It almost feels like since America elected Donald Trump into their presidency, America’s men have begun to chafe at many of the hard-won rights women have fought for since world war one. And if the events of 2017 are anything to go by, we are seeing first-hand proceedings that President Donald Trump has already managed to set in motion regarding sexual and reproductive health (particularly abortion laws) turn around to have outsize effects on the rest of the world, especially Africa. But it seems America’s quiet patriarchy isn’t just interested in taking away the major gains women have had in the last hundred years, they are interested in taking the little ones too.
According to a survey organised by Dr. E.F. Schafer, a professor of Gender Studies, sampling 1200 random Americans, around half of the respondents said they would support a law forcing women to take their partners surnames after marriage. This might seem like a small thing in Nigeria where it is already enforced by law that women must change their names to their husband’s to indicate marriage (gay marriage in Nigeria, ha ha) or change their surname to something else entirely, but in America where extensive legal work is tied to a woman’s name, and a woman’s name can literally become her brand, having to upend your life and change everything simply because of marriage is a hassle many women simply refuse to engage in. Not to mention that in America, many families are small and nuclear, so there is no extended family to carry on your family name if you have a daughter. Women being able to keep their maiden name post marriage, allows them uphold their family names.
Ultimately keeping your maiden name is about choice. It is about being allowed to be yourself and make your own choices, even in a marriage. It is such a simple thing, but also so integral to how women navigate marriages.
The primary reason many of the respondents gave for wanting to enforce legal name changes post marriage sound even more archaic than traditional marriage. The respondents said women who didn’t do this, really didn’t ‘commit’ to their marriages and were more likely to stray. Can you imagine marrying and having your husband not trust you because you didn’t change your surname?
America has no such law enforcing this, but it shows just how much women’s lives and choices are policed, especially through romantic relationships. Can women be allowed to have anything without the consent of men, even their own names?