Tag Archives: women

Marriage — to take his name…or not?

Who are we, as women?  As a woman, who are you?  Do you know?  If so, how do you express that? What sums up your identity?

For me, a big part of that is my name.  It’s something sacred.  It’s my calling card in the world.  It’s something that identifies me as me.  It’s something that provides continuity and coherence  in the long story that is my life.

I don’t always like my name, and in truth I legally modified my birth name several years ago to better suit me — I literally bought my first name an additional letter.  I don’t always like my last name.  It’s hard to spell and people often mispronounce and/or misspell both my first and last names.

But it’s mine.

I read an article the other day that struck a nerve.  Titled “Retro Marriage Trend Makes a Comeback, for Better or Worse” the piece describes how large majorities of women are now taking their husbands’ last names when they marry.  There seems to be conflicting data on whether this is more common among older women or younger women, but one statistic presented in the article is that 8% of women now keep their maiden names, compared to a high of 23% in the 1990s.

This troubles me.  It’s hard enough for women to discover who we are, what our values are, what our unique gifts and dreams are, and how to manifest them.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen as whole people, to have a Self outside the needs of other people — our children, spouses, partners, parents, and siblings.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen, heard and taken seriously — or for us to take ourselves, our voices, our lives and our responsibilities seriously.

So why add to all that potential for getting lost and not forming a solid independent Selfhood the additional variable of a name change?  A change in our major identifier, that connects us with our entire lives?  And a change that typically happens at an age when we’re just about to burst onto the stage of our own lives?

Maybe women in the United States don’t know the history behind the custom of changing names.  It comes from English law where women had nothing — were nothing — without attachment to a male.  First that male was their father, then it was their husband.  Women — even ones from rich families — had no right to own any property of their own, and no right to much of anything.  As economic entities literally owned by men, we women were vaginas and wombs used to pass on the names of men and their property (to sons) or to form economically and politically advantageous alliances with other families (through marrying off daughters).  To lose or gain a name was to lose or gain basic rights and economic safety.

And by the way the term “maiden name” is sexist in itself, implying that a pre-married woman is (and should be) a virgin.  Of course men enjoy no comparable labels distinguishing the various stages of their sexual activity (which is another subtext of unmarried vs. married — don’t get me started on the whole “Miss”, “Mrs.”  and “Ms.” thing).

It’s not this way in all parts of the world.  In countries colonized by Spain instead of England, people have at least two surnames — one from the father and one from the mother.  (This norm may have originally come from Arabic-speaking cultures, which spread to Spain.)  While the maternal surname eventually gets dropped after two generations, every person carries identifiers from both parents.  Latin American women rarely change their names when they marry, and if they do, it’s often added to the others and preceded by a “de” to show it’s a married surname.

Also in Spanish-speaking countries — cultures often thought to be more machista (sexist or male dominant) than the USA — women have long been able to own property separate from men.  In fact, California was the first state where women could own property separate from any man.  This was a holdover from Mexican law that was preserved when California became a part of the United States.

I understand the practical reasons for changing one’s name.  Sometimes we women don’t like our birth surnames.  Sometimes we don’t like our family of origin and are happy to join a new tribe.  Sometimes we want continuity with our children.  When I was married, I got a new passport with a hyphenated last name in anticipation of children, and signed legal documents as a hyphenated person when they were jointly executed with my then-spouse.  But nowhere else.  It gleefully tickled my feminist funny bone to no end when we’d get spam phone calls from some poor soul wanting to talk to Mr. [my last name].

My main issue about changing names is this — why is the name change only a woman’s issue?  Why don’t men get to go through this?  If marriage implies a union, why not make it equal and NOT a subsuming of the woman’s identity to the man’s?  Some men do change their names or both spouses take on a new hyphenated name, and I’d love to see more of this.  I adore how Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, actually combined his last name (Villar) with his wife’s (Raigosa) to create a whole new entity.  What a metaphor for partnership, union, shared new identity, and equity!

Marriage today has its roots in feudal economic relationships where women are not only unequal to men, but their property.  Because of this inequity and the burdens it brings, we continue to have to make myriad decisions that are men’s privilege to never have to consider — like having to time children before it’s too late biologically but after it’s sufficiently economically stable; whether to try parenthood plus career or choose one; like balancing”work work” and housework.  On top of all that, we have to decide what to call ourselves too?

There must be some payoff.  Let’s face it, the logistics of changing your name is a HUGE pain in the arse, especially in the digital age.  So ladies, what is the payoff?

