they'd be foreign to me, but there's something to engage with in every post - often more than I'd like to admit, honestly.  I love reading her pieces about the importance of humilitythe objectification of women, and the definitions of sex and virginity that work for her.  Whenever I come across something online about women and/or intimacy that fires me up, I know I can turn to Belle for a challening discussion.  (She even joined me back in the spring with her own "I Believe" post!)

When I asked Belle what topic she'd like to write on for her September sponsorship, I was thrilled that she picked Wedding Wednesday.  What could be better suited?  And I also knew that, because my readers are game for posts that make them think, she could totally be herself about this issue.  She's written more about it on her own blog today, so make sure to check it out after you've read her thoughts here!

Betsy's Wedding Wednesday posts have been among my favorites, so I'm thrilled to contribute to the conversation from my choice-feminist-with-a-serious-boyfriend-but-not-actually-planning-a-wedding-yet-ish perspective.

Beau and Belle

Both Third Wave and Fourth Wave Feminism at least partly include choice feminism, that is, women should be free to make their own choices for their lives without judgment from other women. But is every choice made by a woman thus a feminist choice?


And that's okay.

But how exactly does this tie into the wedding part of Wedding Wednesday?

Traditionally, when women married men, women then adopted their husband's last name. But this is 2013, and while this tradition is still quite aggravatingly the norm, it's no longer the only option for married women.

Question: Is taking your husband's last name upon marriage a feminist choice?

As Betsy realized when she did some research before her own post on this topic, feminists are overwhelmingly supportive of an individual woman's choice to keep her maiden name or take her husband's last name. We do tend to be a little concerned at the overall trend of women as a whole taking their husband's last name, but we value the individual choice of women.

The comments of any article on this subject, however, tend to include women who are defensive about their choice and men who are suspicious of women who keep their last name. So I want to break down all these thoughts once and for all.

Women have their own reasons for keeping or discarding their maiden name, some of which are frankly more valid than others (I'll get to this later). When we share these reasons, when we speak positively and happily about our own choice, when we offer what our choice means to us, we are not stating that the opposite choice reflects opposite values. But, IMHO, sometimes women on one side read too much into what women on the other side have to say about their choice, and thus women get really defensive about said choice.

I am keeping my last name because I think adopting my husband's last name is an archaic tradition that reeks of patriarchy and ownership. How I couple this belief with my desire to get married is over on my blog today. But that doesn't mean I think Betsy is now Jon's property nor do I think she's a secret agent for Teh Patriarchy, working with All Teh Menz to rule the simple womenfolk.

La MariƩe, by Niki de St. Phalle; Le Centre Pomidou

I am keeping my last name because I love my last name. I love my first name with my last name. I love the way my first, middle, and last name sound together. It's a name I've carried 26+ years, and I don't want to lose it. In fact, it's such an awesome name that I really wish I could share it with y'all because I love it so much, but it's so unique that I keep it on the DL to protect my anonymity-ish-ness. But that doesn't mean I think Betsy hates her maiden name, or hates her middle name, or even that she prefers Jon's family name to her own. Although, IDK, Jon is British, and anything he pronounces probably sounds better and more posh than what Betsy or I could say with our considerably less sexy American accents.

I am keeping my last name as a sign of my independence and my feminist beliefs. That doesn't mean I think Betsy is less independent or less feminist than I am. I mean, I think my medium-distance relationship with Beau strongly indicates my independence, but look at Betsy, all calm and collected about a transatlantically long-distance marriage!

I can have my own reasons, based on my own values and beliefs, for keeping my last name, and they have nothing to do with a woman who chooses differently. When I share my motivations for keeping my last name, I'm not automatically judging Betsy, or, let's be honest, every single one of my married female friends including the flaming liberal-essentially-socialist feminist ones, for choosing differently. The opposite is true as well.

Some women see sharing a last name as a symbol of unity. Some women think it's easier for the whole family to share one last name. Some women think taking their husband's last name is a sign of love and respect. Some women really want to share their future children's last name (although why the children's last name is automatically the father's is beyond my egalitarian comprehension). Some women are hiding from abusive exes or stalkers, and getting rid of their maiden name protects them. Some women feel closer to their husband's family than their birth family. Some women have absent or abusive fathers and don't want to keep that name. Some women just appreciate the tradition. But most of the time when they are sharing their own reasons, they're not condemning me for being an outsider in my family, or suggesting I don't love and respect my (eventual) husband.

Reasons that are less valid and piss me off?

An old friend of mine and I used to talk about how we would keep our maiden name when we got married one day. We shared many feminist ideals, and our devotion to our last name (which, coincidentally, were the same) was one of them. When she got married several years ago, she took her husband's last name.


Because her future mother-in-law gave her the biggest guilt trip of my friend's life. When her future MIL found out that my friend planned on keeping her maiden name, she went on and on about how my friend didn't like them, how she wasn't happy to be marrying into the family, how she clearly didn't really love and respect them. So my friend took her husband's last name to keep the peace.

And that happens more often than women would like to admit. Young brides will swear up and down that the choice was completely theirs, that it was just easier. But when I read articles on the subject, I'm always saddened by the number of women in the comments who express regret at being bullied into taking their husband's last name.

Even worse, sometimes the husbands are the one bullying their wives. Like I mentioned above, the comments by men on any article on this topic tend to be overwhelmingly sexist.

Women who keep their maiden name aren't truly committed to their husband.

Women who keep their maiden name have an underlying problem they're not expressing.

Women who keep their maiden name are going to control their husband and make him miserable.

Women who keep their maiden name aren't Christian.

Women who keep their maiden name don't love or respect their husband.

