I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed the Texas abortion law, the Facebook whistleblower, and declining marriage rates:
I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed fetal homicide laws, cohabitation, and women in the military:
My husband kept his last name when we married; only our eldest dog, Auggie, chose to hyphenate. Augusta Matson-Johnson does what she wants.
“It’s a good sign when the dog who knows you best connects with your new wife,” I explained to my husband. He agreed. He and Auggie are the best package deal. Like Auggie, I have imagined so many ways to get through the banalities and indignities of daily life. Until a few years ago, I never could have dreamed of sharing it with a man as good as her owner, and her.
Mornings are exciting. After feeding the baby, I walk the dogs, then feed the dogs, then take a shower, then feed the cat. No one waits patiently for me to do this on my own timetable. Two labrador chins rest on my side of the mattress while I nurse, Auggie wanting her walk and Joon wanting her food. If it’s early, I will walk beneath the stars with the dogs, Auggie leading the way with her wagging tail while Joon searches for scraps of anything to put in her mouth. This time is a religion for me.
When we get home, breakfast time in the kitchen is Joon’s purpose in life. Auggie, not so much. Auggie often waits before eating. “She’s reminding us she’s not a dog,” my husband says. This was funny until she stopped eating.
Eventually, I fed her slowly on the floor, pellet by pellet, between my fingers. I did this two times a day around the time our baby was two months old. She took some of the food, so it was worth it. Then she stopped taking the pellets, even from my hands, even one by one. We came up with a series of elaborate rituals designed to stop the cat from eating her food, in case she might want it later. We started using wet food. She took it for a time, and then she stopped.
As a former anorexic, I can relate to the emotional tinnitus Auggie must feel: The stupid, hollow ring of someone’s well-intentioned and totally fucking clueless “Why don’t you just eat?” in response to obvious emaciation and declining health. I suspect there are many reasons why Auggie doesn’t just eat, many of them going beyond her arthritis and being almost 14 years old. But she is weak and we had to do something.
Saturday, we took her to the vet. He expressed surprise that she wasn’t falling over given her dramatic weight loss, and told us to start feeding her whatever people food she would take. He used the word “hospice.” And so, though my husband and I are both vegetarians since childhood and frankly find cold cuts to be disgusting, we now have a refrigerator full of meat.
I pick up some smoked turkey and it’s slimy. I roll it. I smile. I call for Auggie. And she eats piece after piece after piece. This is a time when I could start to get really sad, because I love this dog. But I love this dog. This is a dream come true for her. I am making her sandwiches, feeding her cookies, and giving her exactly what she wants. When she gets up, I hear her, and call for her to come my way, cheering, “Yay, Auggie!” She comes in a little less wobbly now, beaming. We are not sorry and we are not sad. Life is a present moment. It should be so fun.
Girl meets boy, girl falls in love, girl gets married, girl changes her name. This is a feminist perspective on why it’s okay to do the last two things and not be some kind of feminist failure.
Before we get started, let’s acknowledge the boundaries of this discussion: many people can’t get married because the state won’t let them. And research suggests marriage is increasingly becoming reserved for heterosexual couples with money. There’s a hefty dollop of heterosexual and class privilege lurking in this debate, begging a larger question of what the policing of heterosexual women with money is designed to achieve.
Still, if you’re a woman in love with a man and have crossed some class barriers, let’s be clear that the fate of feminism doesn’t depend on whether you get married or change your name.
The primary beef is here: Asking women what they are going to do with their names when they marry is an invasive and sexist double-standard that is not applied to men. Even asking the question of a woman, and not a man, strikes me as prurient and sexist. Applying value or judgement to what one woman does with her name after marriage — whether that’s retaining a current name, applying a hyphenated name, making up a new last name or taking the partner’s name — continues this invasive and sexist practice of assuming that a woman’s name is up for public comment. If you’re going to ask this question or make grand pronouncements about what a name choice means for society, or a family, or a commitment, or a child, or internalized sexism, then focus 100 percent on men and what they are doing in heterosexual marriages. Women have done our time and frankly could use a breather.
Marriage is an institution with historical roots in the property transfer of women (and often girls) from fathers to husbands. There is no denying this inherently sexist lineage. However, my feminist argument is that the institution of marriage has evolved from the property transfer of women to include same-sex marriage in some states (a feminist victory, albeit incomplete), many egalitarian marriages practiced by couples (a feminist victory, albeit incomplete and not entirely supported by jurisprudence) and more. To write off a woman marrying a man as capitulating to the patriarchy is hogwash. Might it be for some women? Maybe, for both the women and men involved, in some marriages. But an automatic assumption focused solely on her is ridiculous.
So too, as feminist thinking about marriage evolves should feminist thinking about last names evolve. A woman who changes her last name upon marriage is not stupid, or an automaton, or subservient to please him, or a symbol of the failure of feminism, or a threat to the future of feminism. Even suggesting that she is — rather than focusing on men or couples — continues to elevate an invasive and sexist double-standard. Women aren’t “too dumb” or “too weak” to be equal. Women are not the cause of our inequality. Women’s choices are not the cause of our inequality. Of course our choices are influenced by our inequality, and interplay with our inequality, but to focus on what women are doing or not doing instead of focusing on how our society systematically discriminates against women and privileges men (often, with the sheer absence of “choices” about names, work and life because they are assumed to be accommodated without comment) — this just doesn’t have the power to fix the problem. In fact it can serve as a distraction from calling for larger changes that do have the power to fix the problem.
So this is my feminist love letter on Valentine’s Day to YOU, women who married or are thinking about marrying men, and happen to have a last name that everyone loves to chat about (while leaving his untouched). Kindly smile and tell everyone to butt out. You are not public property and you don’t deserve this intrusion in your personal life.
P.S. — My husband decided to continue using his name when we married. I am so proud of him.