Friday, July 27, 2012

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/27/12

I was picking up the boys at camp yesterday and their very sweet counselor was doing dismissal.  I know that she just got married last month, so I congratulated her.

me:  Are you keeping your name?
sweet counselor:  No.
me:  Are you keeping your first name?

We started talking about this issue, and she gave me full permission to blog about it, I promise :).

Now, I changed my name when we got married back in 1994, and so did most of my female friends.  We took our new husbands' last names, and it seemed both romantic and reasonable to do so.  It was our "choice".  Of course, choice constrained by the CPO is hardly free choice.  When every school, office, telephone book, etc. expects a family unit to share a last name, it becomes a subversive choice to resist.  And even I wasn't quite that subversive.

Every now and then, I have a talk with a girl in one of my classes, because she has written (or allowed someone else to write), "property of [cute-boy]" on her arm in pen.  This strikes adults in the school community as wrong on so many levels - writing on a human being as subjugation, people as property, nature of high school romance....

But is it really so different than attaching yourself to your husband so you become Mr. & Mrs. His-Name?  I've heard all the pseudo-logical reasons for doing so - that there has to be some convention, that hyphenation ad infinitum wouldn't fit in the address book, that it's TRADITION, that the kids should match both parents.  None of these is really a compelling reason.

Nine years into my marriage, my beloved paternal grandfather passed away, leaving relatively few bearers of his name in my generation.  As a family, my husband, sons, and I went down to Town Hall and officially added back my maiden name into all of our own.  It was remarkable, by the way, what a big mishegas it was to add the name back in, when it had been a matter of just saying so, to lose it in the first place.  (I understand this is legally not the case in Quebec.)

"Personal choice" is so often driven by cultural, sometimes unsavory influences.  In contemplating modern nudity, it behooves me also to mention in this vein what is euphemistically, perhaps in metonymy, referred to as "bikini waxing".  The modern thing for women between puberty and age 35 or so - is to have all of their public hair professionally removed.

Leaving aside for a moment that this infantilizes, impoverishes, and sometimes infects women, let's explore the "choice" to do so.  Women who wax off all of their pubic hair invariably claim that they "like it," and that it makes them feel "clean".

But it's interesting that the style change came about right at the time that internet pornography skyrocketed in popularity (and I fully recognize that other people have seen this connection ahead of my blog).  My interest in the topic is how women have internalized our CPO to the extent that they convince even themselves that such a choice came about innocently enough from their own hearts and minds.  After all, women who don't wax also manage to feel "clean" in the vulva [and research seems to indicate that in fact they are cleaner, as the pubic hair has a salutary effect, as opposed to, say, underarm hair where there's nothing underneath to "protect"].

Another example of alleged free choice is of course in toys and clothing for children.  Parents of young girls often exclaim that their preschoolers just spontaneously entered a princess-loving stage.  And perhaps they did.  Or more likely, the multi-billion-dollar marketing industry found yet another customer.  Meanwhile, young boys who spontaneously like pink sparkles are usually discouraged, or rather redirected to a different "free choice".  The mechitza in Toys-R-Us is stricter than in some synagogues!

According to behavioral economist Dr. Dan Ariely, in his latest book about dishonesty, we all have a vital interest in fooling ourselves much of the time.  I suppose it makes sense that we would have evolved to conform first, ask questions later (if at all), using our powerful intellect to justify our choices after the fact.

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