I suspect there is another piece here that isn’t talked about much.  Women changing their names upon marriage is a public declaration of the married state.  It’s a way to announce to the world “I am married now!”  It’s a way to announce “I am now legitimate before the world, as are my children and my sexual activity!”  Even though we single women tend to be better offer financially and (according to some studies) also happier than married women — especially ones with children — there is still a stigma attached to being a single woman with our wild, unclaimed vaginas bandying about.  The stigma is that somehow we haven’t been able to attract a man that wants to marry us (which apparently should be our goal)…and therefore we are defective somehow.  Unintentionally perhaps, women taking on their husbands’ name contributes to a societal sense of “there are better and worse buckets of womanhood, and I’m in the ‘good woman’ bucket now!”

Let’s be honest.  There is some truth to the existence of the good bucket. Being married — and letting the whole world know we’re married by changing our name — still gives us an identity, legitimacy, and personhood that singledom does not.  Also, few relationships in a woman’s life outside of marriage have the power to determine the path and quality of a woman’s life (and that of her children) in terms of basic physical safety and economic well-being…whether for better or worse.

I hope for the day when marriage is NOT such a defining and critical moment in a woman’s life to the extent she feels compelled, or obligated (one of my recently-married acquaintances was pressured by her new husband to change her last name because it was “the polite thing to do”) to change her identity.  I hope for the day when marriage is just as critical and defining a moment for men.  And I hope for the day when men have to wrestle with the big questions of life, identity, work, children, and family to the same degree as women.

In the meantime, I do my part to encourage this shift by resisting the norm and its oppressive history.  While I may hyphenate again one day, I retain my surname, and along with it my identity, my herstory, my whole personhood, and my Self.

What do you think?  Why did you change your name? Or not?

In lak ech!

Jaxsine

40 Days for Life, 10 Reasons for Choice

I’m in my early 40s, and I’m childfree (childless by choice).  Over 8 years ago I had an abortion. The father was a man I thought was my soulmate (although kind friends have told me deep down I already knew he was the dangerous, destructive person I eventually found him to be).  We were practicing safe sex and birth control when I got pregnant, but I wasn’t yet childfree.  Ending my 40-day-long pregnancy was one of the most gutwrenchingly difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and it was the most painful — emotionally, spiritually, and physically — experience I’ve ever been through.

And not only do I fiercely defend the right of other women to make the same choice, I would do it again if it were the right decision.

The 40 Days for Life campaign is back.  Every year during Lent they pace and pray outside the Planned Parenthood clinic near my house.  This is the same clinic where I had my abortion — but that was before I’d gotten a really good job and bought a nice house nearby.  Those are two of the many wonderful things that very likely would never have happened had I not let my child go that day.

Yes, I said child.  I identify as politically progressive (no, not liberal) and staunchly pro-choice.  And I believe that teeny tiny embryo inside me was life.  And yes, I ended it.  And no, I don’t feel guilty.  Anymore.  Sometimes I do feel a little regret.  There’s no way of knowing what my life would have been like had I allowed that child to come into the world.  I’m sure there are beautiful, joyful moments I’ve missed because of my decision.  But I’ve also had many beautiful, joyful moments I wouldn’t have had if I’d birthed that baby.  And I’m 100% certain that neither my life, nor that child’s life, would be as healthy and happy as they are today had we not parted ways.  I still believe that I saved two lives that day I took the pills to end my pregnancy.

When I see the 40 Days for Life folks now I feel a range of emotions: anger, pity, disgust, rage, grief, frustration, empathy, gratitude.  I wonder what their stories are.  I wonder if they know how condescending and insulting their signs are to me, like “abortion hurts women.”  I wonder if they think they’re talking about me, or if they’re talking about themselves?

The whole “abortion debate” really isn’t a debate because the two sides come from such different sets of values that can’t seem to really hear each other.  In fact, I have’t always been pro-choice.  But here are the reasons I am pro-choice and likely will be until I die:

1. This is a woman’s decision, not a man’s decision.  Sorry guys, but until you carry the children, bear the children, raise the children, and support the children financially to a degree that comes close to what we women do, you don’t get to decide this for us.   As long as women get paid 76% of what men get paid and women are raped, beaten, abused and harrassed in epidemic proportions by men, we get to decide whether or not it’s safe — for our children and for us — to bring them into this world.  If you are a man against abortion, be celibate, always use two methods of birth control when having sex, or get a vasectomy.

