On Naming, Identity, and Choice: Part II

[Part One is here.]

So. One of the results of a culture of judgment in which women's choices about everything from the shoes they wear to the sexual partners they take is that there emerges a language of easy responses to common judgments.

Some of these are reflexive qualifications, like the familiar, "I'm a feminist, but I don't hate men," which is a preemptive response to the ubiquitous judgment that feminism is not about hating patriarchy, but hating male people.

And some of them are responses like those being discussed inside the conversation about name-changing. The example I used in part one was: "I wanted my whole family to have the same last name." The examples Jill Filipovic used in her piece were:
"We want our family to share a name" or "His last name was better" or "My last name was just my dad's anyway" – all reasons that make no sense.
Leaving aside the entirely subjective assessment of whether those reasons "make sense," if they don't "make sense" to you, well, maybe there's a reason for that. And that reason might be that they are being employed as easy responses to a common judgment.

I want to clearly acknowledge that some women cite those reasons authentically. Period. Pause. Break.

I also want to clearly acknowledge that some women cite those reasons uncritically, as in they've never really thought about it much, but those reasons resonate to one degree or another. Period. Pause. Break.

And there are women who cite those reasons because their prevalence makes them an easy deflection of someone impertinently asking her, directly or obliquely, to justify her choice.

This is a thing that humans do. Particularly when we are in a vulnerable spot, like being asked to justify an intimate decision irrespective of our having invited the discussion, humans tend to reach for familiar turns of phrase that we expect will suffice, specifically because of their familiarity.

We intuit, quite reasonably, that words which a judgmental inquisitor has heard before, and thus can easily be placed within an existent framework, will halt the inquisition. And that tends to work even when the person doing the asking doesn't like your answer.

It's great that there are women who are willing to publicly discuss decisions about name-changing! I love so much when women speak and write about the choices they make through the specific and unique prism of their individual circumstances!

BUT. No one is obliged to do that. And none of us are entitled to reasons that "make sense." None of us are entitled to forthright answers about complex personal decisions on demand.

If we can acknowledge that asking women to publicly comment on and justify their reproductive decisions and circumstances is wrong, then we need to similarly be able to acknowledge that asking women to publicly comment on and justify other personal, intimate decisions is wrong.

(Especially when we acknowledge there are women who change their names for immensely personal and sometimes traumatic reasons. No woman should be expected to disclose a history of familial abuse or sexual violence/stalking in order to be deemed A Good Feminist Who Changed Her Name for an Acceptable Reason.)

There is a deep tension surrounding the way we set off as fair game the very personal decisions regarding name-changing, in a way we do not for equivalently personal women's choices.

On the one hand, people are arguing that YOUR NAME IS YOUR IDENTITY! and it's so goddamn important that you should never change it for any reason ever—and, on the other hand, people are treating name-changing like something so casual that it's NO BIG WHOOP to demand women to justify their choices to anyone who asks.

Your name is everything when we want to judge you. Your name is nothing special when we demand you publicly account for your decisions around it. It's exactly as important or unimportant as we deem it to be in order to audit your choices.

This is bullshit. This is bullshit.

It might not be the worst thing if a woman offering a nonsensical familiar reason for a personal choice were understood to mean fuck off, it's none of your business.

Because seriously? It isn't.

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