Unlike my description above of women being defensive of their choice, I didn't have to read between the lines to find these comments. Men wrote them in a very straightforward, suspicious, and sexist manner.

When so many men and mothers-in-law have that attitude, even the most feminist and stubborn of women might sacrifice their own desire to satisfy their husband or in-laws.

I'm a little long-winded and it took me some time to get here, but we're finally at the conclusion.

Answer: Taking a husband's last name is only a genuine choice if a woman is unafraid of keeping her maiden name.

Assuming it's an actual choice, then taking a husband's last name is neither a feminist nor an anti-feminist choice. It is a neutral choice.

Not all of our choices have to be feminist. It's okay, ladies! I don't eat feminist cereal for breakfast or drive a feminist car to work or wear feminist bikinis all the time.

That last one is a lie. My bikinis have the Feminist Stamp of Approval.

But seriously, y'all. I talked about the whole name thing to relate it to weddings, also because I'm obviously totes passionate about it, but that's not my main point.

Do what makes you happy.

Yes, stop and ask yourself why it makes you happy, and double-check that you're not afraid of the reactions of toxic people.

Then, go back and do what makes you happy.

When I get married, the primary reason I will not take Beau's last name is because keeping my maiden name makes me happy.

And honestly, that's a good enough reason for anything.


  1. Belle, I love this (and your other post, as I already said!) My finacee and I started talking about what we might do with our names even before we were engaged, since it's not super clear cut when two ladies are involved. We could just hyphenate, except that my last name is already hyphenated. I came up with some crazy solutions while brainstorming that I'll probably save for a blog post someday, since it means clearing some details with my family. Suffice to say, I think the feminist action involved in the name change question is simply thinking critically about it, and not doing anything simply because society expects it.
    The comment I wanted to write last night was regarding marriage itself, and how the decision to get married can feel whole lot like the way you explain changing your name in this post-- it's irrevocably buying into a patriarchal system. I know some people for whom marriage (especially for queer people) signifies assimilation into heteronormative/patriarchal/capitalist society. I am by no means the most moderate of people, but I do want to get married, mostly because my partner and I are both religious. Which means we're often feel stuck between two communities that each place us on the defensive about our decision, for very different reasons.
    In the end, it makes us that much surer that the decisions we make are right for us. And I think(/hope) that can be the goal of feminist conversations: self-examination of our own actions, as much as trying to change the world in a big, abstract way.

  2. This was such a wonderful, well written post! I debated about keeping my maiden name, because I was very attached to it, but in the end I made the decision to take my husband's name--not because I was bullied into it, or because that was the norm, but because it was important to me to symbolize our unity and the step we were taking to spend our lives together. Luckily for me, my husband was on board with whatever decision I was going to make, and we will be using my maiden name as the first name of our first born child, whether it's a boy or girl.

  3. "Taking a husband's last name is only a genuine choice if a woman is unafraid of keeping her maiden name." YES! It was hard to change my name because I'd spent twelve years establishing a career and a professional reputation under my name, but it was just the right thing for me and for us for reasons that I could write a 1000 word comment on. For everyone else, I support whatever they want me to do, just drop me a little announcement card or email so that I know how to address my postcards.

    On a side note, I wrote a post a while back on whether or not to change your name, and the procedures for changing your name, and I got some of the sweetest thank you emails ever from men who were looking to change their last names to take their wives'. I thought that was all kinds of awesome, but I also totally understand why they emailed me instead of commenting publicly.

    For anyone who has a problem with someone making a decision, whatever decision they make, mind your business. Them making a decision doesn't automatically mean you have to do things the same way.

  4. I tried not to cover too many points since it was just one blog post, but heteronormativity is definitely a potential issue with both the name change and marriage. I read an article ages ago about how same-sex couples are actually breaking ground for male-female couples in a lot of ways because they don't have tradition to fall back on. Like you said, you came up with some crazy solutions! Being forced to think outside of the box can be a good thing. I look forward to your expanded thoughts on this. :) I used to think hyphenation would be my plan, so the whole family could share one last name, but I don't like the way Beau's and my last names sound next to each other! There went that idea...

    I like that you brought up heteronormative assimilation. It reminds me of the amazing conversations I had in undergrad with two friends of mine, a lesbian couple. They were the ones who introduced me to the reclaiming of certain words, like butch and dyke, and also, like you mentioned, the debate between rejecting heteronormative patterns and finding freedom/happiness in conforming. They largely chose the latter because as individuals, one expressed gender in traditionally "feminine" ways and the other in more androgynous ways, and being themselves was more important than making a statement.

    I love your final comment, which Betsy already tweeted. Yes yes yes! That is absolutely the goal of feminist conversations, and I love having them with you. :D

  5. Awesome post! I wouldn't expect anything less on this blog. :) I think this is such an interesting issue, and Belle did a great job discussing it. I didn't change my name when the hubs and I got married for so many reasons... I don't like the idea of having to change my name to show our unity (don't other things show our unity in more meaningful ways?), I didn't like the idea of losing a name that signifies my cultural heritage, and so on. Ultimately, my name is my name, and I can't imagine not having it! I love my surname, and altering it or dropping it would just feel too painful and wrong. I sometimes borrow the hubs' surname for The Internetz to have more anonymity, but I always giggle a little when I do it because it feels like I'm playing dress-up or something. Overall, as it seems we agree, this is a choice that is going to be different for each person, and that's cool. Go, women! :)

  6. I love the creative ways people can incorporate maiden names. I think my mom's maiden name would be a really great first name for a boy.

  7. I think it's great that some men reached out to you privately! It is more difficult for them to take their wives' names, which I think is a shame. All the reasons women might want to take their husband's name can be equally valid for men.

  8. Very smart post! Thank you so much!

  9. What a cute idea!!


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