Half Of Americans Think Women Should Change Their Last Names For Marriage

Photographed by Winnie Au.
A new study proves once again how important it is to continue fighting for women's complete autonomy over their choices.

It found that, despite all the gains we've made during the past few decades, more than 70% of U.S. adults believe that a woman should change her name after she gets married. More surprisingly, about half feel that it should be required by law, which is terrifying. (How, exactly, would that work? Would we go to jail or pay fines?) The study surveyed a representative national sample of 1,200 adults and was published earlier this month in the journal Gender Issues.

The researcher — Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer, a sociology professor at Portland State University — presented participants with a fictional scenario, in which they were asked to evaluate a hypothetical woman's commitment to being a wife and rate how "justified" her husband would be in divorcing her if she worked late hours at her job.

Shafer was particularly interested in how people's values affect their beliefs. "The most common reason (approximately 50% of the cases) given by individuals who advocated women's name change was the belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves," she notes in the study.

The results varied across demographics, with less-educated men more likely to support the name-changing tradition, saying that a woman who chooses a different last name from her husband is not as committed to the marriage — and that her husband is more justified in filing for divorce if she works too much. Among women and highly educated men, last-name choice seemed to have little to no effect on their perceptions of a woman as a wife.

This highlights a double standard in our cultural values that badly needs fixing. While research has shown that women are routinely criticized for acting in their own self-interest (i.e., like men) in the workplace, these new — yet not-so-new — findings confirm that we face backlash for similar reasons in our homes.

"My work shows that women can face backlash at home as well if they're not acting 'properly' as wives," Shafer told Broadly.

Public perception of famous women who keep their names has also been historically low. Just look at how Hillary Rodham was pressured to become Hillary Clinton: People blamed Bill's loss of his 1980 gubernatorial reelection campaign on her keeping her maiden name.

"Her keeping her last name was seen to many as strange, even offensive, and she was labeled a bad wife in part because of her original choice to remain Hillary Rodham," writes Shafer. "Over 30 years have passed since that backlash, but surname choice in the U.S. remains a highly gendered aspect of modern marriage."

Want to change your name to your husband's? Great — just make sure the decision is entirely yours, without pressure from family or anybody else. Thinking of keeping your name, but aren't sure? Go rogue. We need to continue advocating for women to make their own choices in all areas of life — their bodies, their jobs, their names — radically and without apology.

What's it really going to take? Shafer says her "pessimistic answer is dismantling the patriarchy."

BRB, going to do that right now. Wish me luck.
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