Friday, December 21, 2007

circular firing squad: set lasers to 'snark'.

Fact: all internets firing squads are circular. All real arguing tends to happen between people who basically follow the same principles. If you're going at someone you truly disagree with, you're not a firing squad, you're a crack team of snipers.

With that said, this kinda pissed me off.

The whole thing? About stereotype threats etc? Good to see explored and discussed out in bloglandia. But Amanda let her slip show again; she talked of the 'rationalisation' (one of those Freudian words I'm not deadly keen on using in sane conversation) of 'choices made under [patriarchal] oppression'. The post up til then was all about educational stereotypes (azns good; girls suck at maths; you know), so to illustrate what she meant about rationalisation she said...

Like getting breast implants could be considered a rational choice (it improves your social status, which is still mainly based on the good opinion of men), but then the patriarchal blather after the fact about how it’s an improvement to “self-esteem” (as if a woman’s sense of self is not inseparable from her physical body, because in a patriarchy only the latter counts anyway) is actually believed. Or your soon to be husband makes it quite clear that there will be no peace in your marriage unless you take his name, and then after you cave to it, you sincerely and completely believe that it was for the best, and the tradition is a good one. Because it’s easier to believe the nonsense you go along with than constantly feel like you’re the victim of the world.


Amanda isn't even slightly obsessed with breast implants. Not at all. I think it's actually been almost a month since she last told us how 'desperate' women with breast implants are. She did even better last time - she went almost two entire months without criticising the 'painful, expensive advantage' that is breast enhancement surgery. You'd think someone who reminded us of their opinion on the topic on a regular basis would have some kind of personal experience to relate here, but no, Amanda just doesn't like saline and doesn't like any woman who does.

I don't have any personal experience to relate there, so I don't intend to pontificate about it. Instead I tend to prefer listening to what women who do have that experience have to say about it. (And about people who don't listen, too).

But that other thing? The surname thing? That's a me thing. And it's not an Amanda thing - iirc, she doesn't believe in marriage. (My beliefs concerning marriage - and lack thereof - I have yet to discuss here; I may come back to that in a few months). So I've had to face this down in my own life, not because anyone else wants me to but because I had to: I have an appalling non-relationship with my father, I have no mother to tie me to any other family, and I am getting married to the person who walks through the world with me. None of these three things are true for Amanda, and it is likely that none of them ever will be. (well, it's likely she'll one day also be motherless but she'll never be a person who grew up that way).

Commenters chime in to say that any hard emotional/identity work I have to do over this is merely 'cognitive-dissonance reduction', and that any way in which this issue is more fraught for people with father problems is 'irrelevant'. Also, lots of hypothetical, supposedly normal, descriptions of a world which is not the world I live in; a world where name-changing is a "show of love" (that's never been how it is in me-land), where it's an expectation (quite the opposite, if anything - I think he was initially expecting to wind up with my name), where someone in your family has put pressure on you about it (there are eight adults called Ms A____ in his family already and funeral gatherings are getting pretty confusing. And I haven't discussed this with anyone in my family except Kathie, who is confused enough as it is).

And oh, Amanda:

It seems frightful to me to be like, “My father is abusive so I’m losing HIS name and taking THIS GUY’S name,” because you still buy into the idea that women don’t and can’t have names of our own.

I mean, why do I never hear men say, “I dumped my abusive father’s name?” Because as men, they get to say it’s their name, not their fathers.

I prefer the Tina Turner method. My name, wore it, made a name for myself under it, etc. Belongs to no man.


Three paragraphs there. The first involves perfectly simple acceptance of fact; in the conventional world that most people live in, women do not have surnames. They just rent them for a few decades at a time. Surnames are shining lights of masculinity, passed from fathers to sons by uninvolved female hands. You can buck the trend, sure (though Amanda will not do so, because she is childfree - not that that stops her talking about labour pains in that thread, not at all), but the trend is still there. Not even just in your culture, but in most others too.

The second is outright untrue. I said that, too, told her I knew a few men who've done just that. She called these men 'myths' because she hasn't met any, and passing judgement about people you've never met is a big Amanda thing.

And the third....oh fucking hell, where do I begin?

