Category Archives: Culture

Why I Am No Longer Talking to My Boyfriend about Surnames

Gigi Allen

My boyfriend and I rarely argue and if we do, we usually come to a solution. Except for one topic that we just cannot seem to agree on: Last names.

Unfortunately, my boyfriend, let’s call him Chris, and I realized that we want different things regarding surnames after marriage.

Thankfully, it has become a joke between us.

Ever since I was little, I have wanted to keep my surname. I think because I realized that if my sister and I both changed our names, our surname would die out with us.

Chris also wants to aid in the longevity of his surname. He has a strong connection with his surname and a desire to keep it as a part of his identity, which I cannot fault him for, I feel the same way about my last name.

My solution: having a double-barrelled name for both of us.

The issue is that my boyfriend is less willing to adopt a double-barrelled name and suggested that he would rather that he kept his name as is, while only I adopt the hyphenated name. This would mean that I would have some name connection to our children. However, I think this is not a fair solution.

I must note that my boyfriend is a feminist and strongly supports equality between men and women and meant the above comment as a joke mostly, so I do not mean to do him a disservice.

However… Am I going to use a whole blog post to show how he is wrong? Yes, I am.

Names are intrinsically linked with our identities. Sociologists Norbert Elias (1991) and Jane Pilcher (2017:812) argued that surnames are for connecting individuals to their family identity (1991:209). Therefore, when people get married and change their names, they are symbolising becoming one family. This is usually done by taking the man’s name.

If surnames are a way of connecting a family together and building kinship. Should the woman’s family not also be given the opportunity to be connected to the grandchildren?

Pilcher further argues that names are a way of building and displaying our sex and gender. Names contribute to how we culturally “do gender”, therefore by heterosexual women resisting the norm and choosing to keep their surname, they are “re-doing gender” and contributing to changing how we are culturally “supposed” to act according to our gender (2017: 812).

In Pilcher’s exploration of Names and “Doing Gender”, she finds that the cultural practices of taking just the man’s surname only further perpetuates the inequalities between men and women and serves as “an indicator of inequality in the gender order” (Pilcher, 2017:817):

“The perpetuation of family surname choices in which men’s surnames are favoured over women’s have been recognized by both the United Nations (1979) and the Council of Europe (2008) as a political issue of (in)equality.”                                                                                        (Pilcher, 2017: 816)

I understand the tradition and simplicity of taking just one last name. It saves future generations from choosing between two last names and trying to blend with their partner’s surnames. But I think that incorporating both surnames is an important step forward for gender equality and re-doing gender norms.

Chris argues that if we did have a hyphenated name, then our children would just have to pick between the two when they get married. He argues that this could lead to his name being dropped and forgotten. This is a fair worry in my opinion. However, is it fair for my name to be forgotten to potentially prevent the same thing from happening to his last name?

I am not saying every couple should adopt a double-barrelled surname. Surnames should be a choice rather than an expectation, something that all partners agree upon.

From the few opinion articles I have read, written by men, to understand the other side of this debate (see Fordy, Telegraph, 2015), they seem to have the view that this is their last cling to their male identity in an increasingly feminist world.

In all fairness, I can understand their frustration. It must suck to be the first male in your lineage to have to fight for a right that was just given to your forefathers.

But you know what also sucks? Not even being able to fight for that right in the first place.

It is very telling that this right, which is so thoughtlessly handed to men, is something that women have to continually fight for and defend, even today.

I am not asking for my boyfriend to take my last name and revoke his own, I am not asking for our children to only have my surname, somethings which men have not even asked but expected women to do for thousands of years. I am asking for equality. I am asking for a double-barrelled name, which would mean that both of us have equally changed and accepted each other’s names as part of our identity, while also helping to resist gender inequality.

 

Bibliography:

Elias, N., 1991. The Society of Individuals. London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Fordy, T., 2015. It’s wrong for kids not to have their father’s surname. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/relationships/fatherhood/11768048/Its-wrong-for-kids-not-to-have-their-fathers-surname.html> [Accessed 6 March 2021].

Pilcher, J., 2017. Names and “Doing Gender”: How Forenames and Surnames Contribute to Gender Identities, Difference, and Inequalities. Sex Roles, 77(11-12), pp.812-822.

 

5 children’s books for the gender conscious family

Maxime Perrott

Reading books together as a family is one of the most beneficial ways to reconnect with each other after a busy day. But also, to share stories that reflect the beliefs and values we want our children to be surrounded by.

Research has shown that children can be seen to ‘do gender’ at a young age. Where in a range of social contexts children establish and enforce gender boundaries in ways that reflect their ideas of gender difference (Messner 2000). Therefore, it is up to us to show them that a child’s gender should not, and need not, constrain them. So, all children are free to become and be whatever they want in life.

