Friday, 27 February 2009

The name debate continues...

Following on from the post I wrote earlier in the week, I decided to poll some of my friends as to whether they used Miss or Ms and whether they would change it on marriage to Mrs, and what they thought of being addressed as Mrs Husband'sFirstName Husband'sSurname.

In my friendship group, which arguably you could say is not the widest demographic, but I spoke to friends from different places (i.e. not just people I went to university with), different countries and different parts of the UK. All of them chose to use Miss as their title except for the one that is married who used to use Miss and now uses Mrs. Now, you could say that my friends are just all middle-class and slightly conservative (with a lower case c) and like tradition. Fine. We probably are, but I just wanted to make the point that not everyone wants to use Ms and sees Miss/Mrs as regressive.

Interestingly however, it was some of the men I spoke to who thought women should not be defined by their marital status (although he was happy enough to be Mr and Mrs) and that he believed I was wrong to think that it didn't matter. I found this viewpoint rather interesting and to my mind theoretically simply another form of oppression towards women. So instead of the woman railing against belonging to her husband, she accepts the situation, content and secure in her own position within the relationship, yet the man then turns round and says "but you are wrong to be content, you should be unhappy at this situation".

I think it really comes down to tradition. There are those people who accept tradition, even favour tradition. For those people they do not see being addressed as Mr and Mrs Husband'sFirstName Husband'sSurname as indicating a power dynamic within their relationship, or as oppressive, or that they in some way belong to their husband like chattel, they simply see it as a traditional form of address and not something that they are bothered about. I, and all my female friends that I spoke to, fall into this category. And then there are those who dislike tradition and all that they perceive it stands for. Those are the people that would contest the use of Mrs and favour Ms.

I certainly think that there is room for both of these viewpoints within the world. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be rather dull if we all agreed about everything. I just personally can't understand this desire, which is particularly true of women, to make someone else's choice out to be a bad choice. We can't seem to just accept that we have differing opinions, we somehow need to vilify people for their choice. We seem to often mistake "I do not agree" for "I do not understand therefore I think you are wrong... and these are the reasons why". It would be really nice to see women supporting each other's viewpoints - unless they are of course morally unacceptable or illegal (I am not suggesting we start supporting the decision to kill people) - and standing by our right as women to choice. And that includes *both* options.


Emma said...

Hmm, interesting again. However, I'm not sure I understand why men thinking that women should not be defined by their marital status is another form of oppression? I think it shows liberal-mindedness on their behalf and the ability to see it from another point of view.

I agree that women have a tendency to vilify each other and that we shouldn't have to all agree on the matter. As a woman getting married later this year who has decided to keep her own surname and remain a Ms, however, I have faced a lot of awful comments from other women about my decision. I have been told that my husband and I won't be a family, that there's no point in getting married if we don't have the same name, that our children wont understand that we are married, that I must be keeping my own name so that it makes it easier when we get divorced, that I obviously don't love him enough....the list goes on and on. I feel like I am constantly having to justify my decision to keep my own name, and I don't understand why all of these comments are coming from other women, in this day and age

But the reason I am keeping my own name is not because I "dislike tradition and all that [I] perceive it stands for", as you say. If I disliked tradition then I wouldn't be getting up in front of family and friends to exchange vows with the man I love. This is one way I see it: It is the 21st century. I no longer HAVE to take my husband's name. He could take my name. Will he? No, because he thinks it would be strange to have another name. Will I? No, because I do not agree with having to do something that to him would be weird and wrong - because why should it be any different for me?

That's not the whole reason, of course. There are many other reasons, some personal, some stemming from my liberal upbringing. But this is long enough without me going into those!

We live in a free society. We are incredibly lucky to be able to make these choices. And the way I see it - as long as you are happy with your decision, then that's all that matters.

Rachel said...

Thanks Emma, it is really interesting to read your point of view.

I think what I find intruiging is that you say you don't dislike tradition yet you don't want to follow traditions as you don't have to.

I also can't believe that people have told you such bizarre things in relation to keeping your own name. I think my main point, which maybe I generalised too much with the tradition issue, is that we should respect each other's right to choose what works best for ourselves whilst recoginising that other people don't always think the same things.

Emma said...

Ah, but just because I don't dislike [some] traditions doesn't mean I have to follow them myself! It's a bit like me saying to you that I like your hair cut, but I'd never cut my hair like that. I don't mind the tradition of taking your husband's name in our society because we are able to make a choice over it. If we all HAD to do it then I would hate it! But while it's not right for me, I realise that many women like it (hell, all of my married friends have taken their husbands name so I'm certainly in the minority) or find it meaningful. But I'm probably being a wee bit difficult here - because while I can't really say I dislike it, I don't really like it either. Or rather, I don't like the fact that it's still expected and presumed that as a woman that is what I will do.

Krista said...

Interesting. I disagree (but I know you'll realize this is not an attack, but a constructive conversation) on one point in particular.

I love tradition. I am fairly conservative in how I live (though I often vote slightly left wing). I love most traditions, and embrace them, and do everything to keep many traditions going.

But I am "Ms", have been since I was 18, and will be once I'm married. I think my marital status should not be an issue, and I will not be defined by it.

Again, thanks for sharing what you think, but I will (respectfully) disagree with you.

Rachel said...

Thanks girls, it is nice to be able to discuss this issue in a civilised fashion.

I think perhaps I generalised tradition overly. I think perhaps I meant tradition just in relation to the Mrs/Ms issue. I of course realise people can be traditional in some ways and not others. (A good example is the one you've both raised of liking the tradition of marriage but not of changing your name).

I think I puzzle over liking a tradition but then not following it because for *me*, tradition (especially in relation to honorifics) is something more than simply liking the idea, it is more deep rooted than that. Which is not to say it should be that way for others, just for me.

Krista said...

Oh - and another thought that occurred to me this afternoon:

I think the UK sticks more to honorifcs / titles than North Americans do. We refer to casual aquaintances, colleagues, bosses, even the CEO of my company, by each other's first name. We don't have titles other than Mr, Miss/Ms/Mrs, Dr, a few titles for politicians, judges, dignitaries, etc. There is no such thing as a Lord, Earl, Dame, etc. So, titles have gradually lost their importance in North America. Maybe that is why it seems like "Ms" (not a traditional title) is used much more in North America than in the UK.

admingirl said...

Here's an interesting fact I learned the other day. In Germany, the title 'Miss' doesn't exist in the business world. Invoices or letters I receive are always addressed to 'Mrs MySurname' which feels slightly bizarre as I am not married.