Tina. Freaking. Turner. An abused woman. A (in terms of background) poor woman. A woman of colour. Who made a hard choice about the name thing. Keeping a name given to you by someone who hurt you is a choice non-survivor, middle-class, white Amanda approves of. So she will take this abused, poor woman of colour and say that all people who've had to make this choice should make that choice, because it's the only right choice - Amanda says so, and if one poor abused WOC agrees it must be true for all people in that situation.

A brief step aside; there's this bright spark, zombie z, who talks about how her feelings regarding her name and identity have shifted over the course of her life (a cool read, that - I had the same name-avoidance as a child, and I'm not sure if that's related to trying to get distance from my father or not), and how she's now planning to change her surname in the future to a name of her own choice. I've never come across this person before, and I don't know anything much of her other views and writings, but this one made my brain bleed. Her changing her name is awesome, because she's got this whole story behind it and it's a fitting identity for her! But me changing my name would be bad and would be, as she quotes Amanda saying, 'trying to rob other women the right to own their given names'!

Me. Robbing other people of the right to own their names. Because I spoke up to say that for people who've been slapped around by their fathers, that one is frekking complicated and is not just readable as your name vs your spouse's name - it instead takes you back to that original purpose of surnaming, that denoting of a masculine lineage. (btw, as I am robbing other people of the right to own their names, Amanda is assuring me that the name-changing men I know are mythical, and don't even own their own existences). While it's not the same situation and can't be mapped onto it point for point, I was reminded of a certain Alas post: Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You.

9 comments:

Toni said...

Sorry to hear you had to grow up without a mother - you can have mine if you want, she is a pain in the arse! The naming thing is odd isn't it? I was engaged to a Thai woman once and when we discussed names for children, it became quite clear that my name would have been the Western name but if we lived in Thailand her name would be more used. Her surname was quite highly regarded and most Thais would recognize it, so if I had married her and lived there I guess I would have had to get used to being "the husband of.."

Tina Turner? surely you mean Annie May Bullock. Wasn't she married to that guy, Ike Turner? Tina is a legend, she was on her uppers and a number of her showbiz admirers helped her out to record Private Dancer and the legend was reborn. For a meterialistic, capitalist who grew up in the 80's I have a surprising affection for country and western music, I wonder why more feminists don't extoll the work of Dolly Parton, this is a woman who was born in appalling poverty who through raw talent and drive made herself into an industry. I suspect her commodtization of feminine characteristics make her unpalatable. Anyway, I still get a shiver down my spine when I hear her sing Here You Come Again or Coat of Many Colours.

thene said...

I confess, I am disconcerted by the idea of people my age having parents; I'm not even sure what a 'mother' does for someone over the age of 12 - when people way older than me still have parents kicking around it's like something is going on that I don't know how to translate.

That Thai story's interesting, and chimes a bit with me - mostly just because it's me who's moving, for now at least. I will in many circles start of as 'that disreputable foreign lady who's technic'ly on paper married to...' But man or woman, a person can move on from that. If that, as Amanda seems to be saying, is 'having your identity robbed', she's got a very limp view of identity.

Curiously, one thing Amanda said in that thread (she had a confessional moment near the end where she detailed her sins in full) was that she likes "vintage country songs with reactionary gender politics", but she classed this as a 'failure' of hers. I don't know much about the genre myself, but I'll go slsk those two songs you recommended.

zombie z said...

Thanks for the shout-out.

To clarify: I have no problem with anyone changing their name for whatever reason. I think all people should have names that they feel represents them (hence my random changing, both first and last, throughout my life). I CERTAINLY don't disagree with someone changing their name to distance themselves from a family that was never 'family' in the first place (this includes abuse or, in my case, just kind of apathetic non-relationships).

That being said, in situations like my own, where we're not talking about violence or any extreme Issues, I DID think that Amanda brought up an interesting point -- why does my father's name represent all the bad things about him, but MY name (that happens to be the same as his) can't represent the good things I want to do in the world?

I have a (male) friend who went through some of the worst things a person could IMAGINE in his childhood. Even though he liked the aesthetic of his name, he jumped at the chance to get rid of it upon marriage. And I couldn't support that more.

