Saturday, January 5, 2013

To Change or Not to Change-That is the Question

'Tis the question if you are a lass awaiting her nuptials, even in the present day U.S.  Shakespeare allusions aside, the choices regarding a married women's surname can evoke questions and controversy.   From romantic notions and family unity to ideals of gender equality, there are people who hold strong views on the matter. For me, the decision to keep my original surname was a personal choice, but one I wanted to reflect my ideals and politics as well.

I was probably in the sixth grade when I first thought of hyphenating my name. Back then, my aspirations involved becoming a successful actress living in New York. If I were to marry, I would hyphenate and build it as a brand name. In any event, that's how it worked in my brain.  Later on, in high school, I figured I'd go with the culture and take a man's last name, but the idea of at least hyphenating stuck in my brain. It wasn't till college when I decided to keep it for good.

I read writings by Jessica Valenti, founder of the online community Feministing and author of several books.  I learned that the reason women began changing their names upon marriage was to signify them being transferred from their father to their husbands as property.  Though I know the vast majority of  women don't change their names for that reason anymore, I could not get that idea out of my head.  Further, if a guy is able to maintain his own name, identity and career before and after marriage, why not a woman? I don't see how possessing XX chromosomes makes me unworthy of my birth surname after marriage or unable to pass it along to my children, just like their father.

Yes, we are a team.  We're an equal, united front, committed to building a strong family, as well as names and careers for ourselves. However, even players on the same soccer team all have different names from one another. They are united under one team but bring their individual names, strengths, and talents to the table and are known by their names as well as their team.  This is how we envision our union, as one where we recognize the overarching goal but are still recognized by traits that make us unique, including our names.

As for whether or not our children will suffer, I've had friends from both egalitarian families and Latin American families who've inherited multiple surnames. Some tend to prefer one or the other and, when they get married, some choose whatever combination sounds better or makes sense, given their heritage.  I'm sure that, by the time we're raising heirs the empire, they'll adapt and grow like any other children.  They may have to worry about me sticking them with totally awesome names like Santino and Lorenzo. Hey, I am marrying a fellow Italian, even if our surnames don't show it!

Of course, we could actually execute Lily and Marshall's plan from How I Met Your Mother and call ourselves Mr. and Mrs. Awesome :D  But that's another idea for another day.

If you really want to show you value women..........

Dear guys of the world,

You don't have to get us flowers or candy. You don't have to help us into cars, take our coats, or hold the door (just push it back if you know we're behind you).  You don't have to pay for every single date, take a job you don't like to provide for our every need, prove yourself completely unemotional, or bench 300 pounds and carry all our groceries.  Yes, they can be nice gestures, but they're not necessary.  Nor do they show that you necessarily respect women.

If you want to show you respect women, call men out when they make homophobic or sexist jokes or if they refer to women as "bitches" or "the c word" (you wouldn't use the "N" word if you were a white man, right?).  Call men out when they talk about women as if they are pieces of meat or objects and never tolerate a friend who brags about nailing a girl who passed out (that's what we call rape, folks).  Never tolerate folks who would blame a woman's rape on her or who'd demean a woman based on rumors, appearance, or past actions.  Even if you find similar biases within yourselves, do every thing you can to check and correct them.

If you value women, never let anyone joke about the "bitchy boss" or about how periods make it impossible for women to be in positions of power.  Do everything you can to learn about and from strong women, whether they are political leaders, military commanders, activists, artists, or scientists.  Stand up for equal pay in the workplace and make sure women are not excluded from networking events or consideration for higher level positions. Take time to get to know women in your field and help them succeed, just like you'd help another man succeed.  Stand up for paid family leave (not just maternity or parental leave) so that all men and women with needs can take time to attend to them.

If you see women as people, stop beating up on your buddies for doing things women typically do.  Whether a fellow man decides to stay at home with his kids, pursues a career in education, social work or in the beauty industry, pays special attention to his appearance or is emotionally expressive, demeaning and shaming his behavior shows what you truly think of women. It shows that you think anything a woman is known to do makes it less worthy to pursue.  It shows you believe women are worth less, so the careers and hobbies they choose to pursue are also worth less. If that's what you truly believe, you cannot say you value women.

