GUEST POST: Me, Myself and Identity

Written by Rebecca N.

Hi, Classic Jess’s sister here. You’ll be hearing from me occasionally, giving another outlook on feminism, sex, relationships and general life.

Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing of any Adonis sexcapades from me as we’re not all that fricking lucky. Instead, I’ll be delving into other aspects of my life, from having the ‘perfect’ married life and holding up to the ideals my family has placed on my relationship, to sexual awakenings, sex parties and BDSM workshops.

There’s a lot to cover so it’ll be over a series of blog posts. For now, I wanted to touch on the beginning of my marriage. The BDSM stuff comes later…

A little over a year ago, I was battling with myself constantly in the run up to my wedding. Was I being completely anti-feminist, playing into the patriarchal institution of marriage? Traditionally speaking, your dad ‘gives you away’ to another man. You are then owned by that man. And to ensure everyone knows it, you take his name as well; you are quite literally stamped by his ownership in the marriage certificate. WTF?

Back when I was 25 and newly engaged, I didn’t consider any of this. Admittedly, I got caught up in the excitement, the idea of having a big party with my nearest and dearest, and of course, being the centre of attention. Before I was engaged, I hadn’t really thought about getting married. It wasn’t something I’d ever strongly desired. I wasn’t bothered by the marshmallow dress, the fruitcake, and the ten bridesmaids. I did always like the idea of having a heavy diamond ring on my finger though… Anyway, as I said, it wasn’t ever a big thing for me, but once P popped the question and after I told him to fuck off a couple of times (I was in shock), I said yes, and then proceeded to get very excited about it all.

But once the initial excitement died down, once we’d had the engagement party and booked a venue, and once I’d asked my sister and bestie to be my bridesmaids, I was left with questions. What the hell am I doing?! Isn’t this against everything I stand for? How could I so easily and quickly throw my feminist values away?

For the record, I am a loud and proud feminist. Definitely a guilty feminist, though. I have been known to try and eat bananas seductively whilst in the presence of men, and I have definitely had unflattering thoughts about other women. But I’m trying my hardest to unlearn patriarchal behaviours that society has thrust upon us since the day we were born, and this has led to intense anxiety around my acceptance of a marriage proposal.

During the year leading up to my wedding, the question I most struggled with was, ‘Do I keep my surname, or take P’s?’. I made a mental pros and cons list. Pros: He has a cool surname, if we ever have kids then we’ll all have the same name, I like the way my signature looks with the new surname. Cons: It is steeped in the old school tradition of ownership, I would lose a piece of my own identity, I shouldn’t have to lose my lovely, double-barrelled surname.

It was the idea of losing a piece of my own identity that hit me the most. For 28 years, I’d moved through life being sure of myself, who I was, and what I stood for. I recognise that I’m very fortunate in that respect. So when it was presumed I would change my name, I struggled. To give P credit, he never made that assumption and he always made it clear that he would be happy with any decision I made. No, it was mainly other people’s presumptions of what moniker I should be going by.

So I struggled. Should I cast off my old name for the happy label of Mrs X, as if proclaiming “Forget who I was before! I am now Smug Married, I am loved and owned by a MAN!” Or should I keep my name, forgoing tradition and expectations? Who would I even become, if I were to take a new name?

After months of internal torment, I came to the realisation that I did, in fact, want to take P’s name, and that my struggle was really with how I might be perceived by other feminists. I felt so guilty. There I was shouting about the next wave of feminism, yet at the same time I was getting married and changing my name. It became less about my identity and my literal names, and more about how I identified as a feminist. I needed to try and marry (excuse the pun) my feminist values with my acceptance of P’s proposal.

So I decided to change the way I saw marriage. I decided I didn’t need to adhere to any traditions, and instead of playing into its roots of ownership, I would work with my partner to realise our own version of marriage. 

By taking P’s name, I also decided that I was adding another aspect to my identity. It wasn’t going to take away from who I was before, and it certainly didn’t change who I was or what I stood for. It was merely another chapter in my life. The next part of my story. A public declaration that I really liked my new signature.

The choice to marry is deeply personal, and so is a change in name. But when publicly performed, they become statements of implied social values and virtues. Many of us now have the power to choose what those values and virtues are. We have greater scope to challenge and reshape the gendered norms of marriage. Yes, you can say I played into the societal norm of taking my partner’s name once married. But I would argue I only did that after researching and debating the subject, and having the self-empowerment to make that decision for myself; a true feminist act.

I’m still a guilty feminist. I’m sure I’ll still flirt with the barman to score a free drink, claim “I’m cramping!” to get out of any physical activity, and suggestively suck on phallic fruit for shits and gigs.

But I’m also still sure I am a feminist. I am sure of the role it plays in my relationship and marriage, and what it means as part of my identity. To anyone considering marriage, whatever you want to do; take his name, don’t take his name, have a civil partnership, don’t get married at all… I salute your own decision, your own choice.

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