2. This is a personal decision, not a group or governmental decision.  Sorry government, but until you pay for prenatal care, the birth, diapers, food, clothing, HeadStart, K-12+ education, child care and health care, you don’t get to make me have a child I’ll need to spend countless hours and a couple hundred thousands dollars to raise to functional adulthood.

3. We don’t need more humans on the planet.  Seven billion miracles is enough.  Per reason #2, I could see some justification for the group stepping in to say the survival of our tribe or species is more important than my individual desire to not have a baby, but not only is homo sapiens not anywhere close to having this problem, many of the most dire problems facing homo sapiens today have to do with there being too many of us, living in unsustainable ways on our tiny planet.

4. We don’t need any more unwanted children.  More and more research is showing how the circumstances of our conception and births affect our development and how we perceive and interact with the world for the rest of our lives (see conscious conception, or from womb to world).  I know personally what it feels like to be raised by parents who didn’t entirely want you, and it’s something you carry your whole life.  Child abuse and neglect is another epidemic in the US which takes an epic toll on our individual and collective lives.  Hurt kids hurt kids, and hurt people hurt people — just check out the statistics on how many folks in prison were molested or abused as children.

Adoption is certainly one option for unwanted pregnancies, but given #3 above, the disconnect between the number of babies and the number of adoptive families; how adoption (not to mention being carried by a woman for 9 months that doesn’t want them) affects kids; and how carrying a child she’s going to give up can affect the mother emotionally, economically and physically, it’s not the answer.  Sure anecdotes abound of unwanted kids who turn out to be amazing, and even loved by their parents, as well as people who thank their mom or their fiancée’s mom for not choosing abortion since the resulting human turned out so fabulously.  But there are also plenty of anecdotes about horrible people who were wanted kids, and non-aborted people who kind of wish they’d never been born.  Anecdotes alone don’t point to absolute truth, hence the importance of a mother’s choice to maximize a child’s chances of an excellent start in life.  As one of my friends says, “wanted babies only!”

5. An embryo is life, but not the same as a person.  An embryo, a fetus, and even a newborn are helpless without adults.  Privileging the rights of an embryo or fetus over those of a fully formed human being isn’t fair, nor is saying that pro-choicers who fight for social justice and human rights are being hypocritical when they don’t fight for the rights of proto-humans.  Apples and oranges.

6. Human life is not the most important life form on Earth.  We end life every day without hardly thinking about it.  The animals we kill to eat.  The forests we cut down to make room for cattle, or to make cheap furniture.  The rivers and lakes we choke off to power our cities.  The oceans we pollute with our vasts amounts of non-biodegradable waste.  I’m not saying these behaviors are OK, but to say abortion is an abomination above all others is frightfully anthropocentric and narcissistic.  A tiny human embryo is not more important nor more deserving of life and health than our air, water, soil, animals, and plants, and we are much more dependent on these for survival than on the existence of one more human embryo.  Again, see #3.

7. Being “pro-life” doesn’t make us moral or ethical as a society or nation.  I think I understand the concern of the “pro-life” camp about us not being a society where human life is taken, and I admire the dedication to standing up for what they feel is immoral and unjust.  But why so inconsistent then?  Why pace and pray in front of family planning clinics, yet cheer the execution of prisoners, accept the enslavement of undocmented immigrants and abuse of workers in general, promote the slaying of civilians overseas in unjustified wars, ignore the animal cruelty on factory farms, tolerate hate crimes and discrimination against African Americans and LGBT people, and vote against policies that would bring the poor (including vast numbers of children) out of poverty?  The death penalty, the treatment of undocumented workers, the Iraq War, factory farms, hate crimes and neglect of the material needs of families and children are far more immoral than ending the future potential of a human embryo.

Frankly I would consider joining a movement that worked proactively to change this list of immorality and also happened to be anti-choice.  But until we truly do respect and cherish all life as sacred, I stand for the right of a woman to decide whether or not to bring another person into so much immorality and suffering.  Sure, each embryo represents potential and could be the next Mozart or Einstein, but until we regard our existing children as bursting with the same potential and genius, treat them as such and set them up equitably for success and happiness, the argument about an embryo’s potential falls flat.

And speaking of morality, why doesn’t 40 Days for Life set up camp outside fertility clinics where boatloads (estimated hundreds of thousands in the last 30 years) of embryos are “discarded” in the process of in vitro fertilization?  These are intended pregnancies that are ended by the dozens per couple.  How is this not immoral if life begins at conception?  How is this OK, but a woman ending an unintended pregnancy for the good of herself, her child, and the world is not?

