This summer I got married to my best friend and the most amazing man I have ever met. My husband is smart, funny, kind, compassionate and charming. I am so proud to have him as my life partner. We had a beautiful ceremony in the woods with our close friends and family. Generally I enjoy answering questions about the wedding and take the opportunity to brag about my new husband. Unfortunately I have recently encountered a disturbing trend in questions/ conversations with some acquaintances when I seem them for the first time after the wedding. They usually start off on the right track with a congratulations (much appreciated) and a basic question (how was the wedding?). At that point things can go terribly awry. First is the name thing. For some reason people have started to call me Mrs. Brinkman (the only name I couldn't possibly have) and then they look really confused when I explain to them that my name hasn't changed. If I am in a good mood I might make a joke or try to explain (like, once you put in the work to become a "Dr." you kinda wanna keep that name). Other times I just clarify and leave it to them to figure out. Now, I have nothing against a woman (or man) changing his last name when he gets married. I do, however, have a problem with people making the assumption that all women will or should change their names. A recent post on the Atlantic Wire explored this assumption, along with an even more disturbing one--the belief that women are not committed to their husbands unless they change their name. Besides the fact that no one assumes men are not committed to their wives if they don't change their names (sexist BS, much?), the data doesn't match this erroneous belief. As the Atlantic notes, "educated women, who are more likely to marry at a later age, also tend to have the most sustaining (and happiest) marriages.... it's not much of a leap to assume that a woman is more likely to hang onto her own name after years of having it, establishing herself and her career." The decision to change one's name (or not) after getting married is a personal one and every individual/couple should do what is right for them. Women shouldn't have to defend or justify that decision to complete strangers. Really.
After clearing up the name issue, sometimes people are brave enough to tackle the topic of children. I know, I know, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby..." Ok, hopefully everyone by now knows that nursery rhymes are not intended to be factual representations of life (spoiler alert; cows can NOT jump over the moon). A couple's decision about whether/if/when/how to have children is as unique as the couple itself. Assuming that every couple is going to try to have children the second they get married is just silly. Further, getting married didn't mean I started wearing a sign saying "Please ask me about my reproductive health and decisions!" I expect to and enjoy having conversations with friends and family about children, but get a little put off when complete strangers ask "Have you started trying to have kids, yet?" I am not a particularly modest or prudish individual, but am not thrilled at the idea of discussing my sex life in the line at Target. Although sometimes for the shock value I want to reply "Actually we started trying in the car in the parking lot before we came in." But I don't.
So, what's an acquaintance to do? Here's an easy solution: Don't make assumptions. If someone wants to be called a name different than one you are used to, trust that they will tell you. If someone is pregnant and they want you to know, they will tell you. Stop bringing me down and let us newlyweds bask in our joy for a little longer. Please.
The American Psychological Association's Annual Convention was held in Orlando, Florida this year. My time at the conference was filled to the brim and as usual it takes me a few days (weeks?) to process everything that happened. One experience that stands out for me took place during a small conversation hour co-hosted by the Association for Women in Psychology and the Society for the Psychology of Women. A graduate student shared her experiences of being asked how to define feminism. She indicated that she sometimes struggles with the question and often gives a lengthy answer about feminism supporting equality for women and men, but also fighting oppression based on social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity. She indicated that many people she talks to struggle with the term "feminism" and want a simple and specific definition. I was not surprised by her question as I have had similar experiences of my own. Instead of trying to give a universal definition for the term feminism, I thought it was important to explore the question. Is there one definition of feminism? Anyone who has taken a feminist theories call will assert that there are multiple feminisms. So why do people expect there to be just one definition? If someone asked "What does it mean to be a Democrat or Republican?" I doubt they would expect a simple answer that is universal for all who identify as such.
The pressure to create a universal and simple definition of feminism is designed to limit its influence. If there is only one "right" way to be a feminist, that will limit the number of people who choose to identify as such. This is not to say that the term has no meaning. Feminism is a worldview that has roots in the belief that all people are equal and a desire to end oppression. There is a legacy and history of feminist thought and action that impacts feminism today, but that also shows the range and depth of feminism. Deborah Siegel's book "Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild" does a fantastic job of describing the complexity of feminist thought within the United States. I encourage individuals who consider whether they want to identify as feminist (and those who already do) to educate themselves about the legacy of feminism and to embrace the present. It is up to us to struggle with and explore the multiple meanings of feminism today. The breadth and inclusiveness of its scope give it more power, not less.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.