So -- I didn't touch the issues of abuse, I guess because I felt my stance is the "right" stance and therefore self-evident (basically, that a person's name is a very personal choice, and any reason is a valid one to change it).

Anyway, I dig the small bit I've seen of your blog and will be hopping on back for more reading once I get back 'in town.'

thene said...

"why does my father's name represent all the bad things about him, but MY name (that happens to be the same as his) can't represent the good things I want to do in the world?"

I guess my answer there is 'because surnames are still patriarchy whether you like them or not'. The fact that you share your father's original surname rather than your mother's is patriarchy in its most literal form - you're identified as the member of a particular male lineage. Even if you choose to keep that name, use it, love it, pass it to your own children should you wish to have them, you're still IDed as being an offspring of one particular patriarch. Just like I will be IDed as the wife of one particular patriarch.

I don't think a name represents something bad (or good) about a person, but that surnaming - like the beauty industry, or the sex industry - is a clear representation of a male-dominated society [where your father's identity counted for more than your mother's]. Amanda wearing makeup and loving that 'reactionary' country music doesn't mean Amanda can't do good things in the world. Giving his name to his children doesn't make your father (or mine) a bad person either. The two are both products of and cogs within a bad machine - we all are.

[I think what you-personally are doing, choosing a new name all of your own, is a great way to step out of this particular cycle.]

There is nothing wrong with being content with this status quo, finding one's name to be awesomegroovy however you came by it, but Amanda's claim that there's something inherently more holy in accepting one man's name than another really doesn't wash for me. (Is that 'cognitive dissonance', I wonder? Being so attached to one's name that it doesn't stick out as being a direct result of a patriarchal system?)

Ironically, I think Kelbesque (as quoted in my last surname post - iirc he's a Libertarian, certainly not an active part of the feminist movement) had a better feminist take on it: why do we need inherited surnames at all?


[Sorry if all-that was too indirect for the question. Got all over the place there. It's also not really to do with why I was pissed at Amanda in the first place, which is that she invents these hypothetical dilemmas other women face - often making the real versions of said women feel insulted in the process, as this + all the iterations of BoobJobGate have shown - rather than simply talking about her own 'rationalisations', which she would know all about and be able to discuss without infringing on anyone else.]

Daisy said...

I do not like my father, or the way he treated my mother. Why should I be *forced* to keep his name? It seems a feminist would understand that.

In a patriarchy, you have one man's name or another's. Why can't I choose the name of the man I like best?

I've considered taking one of the random surnames from my family (I like the Irish surname O'Faolin best)-- but doesn't the O in Irish surnames literally translate as *OF* -- as in OF this family tree; OF a particular male lineage? I don't think there is any way to escape that, other than pick a whole 'nother name out of the ether, and I don't feel comfortable doing that for a variety of reasons.

Besides, if I pick another surname in patriarchy, isn't that just ANOTHER man's name? Or should I go all 70s and call myself SUNSHINE or STARLING or RAIN or something? Amanda could call herself Amanda Pandagon, which is perfect.

If she doesn't wanna do that, guess she ain't any better than the rest of us, huh? ;)

thene said...

I had the same idea about other family surnames - Longworth might've been nice, or Farquhar - but hit the same mental wall, in that all those names were from some husband or father. That said, many names aren't inherently gendered - names taken from places or professions, for instance. And yes, flower child names! I knew an 'Ashencarne' family once. They'd changed it from something far less shiny. I won't repeat their children's names, but they were equally imaginative.

Funny thing is, I in my head associate the word 'Pandagon' with 'Pendragon' - I don't know if Amanda intended that association or not, but it's a pretty damn patriarchal myth!

I think first names can be problematic too; like, male names can have seemingly any form, but most female names end in A, E, L, S, R, T, Y, I or H. Soft sounds. If I had a daughter, I'd call her something unspeakably butch just to get my own back on the entire English language.

verte said...

Did you see that f-word blogger getting lynched over on CiF for the surname debate?

verte said...

Oops! And here's the link:
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/abby_oreilly/2007/11/taken_in_vain.html

Nora said...

some interesting person suggested girl-children taking their mother's surname and boy-children taking their father's surname.