Archive | August, 2011

The conundrum of married surnames…

24 Aug

Within the past few weeks, a few Facebook friends have gotten married; within a week’s time, both of these women had changed their Fb profile names to their husbands’ names. This got me to thinking about the age-old question…or at least one that I’ve asked myself and my marrying friends several times: why change your name to that of your new husband’s?

The question itself seems to evoke a rather vociferous response–“why can’t I?”, “it’s my choice?”, “does it really matter?’

But yes, it does matter. And if it is a productive, happy, progressive decision, shouldn’t its justification be able to be provided free of defensiveness or anger? There are few times where the question has been able to be asked without fear of a retributive, defensive response, i.e. I have a problem because I am asking.

It’s a simple question, and it’s one that should be able to be asked without having to justify it, or defend its simplicity. However, at this point in our culture, it seems that to ask it is to question the very point of marriage itself.

But in my opinion, if one is to change one’s name after 20, 30, 40 years of having it, one should be able to explain and/or justify why one is changing it. Further, to respond with the old cultural justification of “it’s just what one does,” does not really work. 100, 200, 50 years ago it was just what one does; but now, it doesn’t really have to be.

Looking at the institution of marriage, considering its rituals, its requirements: to change one’s name was to become the wife, the property, the legal betrothed of one’s husband. Such a decision was based on the historical and cultural rituals and laws of marriage: a woman became the property of her husband. As a wife she was unable to vote, own property, make decisions of her own accord: she literally, figuratively, legally, and culturally belonged to the man she was married to.

Times have changed…but why haven’t the cultural residue of marriage also changed?

Why is a grown woman, with a lifetime of choices, friends, properties, and individualities seen as more transitive than that of the man she marries? Why is it reactionary, angry, and conversation-stopping to inquire of your friend as to why she would choose to change her name? How is it that in 2011 such an anachronistic practice is still considered normal, usual, and loving? And, if it is so normal, why can’t it even merely be questioned?


Michele Bachmann: “a fool for Christ” and fool for love

12 Aug

Because of previous statements made by her– on the stump and at the pulpit, Michele Bachmann was asked by a moderator at the recent GOP presidential nominee debate if she would continue her loudly declared policy of submission to her husband while president of the United States.

Bachmann has stated that she followed a vision sent from God depicting her marrying her husband on his family’s farm, that she obeyed his belief (sent to her via him from God) that she become a tax lawyer, and finally, that it was the two Big Men in her life that convinced her to run for political office.

Portraying her decisions as those initially decided by God, and then funneled through her husband, she implies that her decisions and actions are fundamentally and religiously validated, to be neither questioned nor rejected. A conduit for the will of God, she can only obey Him and her husband, and ultimately still manage to become one of the most visible (read:powerful) women in the United States. To decry or criticize her politics, lifestyle, or belief is to criticize God’s will, a sacrilege and outrage against biblical tenets. (Indeed, to go along is to assume she has been “chosen.”)

Though her husband is a known kook–unlicensed psychotherapist and propagator of the “pray away the gay” ideology, Bachmann has consistently claimed that she has followed her husband’s wishes throughout her political climb; it is therefore impossible not to wonder how any and every decision she might make while holding higher office would be suggested, declared, or relayed as Divine Will by her master, Mr. Bachmann.

While Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president, many wondered how her husband might influence her political decisions if she was employed in the Oval Office. Generally, such a question would be repellent, implying as it does that a woman does not and could not make her own decisions; however, Rodham Clinton’s husband’s previous job suggested that the wonder was pertinent. In this case, when a politician has vigorously and frequently spoken of her devoted submission to her husband, such a wonder is shockingly relevant.

Wrinkles between my boobs

11 Aug

Suddenly, in the NYTimes, in the HuffPost blogger, on Regis and Kelly Live!, there’s a real flurry of concern surrounding the potential for wrinklage between aging breasts.

A plethora of products are available: a kind of reverse bra that supports the skin-between while sleeping, a pillow that rests between if the idea of a bra in bed is uncomfortable, pads of silicone, a syringe of Juvederm.

Aside from the obvious response of “one more thing for a woman to worry about!”, there is the underlying more insidious corollary…who’s deciding what is unattractive, unseemly, negative, and in need of repair? How do products spun as helpful and forward-thinking suddenly appear as ubiquitous and necessary?

Most significantly (and malevolently) is the effect these products maintain over ways of looking at oneself. It is almost impossible not to read and absorb the current coverage without wanting to look down at the space between one’s boobs. And that’s the problem: the concern is artificially created by the products themselves. After a time, if the product’s spin is effective, drugstores everywhere will carry products of breast wrinkle amelioration, female “role models” will speak about their products of choice, and feminist writers will opine about all the ways the natural aging process is derided, negated, and vilified for any woman anywhere. (But the counter-spin inadvertently works for its opponent, drawing more attention to the “problem” area.)

Aging inevitably, gracefully, naturally is not a “choice” a woman must make; to look at it as such is to elevate the anti-aging industry to the level of naturalness, normality, and the biologic life-cycle that all bodies go through. It fundamentally is not.

Some female archetypes in film

6 Aug

Last Sunday’s NYTimes published a listing of male character archetypes in film: the big baby; the brave boy; the bachelor; the husband; the hero; the wimp.

This index got me to thinking about female character archetypes in film….what are they?

1) The femme fatale:

Infamously coming into her own in the genre of film noir, the femme fatale archetype produced some of the more explosively memorable¬† roles for actresses in the 1930’s and 40’s. Granted, given the dominance of the melodrama and the weepie, “women’s films” provided a rollicking array of roles for actresses of all ages; however, the femme fatale remained a figure lurking through the shadows of other genres. Powerful, sexy, voracious, and devious, she rarely won, but seemed to control the stakes anyway.

2) The prostitute:

A role found throughout film genres, the prostitute serves as a reservoir for male desires of all types: vulnerable, sexy, damaged, slutty, possibly possessing a heart of gold. Initial contact prohibits a kiss on the lips, but that just makes the prize all the more worth fighting for.

3) The girlfriend:






As demonstrated by the famous words of devotion spoken in Jerry Macguire, “You complete me.” Not completing or representing or discovering herself, the girlfriend works as assistant to her boyfriend and his narrative trajectory–be it towards self-discovery or self-immolation. Sometimes sequeing into the role of wife, but rarely transforming into a full-blown complicated, contradictory, struggling character like the man to which she remains fully devoted.

4) The action heroine:

Though the muscular achievements of Lara Croft and Salt might suggest otherwise, the action heroine archetype spans a diversity of genres–from horror to sci-fi to revenge thriller to domestic drama.

I like to think that it all started with the “final girl,” that wonderful young female central character in the traditional horror films of the 70’s. Narratively destined to dance to the end with the stalker/murderer/monster, she runs, fights with any available weapons (coat-hangers, scissors, teeth), screams, hides, and nearly always vanquishes.

The “final girl” shows up in slasher movies, rape revenge flicks, domestic thrillers, to million-dollar science-fiction flicks like the Alien trilogy. Recently, Sigourney Weaver stated that she believes every woman has an action heroine lodged inside her, sometimes wedged so far inside that it remains unknown even to herself. Weaver suggests that, once a loved one is threatened, the beast within awakes.

This assertion (and all the cinematic examples it describes), leaves me wondering…can the archetypal female action heroine fight just to fight, or is it always to protect the ones she loves? Can she be more than a mama bear or an avenging angel? Can she beat the shit out of someone because she is just downright feeling aggressive, or does it have to be because she’s been assaulted, her name’s been slandered, or the alien wants her surrogate child?