If you believe women are equal persons, understand the bias behind your expectations in a relationship.  Know that, if a woman isn't quite so good at housework, it doesn't mean she's not taking care of you (and you might as well use a Swiffer from time to time).  Likewise, if a woman chooses to keep her surname, it doesn't mean she doesn't love you, and if she wants to treat you to dinner, her intent is not to show off but to take care of you like you do for her.  She isn't your servant and she's not an extension of you.  She's her own person, uniquely gifted with dignity, aspirations, and preferences. Treat her as such and I predict a wonderful love life :)

We don't need to be treated with kid gloves, as pretty dolls, plastic saints or useless trash.  We're people. We need to be treated as people. We're your mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends, and colleagues. We deserve and demand respect.  Otherwise, your gestures and gifts are mere tokens and trinkets, worth less than we apparently are to you. 


Every woman who's ever been a part of your life in any meaningful capacity

A list of annoying wedding stereotypes and hypocrisies

1. White Dress = Good Girl: I cannot tell you how, when I originally thought of wearing a colored dress (I ended up with a white and red gown), women would tell me that I'd somehow be impure for choosing it.  What was interesting about these allegations is that these same women thought nothing of bringing home someone they didn't know, while I was the goody two shoes.  Even more, they would tell me that I needed to "loosen up" and "be liberated."  So, I'm supposed to have tons of sex but not look like I ever have?  Makes perfect sense.....

2. Be independent, but your guy's ego is most important: We're always told to be "liberated," to have a career, take control over our love lives, live on our own, etc.  But, God forbid, you choose to keep your last name or pursue a career that allows you to make more money/take a higher level position than your man (assuming you're in a heterosexual relationship).  Then, there are all sorts of accusations that you don't quite love your sweetie "enough", because his "male ego" will be destroyed. Of course, women should feel free to take their husband's name if that's what they want or pursue whatever career they want. However, the key word is choice.

3. Don't get married young, but you're a spinster at 30: Biological clock, blah, blah, blah.  We tell women to not get married "too young" because they need to "find themselves", yada yada. However, if they are still unmarried by 30, we're told to feel sorry for them? Love comes when it comes and it doesn't always fit convention.  Besides, there are many ways to have children and we're more than our parts anyway.  I want a companion, not someone simply looking to grow a seed.

4. We don't like religion, but we'll oppress you with wedding "traditions": Follow the morals of your faith, especially the strict ones, and even your family will think you're irrational.  However, choosing to walk down the aisle with your spouse in lieu of your father, taking pictures together before the ceremony starts, and having your man come along to help you pick out a gown means you're doomed to an eternity of marital hell.  I think my brain just exploded.......

5. You both need a day to be "wild' even if you wouldn't while you were just dating: If you know your spouse would disapprove of wild bachelor/bachelorette parties, especially if they involve excessive drinking or strippers, why would do it? And what kind of company do you keep if your friends would force you to do it? If you're both comfortable with the decision to spend the rest of your lives together, especially since you chose to get engaged, why would you feel the need to, if it would hurt their feelings? 

6. Get pregnant right away, even if we told you not to: It seems that, once you do get married, everyone wants to know when your gametes will combine to form a unique zygote. Never mind that, up until your wedding, they were telling you to do everything, short of selling your soul to Satan, to not get pregnant.  Word to family and friends-it's kind of creepy that you'd want to be in the marital bedroom at all.  We'll let you know if plans change. Thanks.

7. Don't be vain, but go in debt: We love to criticize over the top brides with lavishly expensive ceremonies (and call them bridezillas when the stress makes them crack). However, if you choose a small ceremony, a less lavish venue, or don't have an open bar, people act like you really don't care about your wedding.  Vendors will price gouge you just for inserting the word "wedding" into the event name and on top of it, they won't allow your fiance to ask questions or get involved-I've had the unfortunate experience of a vendor pretending mine wasn't even there.  Bottom line, it's only your opinion, your money/your parents' money and your attention that matters, no matter what.  However, if the stress makes you crack, you've descended to the depths of reality TV. Sorry, just the way it is, folks.

