Deep Thoughts Thursday: A Feminist Marriage

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This week, I wrote an email to the hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff Mom Never Told You (or SMNTY for short). I have never written to the host of a podcast before, so this was new for me! I usually only share my opinions with people I know or here on the blog. This time, however, I really felt the need to voice my opinion. For the last week, I’ve been drafting an email that I actually sent.

I have been listening to SMNTY for the last 2-3 years. It covers all kinds of topics of interest for women. They discuss these topics from a feminist viewpoint, and I definitely don’t have a problem with this. They have talked about topics like current issues (abortion, health care), history (hysterical pregnancy, fashion, makeup), and awesome lady role models (Margaret Mead, Judy Blume, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg). There were two related episodes that caused me to write to the hosts. The episodes, “A Practical Wedding” and “A Feminist Marriage”, featured a guest, Meg Keene. She started the site A Practical Wedding, which features posts about wedding ideas that are a little more down to earth.

During the two episodes, they discussed all kind of topics related to weddings and marriage. This included ways to have budget wedding that is still classy, avoiding patriarchal wedding traditions, pre-marital counseling and splitting household chores. I thought that they were really interesting episodes! There was, however, a point that I did not agree with. In fact, I didn’t agree with it to the point that I needed to write a letter about it. At one point during the episode about having a feminist marriage, Meg Keene made a point that when feminists get married, they should keep their own last name, and not take their husband’s. They also said that kids should take their mom’s last name, not their dad’s. While I agree that women should have the option to keep their name when they get married, and there should not be so much pressure for women to change their names, I also think that women can be feminists and change their name when they get married. The same goes for whether or not kids take their dad’s last name or their mom’s. It’s really up to the parents to make that decision, and I don’t think either decision is inherently wrong.

Instead of trying to recreate what I said in the email, I am just going to repost it here:

Hey Cristen and Caroline!

I have been a dedicated SMNTY podcast listener for a few years, but this is my first time writing in! Hurray!

I recently listened to your “A Practical Wedding” and “A Feminist Marriage” episodes with Meg Keene. For the most part, they were awesome! I have been married for a little over three years, and had a rather “practical” wedding myself. I really enjoy being married (it doesn’t hurt that my husband also likes SMNTY), and I would consider our marriage a feminist one.

The one issue I had with thise episodes was when you were discussing the woman taking her husband’s name. It felt like the message was, “No feminist should ever take her husband’s last name, and their kids need to have the woman’s last name. If this isn’t the case, you do NOT have a feminist marriage”.

I wholeheartedly disagree! I have a unique perspective on last names because I am on my third one (my step-dad adopted me when I was in high school). My husband and I discussed the name issue at length. He would have been happy no matter what I chose to do. I am a feminist, and I chose to take my husband’s last name. Not because I felt pressure to do so, but because I like his name. I also like that we have a common family identity. I never feel like his property, or like I am any less of a person. I also don’t feel like I gave up any of my identity by changing my name. I have no regrets about my decision.

In some ways, it felt like Meg Keene (and by extension SMNTY) was shaming women who had made the decision to change their last name. We are, of course, entitled to our own opinions, but as feminists we should be building each other up. All feminists, but especially those in influential positions, should be careful not to shame and police the actions of other feminists, just like we expect others to not shame and police us. Aren’t we all supposed to be working together toward a common goal? Shouldn’t we be empowering each other, rather than alienating those we may not agree with? If we spend our time belittling each other for decisions that are, frankly, personal, that is taking time and energy away from fighting against more pervasive patriarchal aspects of society. If being a feminist means demeaning, judging and shaming others, I am ashamed and offended. I am also then, not a feminist.

I really hope this was not the point you were trying to make. Asking people to think about traditions, biases and decisions is one thing, shaming them is another.

Thank you for continuing to make such an important, influential, funny and rad podcast! Even when I don’t agree with something on the podcast, I have nothing but love for you!

I think I get the point that Meg Keene (and the podcast in general) is trying to make: it’s important for people to be aware of ways to bring women up, in order to be on more of an equal footing with their male counterparts. I think that it’s important to look at traditions that may be perpetuating patriarchal attitudes, and try to find ways to stop those attitudes. As I said in the email, however, I don’t think that shaming others is a way to achieve this goal. Alienating others doesn’t really seem like it would be beneficial to feminists. As a feminist, I considered not changing my last name after I got married. I liked my pre-married name. I also like my married last name. We ultimately decided it would be less complicated and confusing if we had the same last name. We liked the idea of having a common family identity, not just for the two of us, but also for any kids we have in the future. I don’t feel like I lost my pre-married identity by changing my last name. I don’t think that identities are attached to names like that. I think that people should be able to make decisions that are right for them, especially when those decisions don’t really affect other people.

I’m glad that I wrote to them, even if they never respond or read the letter in a future episode. It was something that I was dwelling on, and over the course of a few days, I decided that the best thing that I could do would be to give my perspective on it. I’m glad I was able to get that off my chest and show that a feminist marriage cannot fit into a little box – just like all marriages, every one is a little different.

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