Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to write an unfunny, illogical commentary on an uterly trivial subject.

Today, when I opened my MSN messenger, I was greeted with the daily pop-up box that highlights a handful of news stories and articles that can be found within the MSN/MSNBC pages.  One story looked interesting.

It was an article that dealt with women taking their husband's last name after marriage, which is a topic my wife and I discussed before our nuptials.  At the time, I made it clear to her that it was her decision to make and I would support her however she decided to proceed.  Ultimately, she decided to take my surname, and her maiden name became her middle name.  So I was interested to see what this columnist, Faith Salie (who we're told is "a writer, actor and humorist who contributes to O, The Oprah Magazine's ethics column. She is a television commentator and a former public radio host.") had to say on the topic.  It was titled "Will You Take His Name?" and I thought it might be an interesting read.  I was disappointed, to say the least.

A couple of paragraphs into the article, Faith tells us that:

I am freshly gobsmacked every single Sunday morning when I see that about half the women — mostly under 35, all women with careers, all women who chose to submit their announcement to the putatively liberal New York Times — are electing to give up their identity.

You mean, nearly 10 years into the 21st Century, women are given a choice on what to do with their last name upon getting married?  And, if Faith's stats are correct, about half of them have chosen to take their husband's name?  And they proudly proclaim this fact to the New York Times?  Oh, the humanity.

Also, if these women who are "giving up their identities" bother you so much, why in the hell do you keep looking at the wedding section?  Be an adult and avert your eyes.  But that would be too easy, and then what would this "humorist" bitch and moan about?

She continues:

What would Lucy Stone say? She was a 19th-century suffragist who was the first American woman to revert to her birth name after marriage. She even had to chastise one Susan B. Anthony by writing to Suze, "A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers." Stone's followers — women who refused to change their names upon marriage — were called Stoners.

I would hope that Lucy Stone would be proud that her efforts had lead to a shift in cultural norms where it was possible for a woman to choose what her last name was, even if that meant making the choice to take her husband's name.  Ms. Salie thinks otherwise.

Today only about 20 percent of American women are Stoners. In other words, 80 percent of women change their identities — I mean, names — upon getting married.

It makes me wish we were a more progressive country like … Iran. Yes, Iran, where Muslim women keep their names for life. So must women, by law, keep their names in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Malaysia, Korea … I could go on, but I really like the way they do it in Spain.

Ah, good old Iran.  That good ol' bastion for "woman's rights".  Yes, let's throw out that useless Constitution, install religious imams and a puppet government that enforces their every whim.  And lets be really "progressive" and pass a law, making it illegal to take your husband's last name once married, even if that is what you want to do.  I have a hard time believing that Ms. Salie would support a law that forced every woman to take their husband's last name (since that is what a super-majority of women already do, according to her statistics).  This is what passes for "feminist" thought these days?  I thought this was the camp that was in favor of "free choice".  Wow.

So, Ms. Salie, please enlighten us to the ways that the Spaniards are superior to us in this regard.

There, people have two surnames — their father's and their mother's. When they have a child, she receives the first surname from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother, and the parents choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children.

If that was a bit confusing, it's just because they use the metric system.

Wow, that really is progressive and unique.  But what do Spanish women do when they get married?  Do they keep their last name or take their husbands?  While Faith doesn't really tell us, for the sake of taking this method to it's logical end, let's assume that wives keep their name, and see where it takes us if we were to use this method in the States.

Jim Smith marries Julie Jones.  They have a son Tim, who is now Tim Smith-Jones (whoops, that was extremely prejudiced of me to assume that the husband's name would go first.  Oh well, I'm sure Ms. Salie is feverishly writing a law to ensure that doesn't happen).  Well, little Timmy Smith-Jones grows up and marries Susie Garcia-Powell.  They have a daughter, who they name Maria.  Is her name now Maria Smith-Jones Garcia-Powell?  If so, what happens when she marries Larry Franklin-Washington Hamilton-Coolidge, and together they have a son?  Is his name now Fred Smith-Jones Garcia-Powell Franklin-Washington Hamilton-Coolidge?  Hmmmm, logic is hard.  Now I see why Ms. Salie avoided using any in her article.

She continues:

Names are our identity. They matter. Think about it: What does the Witness Protection Program do when they want you to disappear? They make you keep your first name and change your last name. When someone illegally assumes someone else's name, we say an identity's been stolen; when someone legally assumes someone else's name, we say … you're married.
And?  Maybe it's my conservative, white-male biased coming through, but how is this a problem?  Is it the institution of marriage that she has a problem with?  Is it the fact that women are legally given the option to change their name that is causing her this turmoil?

So her argument so far boils down to women who change their name after getting married have forever lost their identity, in the same way that occurs when one enters Federal Protection or is a victim of identity theft, and since a bunch of Europeans and Iranians do it differently, it proves our un-progressiveness.  Well, I'm convinced.