8. Your beliefs don’t make them true for me.  Perhaps you fear the divine wrath of God for permitting abortions in your midst.  I appreciate that fear and where it comes from.  However, your beliefs don’t make them true for me, or true at all.   I am the one that has to face the consequences of my own choices, and taking such responsibilty is moral, ethical and mature.   If you are against abortion, don’t have one, or don’t cause a woman to have to contemplate one.  If you are against abortion, work to ensure wage parity for women, stop violence against women and girls, superior schools and child care, and an end to poverty — where 40% of our children grow up.

9. We have choice.  Perhaps this is where I differ most with religious anti-choice folks, but I don’t believe in a Divine Being who presents me with situations just to test me and see if I “pass.”  I believe Life and the Divine present me with opportunities to grow, learn, and shape a life — my life — to be full of happiness, health, creativity and joy, and share that with the world.  I have been given the ability to choose and wield the decision of life or death for myself.  I don’t believe in a Divine that would give me such power and not “allow” me to use it or to test me to see if I do.  I don’t believe in such a jealous God — that’s a human notion, not Divine.

10. Not wanting to is reason enough.  I am responsible for much that determines the quality of my life.  If I want to take on the commitment of parenting for reasons of joy and love and service — or whatever — that’s up to me.   If I — or any woman — don’t want to go through a pregnancy or bear and raise a child because I want other things for my life and my soul calls me to a different path, that’s a good enough reason.  I just don’t want to, and I don’t need to justify it any more than that, nor feel guilty about doing what makes me happy.

When it comes down to it, my main problem is not with the anti-choice (“pro-life” is a misnomer — see #7 — and wrongly implies pro-choice folks are pro-death somehow…also pro-choice folks can also be anti-abortion) position which has a life-affirming moral basis I agree with in many ways.  My main problem is with anti-choice people and what feels to me like the invasive, aggressive, and often deceptive approach most of them seem to have.  I find it highly arrogant (and anti-American?) for a stranger to pass judgment on me and my choices when I am the one to face the consequences of my actions, which don’t adversely affect them in any material way (and, in fact, might ultimately benefit them and society).  Pro-choice folks certainly don’t demonstrate outside churches, clinics, hospitals or adoption agencies touting signs of images of miserable mothers covered with children, trying to convince pregnant women they should have an abortion.  Pro-choice people don’t judge women for deciding to become mothers, so anti-abortion folks should stop judging women for deciding not to.  We women have so much more to experience in life than just motherhood, and we have so much more to contribute to the world than our genes.

Ultimately, trying to prevent a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy from doing so ends up creating more, worse problems with far-reaching consequences for many.  For if we don’t trust that woman to make such a decision for herself, how can we possibly trust her to make the many, many important decisions required to parent?

And making it shameful and frightening for those of us who have had abortions to say it out loud, or talk about it even with close friends and family keeps us isolated as individuals and dishonest as a society.  One in three of us have had at least one abortion.  It’s time to take back the power, speak the truth of our experiences, and reject the shame and guilt others try to make us feel about our lives and decisions!

Here’s to a world where there are only intentional conceptions, joyful pregnancies, wanted babies and loving parents.  Here’s to a future where all lifeforms are cherished and honored as sacred.  Here’s to a day when all women wisely and consciously wield our awesome powers, and are respected for our  decisions.

Until then, may we all be philosophically anti-abortion, fiercely pro-choice, and unapologetically shame-free.

In lak ech,

Jaxsine

Sex and Violence: From New Delhi to Steubenville and Beyond

It’s February. The month of Valentines Day, and the beginning of spring according to some pagan traditions.  Warmth and green are just around the corner, and I’ve been thinking about sex lately.

I’ve been thinking about sex as something I need more of in my life (a story for another post perhaps 🙂 ) but especially since last month’s news of Nirbhaya — the name given to the young woman who was raped on a New Delhi bus and eventually died of her wounds.  When I read them, just these bare facts affected me deeply, partly because of all the horrified questions that came up — how can someone be raped on a bus (which I assumed was moving in New Delhi streets during the day)? Why didn’t anyone do anything? How did the assailant hide what he was doing (although I’ve been on some pretty crowded and anonymous busses in many different places in my life)? Why didn’t the driver do anything, or stop the bus? The whole scenario really rattled my fragile cage of faith in strangers and humanity.

Later, I learned more and gained a more complete picture — the young medical student, and her male companion/date, had accepted a ride on a private “party bus” one evening while making their way home from a movie.  The men on the bus (including the driver) neutralized the male friend, then at least six proceeded to rape Nirbhaya for over an hour while she fought back viciously.  Over an hour.