Here I have collected 5 of my favourite books that tackle the sometimes-complex concept of gender. Along with a summary of recent parent reviews from Amazon. These are books for all the family to enjoy. They are unified in the message that every child can really be anything, and express themselves, in any way they want.

  1. Gender Swapped Fairy Tales.

This is a beautiful and thoughtful book comprised of classic tales many

will be familiar with. With the gender identifiers switched. None of the original story lines have been tampered with and the moral endings remain the same, just the characters’ genders have been swapped.

The original illustrations are beautifully designed full of colour. This book is sure to captivate the whole family and can be read together for years to come.

What parents say:

From the 10 most recent reviews, 7 are positive. These are centred around how the small change of gender seems to really impact the story telling and how it has brought to parents’ attention that some of the most loved and well-known fairy tales have shaped our perceptions of gender. The less positive reviews commented on the awkward wording of the stories and how they are at times, inappropriate for very young children.

  1. Julian is a Mermaid.

I found this to be a charming picture book. It tells the story of young Julian who, after seeing three women dressed up on the subway one day, creates himself a fabulous mermaid costume.

A story full of heart, this is a book all about individuality and at its core a champion for self-confidence and love. And if you and your family enjoy this book there is also a sequel Julian at the Wedding.

What parents say:

This book has 5 stars and over 2,500 reviews on Amazon, so definitely a firm favourite with many parents. It is described as a ‘joy’. Reviewers commented on how it is beautifully written and illustrated, pointing out how Julian’s Nana is written as being calm and accepting.

  1. What are little girls made of?

This is a clever and funny book that comprises of revamped traditional nursery rhymes with a feminist twist. Full of witty illustrations these new and improved nursery rhymes champion the idea that girls can do whatever and be whatever they want, and most importantly are the heroes of any story!

This is a fun and easy to read book for the family to share together and especially for those with children aged between 3 and 5.

What parents say:

The 190 online reviews are largely positive and emphasis the empowering message of this book. It is routinely described as fun, refreshing and a must read for any family raising girls in this ‘new and modern world of gender equality.’

 

However, we still have a long road ahead for achieving true gender equality. Women are still routinely missing from top jobs in many industries, and although progress has been made in some areas, it remains too slow (Kaur 2020). And a recent survey carried out for the UN found that 97% of women have been sexually harassed in the UK (Advanced Pro Bono 2021).

Figures like these, show why it is so important to normalise the idea of gender equality from a young age and really encourage our young girls and boys to become whatever they want to be. But also, to be true to themselves, and not pre-defined gender norms. 

If these are topics that interest you, and you would like to learn more, please see the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this article

 

  1. Little Feminist Picture Book (Little People Big Dreams collection)

A great book honouring 25 amazing women throughout history. Featuring politicians, athletes, scientists, artists and more, I found this book inspiring and really champions the idea that any young girl can become whatever they want to be.

As part of the Little People Big Dreams book collection there are plenty more inspiring reads to collect. Although I recommend this as the starting book for the collection. Especially for families with pre-school aged children, as it comes in hardcover and the short biographies are easy and enjoyable to read as a family.

What parents say:

Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of this collection, comments are overwhelmingly positive about this book. With 9 out of ten of the most recent reviews scoring it 5 stars. Reviewers comment on how well received the book is by their children and the inspiring women that are included.

 

  1. Good night stories for rebel girls/Good night stories for boys who dare to be different.

Although technically two books, I just could not mention one without the other! These are award winning, bestseller books for a reason. I found these books full of inspiring women and men, who despite of constricting gender norms and difficult backgrounds have gone on to become amazing people and do amazing things.

I think these are wonderful books to empower young boys and girls. And no doubt they will start many meaningful conversations and be enjoyed by all the family.

What parents say:

These books have received 5 and 4.5 stars on Amazon, respectively. And with over 8,000 combined ratings, parents are unanimously positive about these books. Comments note the inspirational people included and the way their children enjoyed the books. Both books have been described as must-read books and really showcase the many different types of girls and boys who have gone done simply amazing things in life.

References:

Advance Pro Bono. 2021. Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces: A report by the APPG for UN Women. London: APPG for UN Women.

Kaur, S. 2020. Sex and Power 2020. London: Fawcett Society.

Messner, M. A. 2000. Barbie Girls Versus Sea Monsters: Children Constructing Gender. Gender and Society 14(6), pp. 765 – 784.

 

Further Reading:

Gender Equality in the Workplace:

Article written by the guardian, titled ‘UK still “generations away” from equality in top jobs, study shows.’ This is available online:

UK still ‘generations away’ from equality in top jobs, study shows | Gender | The Guardian

Journal article discussing some of the reasons for inequality in the workplace:

Reskin. B. F. 1987. Bringing the men back in: Sex differentiation and the Devaluation of Women’s work. Gender and Society 2(1), pp. 58-81.