8. Love your body, but diet for your dress: Probably one the dumbest things I've ever heard.  Not only is it just a dress, it's a dress intentionally made to primarily fit the largest parts of your body (read: boobs) with the idea that stress will force you to lose a few pounds and then they can charge you around $300 for alterations.  By the way, diets don't work and I can't see how depriving yourself of your favorite foods is helping your stress-maybe that's why brides get a little cuckoo.  Men and women should eat reasonably healthy and try to exercise at least three times a week.  At the end of the day, does it matter that you had the perfect body?

9. Carefully choose food, alcohol and cake that you can't enjoy: You have to spend a lot of time and money on all three of these. Yet, when it comes to the day, you spend so much time working the room, you barely get a chance to eat. On top of it, you're wearing a dress that costs a month's rent (on the cheaper end) and people are clinking their glasses every five seconds (note to future guests-we are going to ignore you if you do).  It's based on this whole idea that the wedding is about your guests more than you.  Honestly, though, if you're celebrating the couple, wouldn't you want them to relax and enjoy themselves? Also, if the bride is already a bit stressed, wouldn't food do her some good?  Seriously, people, it's pretty ridiculous.

10. Your wedding is and isn't about you: Especially if you were born a woman, people tell you that your wedding day is "your day."  Well, if it's truly your day, you should be able to make decisions about what traditions you want and don't want, how you choose to celebrate and honor your commitment and what roles to give people without any backlash whatsoever.  A wedding should reflect a couple as they are and use traditions that reflect their values and unique relationship.  Whether they choose a place of worship or an aquarium, create their own surname or serve all vegan cuisine, it should fundamentally be their choice and no one has the right to coerce them.  Not all traditions are good and not all modern ideas are evil.  If we truly believe in choice, we need to live by it.  Maybe we wouldn't see a lot of premarital stress and jitters if we simply honored that rule.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Most annoying assumptions and statements about International Development....

1. Why can't you help Americans? First of all, what are you doing to help Americans? I hope those asking this question are working with underprivileged youth, calling attention to issues of hunger, unemployment and gun violence and working to clean up the environment.  Second, we don't believe in a zero-sum game. While we spend our own energy helping the poor overseas-who, coincidentally, are worse off than the poor in the U.S.-that does not mean we don't care about the poor in our own country or advocate for more progress. Finally, if you're a Christian and saying this, shame on you.  The Good Samaritan parable should remind you that everyone is your neighbor and ties to a nation-state shouldn't matter.

2. So, are you going to be like Angelina Jolie?  Many of us have conflicting views about celebrities in development. Yes, they probably have good hearts, they have time and resources most of us don't have and they have the attention of the media.  The problem is, they're not trained in international development-a field, that requires a foundational understanding of complex cultures, economic situations, and politics. Most of us who enter prepare to spend our lives there and we end up aware of situations that celebrities are not.  For example, while they fundraised extensively for the tsunami and for Haiti, because they lack the understanding of local customs and politics, most of the money did not go to the people who needed it most.

3. So, what are you going to do with that degree, anyway? College education is supposed to teach you how to think, not necessarily prepare you for a career.  International development consists of many different professionals, as there are multiple facets of international development. Some get involved with health efforts, others get involved with business and finance, others with education, others with governance and civil society, others with human rights, still others with engineering and infrastructure. Before we figure out which sector of ID to enter, we take the time to gain an understanding of economic theory, U.S. and world politics, language proficiency, research and writing skills and world cultures.  We also intern and study abroad to get a practical taste of the field we're about to enter. For some of us, it takes years of service and advanced degrees to figure out which sector to enter.  Some of us enter something completely different.  As I said, college teaches you how to think, not necessarily what to do.