They also “inserted an iron rod” into her body.

Bullshit! Just writing those words give me chills.  “Inserted”?  I don’t think so!  That’s what I do with a tampon.  These grown men forcefully and repeatedly rammed a metal rod into the woman’s tender vagina so many times, and with such force, that she required mutliple organ transplants and died in Singapore from her wounds.  “Inserted” is not factual.  Why did the news reports consistently downplay the vicious and brutal violence of such an act, making it sound so innocuous and clinical?  Fear of the public’s reaction perhaps? If so, then damn right!

Oh, but there’s more.  After her rape and assault (the men beat them both as well) Nirbhaya and her companion were thrown out of the bus, bloody and naked, where they lay in the road for about an hour waiting for someone to stop and help them (this is crowded India, remember).  And then they waited some more while local law enforcement argued over whose jurisdiction it was.

Just reading this story gave me secondary trauma on so many levels.  I had pictures in my head of the scene, saw her tortured face, heard her screams in my head, watched her fight,  felt her companion’s agony while he watched, saw her lay on the side of the road while passersby hurried on, and heard her heart monitor flatline.

And then the story of Steubenville came out.  Apparently, last summer a group of football players in Ohio took a 16-year-old woman, who was super drunk, from party to party, raping her and taking photos.  One of the teens was widely seen on video making fun of her plight, graphically describing what was done to her, and referring to her as a “dead girl” and that he wouldn’t care and would see her the same way if she were his daughter.

Someone please explain this to me.  I have an excellent imagination and I have seen and heard some terrible things in my life.  But I can’t fathom how a human being can be cruel to another being when that being is helpless, much less clearly demonstrating their pain and horror.  HOW are we capable of such things?  I can imagine myself doing some horrible things to people, but I can’t imagine causing someone to feel agony and terror.

I got an excellent sexual education from my parents when I was younger.  I also learned somewhere that rape is violence, and not about sex.  But that idea always bothered me.  I remember being a college freshman and asking the older Resident Assistant on my dorm floor a question during a workshop on sexual assault.  I wasn’t challenging the information being presented, I wanted clarity.  My question went something like, “If rape is violence, and a man raping a woman is like stabbing her — but with his penis — then why does he use his penis instead of a knife?”

The RA basically brushed off my question, and 25 years later I still don’t have an answer,  except this:

Rape IS about sex.  It’s violence done to another — mostly to women and children — using sex.  It’s about torture and terror in a way that is supposed to deeply traumatize.  It’s about making us afraid and submissive.  It IS about power, but it’s about wielding sex as a weapon of power — perhaps because women’s sexuality is such a powerful force.

This is also why men who are intimidated by a woman’s opinions and intellect threaten her with rape and hurl insults regarding her sexuality.   Google journalists Laurie Penny or Jennifer Gish for some spine-tingling stories.  Men who are intimidated by other men’s opinions and intellects don’t typically threaten to sodomize them to make them suck their dicks.

Men’s violence again women is sexual in nature.  And that’s the case even if he never forces his body into her body — it’s also done with words, suggestions, and less penetrative physical actions.

Few things make me want to do intense violence to people, but stories like Nirbhaya’s and the Steubenville “rape crew” make me want to strap on a load of ammo and take to the streets with two HUGE automatic weapons and a Bowie knife, and just mow men down like grass.  Imagine me as Sarah Connor from T2 … times ten.

I think we need to stop lying.  Rape is about power and violence, but it’s also about sex.  We combine the two all the time.  Just look at the discussions about military women now being able to be in combat (a victory in the middle of a larger tragic narrative, I think).  Check out the SuperBowl this weekend and the statistics on how violence against women goes up during Super Bowl weekends.

As we women continue to come into our power and full potential, we need to be prepared to deal with the reality of men’s fears, and with what we will encounter there.  We need to tell the truth about sex, violence, and rape.

And we need to continue to stand up — all of us, every time — against any words or behaviors that glorify, minimize, or desensitize us to the rape culture we live in.  That includes torture of people and animals, and cruelty of any kind (I personally don’t include wringing a chicken’s neck or slitting a lamb’s throat for food in the same category, but I suppose that’s up for debate 🙂 ).

In the meantime, I will continue to ponder how it’s possible for a human being to cruelly hurt and torture another person or animal that is obviously in pain.  If any of you have the answer, please share.

Or maybe don’t.  Maybe there are shadows best left alone — in the dark.

In lak ech~

Jaxsine