An ESRC funded report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies detailing the nature of the gender wage gap in the UK:

Dias, M. C. et al. 2016. The Gender Pay Gap. London: The Institute for Fiscal Studies.

 

Sexual Harassment of Women:

Article written by the Guardian: ‘Almost all young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds’ This is available online:

Almost all young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds | Sexual harassment | The Guardian

Journal article reviewing literature on workplace sexual harassment:

McDonald, P. 2012. Workplace Sexual Harassment 30 years on: A Review of the Literature. International Journal of Management Reviews 14, pp. 1 – 17.

Why is Ed Sheeran so popular at weddings?

Studying sociology is a great opportunity to try to answer life’s big questions – why do people fall into patterns of behaviour? What enables some groups to wield power over others? And why do so many people enjoy the music of Ed Sheeran?

Sheeran is not only one of the most popular musicians in the UK right now, he’s also the most popular at weddings. Spotify recently released data on the top 10 “first dance” songs chosen by UK couples and he features three times in this list, twice for two versions of the same song (Perfect, released in 2017). Does Ed Sheeran have a formula for writing a successful wedding song?

Ed Sheeran Perfect video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Vv-BfVoq4g

 Wedding music as a public but intimate choice

 Making personal music choices for a public occasion is a tightrope walk, as anyone who’s planned the music for a wedding or funeral knows well. In a social setting, something like Perfect ticks all the boxes: it sets the scene, everyone knows it, it’s the right tempo for an easy waltz, and it’s middle-of-the-road enough not to cause offence. But there might be other reasons for using it that have more to do with the history of gender-segregated domestic duties.

Wedding planning as “women’s work”

 Although there’s disagreement over the rate of change in the last 100 years, it’s widely accepted that domestic labour is still largely the woman’s domain in a heterosexual relationship (this 2016 report from the Office for National Statistics found that women still do 60% more unpaid work than men). Of course, domestic labour isn’t just hoovering and doing the dishes – it’s diary management and planning social engagements too, and wedding planning is often an extension of this, done almost exclusively by women (there’s academic research on this, by Tamara Sniezek and D.H. Currie, but there’s also this clip from when Monica and Chandler planned their wedding in Friends).

In 2005, Tamara Sniezek interviewed heterosexual engaged couples about their wedding planning. She found three things that are relevant to my Ed Sheeran question:

  1. When you ask couples about the detail of who did each part of the practical planning work, you will find that women do the overwhelming majority of it
  2. But when you ask vague questions like “how was the wedding work divided?” they often claim it was 50/50, and every couple interviewed by Sniezek repeatedly described it as a joint enterprise
  3. Couples generally use the details of their wedding, including the music, to express their “couple identity”, and this is often based around an idea of equality and teamwork… even if the person arranging all these details is doing the overwhelming bulk of the work in the face of apathy from their partner.

Perhaps this cognitive dissonance speaks to some mixed feelings about entering into the institution of marriage. The situation for women in marriage is still unfair, and still carries with it certain expectations of doing unpaid work in the home – the modern bride may be looking out for ways to say “I’m not that kind of wife, I’m this kind of wife.” To the congregation and, perhaps, to her new husband.

 

Using wedding music to tell a story

 Aside from the speeches, the ‘first dance’ is a couple’s first opportunity to set out their stall as a respectful equal partnership, expressing their identity in opposition to the generations that have gone before. Ed Sheeran’s Perfect is the, ahem, perfect example of a pop song that gives the “right message”:

“Well I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know
She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home
I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own”

It emphasises the bride’s strength, refers to her home, and tells a story of teamwork and sharing. But perhaps the couples who dance to it are unwittingly revealing some more traditional views as well. In other lines, like “I found a girl beautiful and sweet” / “the someone waiting for me” / “Be my girl, I’ll be your man”, Perfect is no different from any other romantic pop ballad, reducing the female character to a pretty “girl” with no agency.

As a whole, the song represents a balance between the traditional roles some may still see as romantic, and the modern ideal of equality.

The Perfect relationship?

We live in confusing times, where our behaviours don’t necessarily line up with our attitudes. Although most heterosexual couples want to be seen as a balanced partnership, their division of all kinds of unpaid labour are unlikely to live up to this utopia. They give us a specific public narrative at their wedding to paper over the cracks, or perhaps to create a vision of how they would like their relationship to be.

When Ed Sheeran wrote Perfect, he gave marrying couples a gender-equal message to use for this purpose, within a framework of all the familiar male and female roles, in a society where wedding planning is still part of an uneven set of wifely expectations we are clearly uncomfortable with.

 

Leah Boundy