Let's cut through the most platitudinous argument: "A family shares a name." Um, nuh-uh.

Um, yeah-huh.  According to your own statistics, 80% of families share a name.  Maybe what you meant to write is something along these lines, "A family's identity can be established with their sharing a name".  In which case, I would agree with you.  That might be one indicator, but it's not the definition.  But that's not what you said, and probably not what you meant. 

Did your grandmother have the same last name as you? Was she still your Nana?

Well, yes, my paternal grandmother had the same last name as me.  But my maternal grandmother had a different last name.  And, yes, both were still my grandmother, regardless of their names.  But how would you remedy this problem, Ms. Salie?  The only way I can figure is to rid the population of surnames.  Then everyone could form a large circle and sing "Kumbaya".  We'd all be one big family.

Conversely, does having the same last name mean you'll always stay a family? Ask the Gibsons or the McCartneys or the McGreeveys or …

So, because people get divorced, we should abandon surnames?  What a twisted web of anti logic you have created Faith.  As we enter the last stanza of Faith's list of complaints, I'm hoping that she decided to throw out a solution to fix all of the problems she sees with women taking their husband's last name.

What's in a name? You tell me …
  • Would you want to lay down seven grand to buy a wedding dress from Vera Becker? (Vera Wang?)
  • How about listen to a song from Mariah Cannon, Jennifer Anthony or Barbra Brolin? (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Barbra Streisand)
  • Netflix an old film with Elizabeth Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Warner Fortensky? (Elizabeth Taylor)
  • Or get your nightly news from Katie Monahan? (Katie Couric)
  • Gloria Bale needs her surname like a fish needs a Steinem. (Gloria Steinem)
  • And does the name Sonia Noonan suggest an "extraordinary journey"? (Sonia Sotomayor)

My answers to her (presumably) rhetorical questions:  1) No, she doesn't make dresses in my size.  2) Yes, if I enjoyed the songs enough.  3) No, I'm not a fan of "classic" films.  4) No, I don't watch nightly news, no matter who is the anchor.  5) I don't get it.  6) Neither name suggests anything to me, but I highly doubt Sotomayor's name will affect her performance as a Justice anymore than it affects the other eight.  And still no solutions to this perceived problem.  She ends with this postscript: 

By the way, my wedding announcement was in The New York Times. When I submitted it, I wrote, "The groom is keeping his name." The Times did not publish that sentence. I guess they thought it was a typo.

No, I'd guess that they didn't couldn't figure out how to fit your soapbox within the margins.  And good for you, you've proven to us all that you are a rebel.  A rebel without a cause.

People like Faith Salie annoy me to no end.  They can't help but meddle in other people's lives.  She can't be proud of the achievements of the woman's suffrage movement.  She apparently lacks the understanding that in a free society people are going to make choices that run against her ideology.  Rather than bitching about such trivial subjects as surnames, she could use her unique platform to point out the injustice of arranged marriages or sex slavery or other gender-based rights and freedoms issues (especially in such "progressive" places such as Iran, and it's Middle East neighbors).  But no, that would take effort.  Or, I'd have even accepted a well thought out solution to this perceived problem, but again, that takes work. 

The subheadline of this article says "Writer, actor and humorist Faith Salie talks about why some women change their last names when they get married, and what the impact can be."  Obviously the headline writer did not read the article, because Faith does none of these things.  She says nothing about why women do it, just makes the observation that they do, and rattles off all the reasons why their doing so bothers her.  And she doesn't even touch the subject of what the "impact can be".  She does not refer to any psychologists, or anthropologists, or even any advice columnists.  She can't even fit in an anecdote or two from women who have changed their name or women who have not.

How this passes as quality commentary is beyond me.  A true "feminist" would be ashamed.  And what it lacks in thoughtfulness, it's even more lacking in humor/satire, which I'm sure was Ms. Salie's main goal.  There are only a couple of lines that I can assume were meant to be humorous, and those went over like a lead balloon.  If Ms. Salie was angling to write an edgy, satirical piece that pokes holes into the custom of wives taking their husbands' name, I'm still waiting for the punchline. 


  1. I can understand the idea this woman had when she dreamed up this article, however, she failed to execute and that is why this was such a poor showing of what we as American's are writing and putting into the public for reading. You have perfectly spotted the many flaws and weak points in her article and demonstrated just how ridiculous what she is saying really is. I hope women in today's society do not think of this woman as a feminist because I think that would cause Lucy Stone much more concern than a woman voluntarily taking her husband's last name. -Rach

  2. I also wanted to add that I think it is very progressive of you as a man to read this article and not shield your views so that you don't look like a male chauvinist, but rather see that this article is flawed and actually counterprodcutive to women striving for equality and then to call the author on it. With men like you in this world, women should do just fine. -Rach

  3. See, unlike Rach, when I read it, I thought, "what a chauvinist."