Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{February 1, 2008}  

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing Gloria Steinem1 speak at fund raiser luncheon for BC Women’s Hospital, an event at which my office had a table. Being an event for a women’s hospital, Steinem spoke about her passion for women’s health an its importance for the women’s movement.

Some interesting things from her talk:

  • she reiterated a point that I find I’m often making when I support feminism – feminism isn’t man-hating; in fact, equality of the sexes benefits men as well as women. One example: all the focus (e.g., US Congressional Hearings) on the birth control pill when it first came out not only ensured that women had that option to control their own means of reproduction, but results in patient information being required on all prescription drugs – which benefits men as well as women.
  • the suffrage movement came from First Nations women. European women, brought to North America basically as “chattel” saw First Nations women living in a more egalitarian way than the European women had ever seen and thought “hey, we want that!”
  • change is hard! Change requires work! She used the analogy of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly… apparently, the cells of the caterpillar body don’t just passively die to make way for the butterfly cells; they fight it and, in the process, become like this gel on which the emerging butterfly cells feed. Change is struggle, but in the end we get to be a butterfly. =)

Also, Pamela Martin was the MC and told an interesting story about getting married in the early 1970s and making the then-controversial decision to not change her last name. When she went to get a passport, they made her fill out a “change of name” form because, by their reasoning, by not changing her name at marriage, which women are “supposed” to do, she was, in effect, changing her name to her maiden name. “I, Pamela Martin, swear that I’m changing my name to… Pamela Martin.”2

As a total coincidence, the day before I got an email from the library that a book I had put in a request for months and months ago was finally in – Full Frontal Feminism. So I expect you’ll be hearing more from me on feminism in the near future (including a review of a book on evolutionary psychology, “Why Do Beautiful People Have More Daughters,” which I finished a little while ago, but haven’t got around to reviewing yet.)

1So, I just read the Wikipedia entry on Steinem while grabbing the URL to link to her name and discovered that she’s Christian Bale‘s stepmom; further, she:

led the National Organization of Women to block the original publication of the book, American Psycho, and to convince actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, not to take the lead in the movie version.

Starring in American Psycho, of course, being one of Bale’s claims to fame.  Another thing I noticed from Wikipedia… some of the sentences from the entry on Steinem seem very familiar. I’m 99% certain the person who introduced Steinem (and it wasn’t Pamela Martin) took sentences directly from Wikipedia… in particular, I remember:

She attended Smith College, where she remains active. In 1963 she was employed as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club to research an article that exposed how women were treated at the clubs.

and

Her 1962 article in Esquire magazine about the way in which women are forced to choose between a career and marriage preceded Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique by one year

and

Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors

2This reminds me of when my ex and I went to Hamilton City Hall to apply for our marriage license. They made us swear on a Bible that everything in our application (including our declaration that we are atheists) was true.  “I, Beth, swear on this Bible that I don’t believe in this Bible.”

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Several points:

1. Did you get pitched on “Why Do Beautiful People Have More Daughters”, or did I point the PR person in your direction, or did you acquire it all on your own?

2. Ms. Steinem is, deservedly, an intellectual and political giant, and deserves all the plaudits she receives, but attempting to ban “American Psycho” was not on. I’ve read it, and it’s not a very good book, but it certainly doesn’t constitute hate speech. But then, I’m very anti-book-banning. If we’re afraid of an idea, we should make it freely available to be debunked. Consider what a lockdown Scientology keeps on its core ideas. That’s something to truly fear.

3. I don’t know about your friends, but among me and my wife’s female friends (all university-educated and at least middle class, I should add), 90% of them changed their name when they got married.

I feel like feminism lied to me a little on this point when I was growing up. I graduated from university assuming that many, nay most, women would keep their own name as a recognition of their hard-won independence. I know it’s irrational, but I’m a little dismayed that so few actually did.



Beth says:

Hey Darren!

1. You pointed the PR person in my direction. And I’m glad you did – it was a very interesting read! Thanks!

2. I completely agree – I’ve read American Psycho and seen the movie and don’t feel it constitutes hate speech at all. I personally thought it was an thought-provoking commentary on the vapidity of 80s culture (sorry, I couldn’t resist using the word “vapidity”). I’m also very against book banning.

3. Most of the women I know changed their last names when they got married, myself included. My ex and I talked about whether I would change my name, he would change his (yes, he did seriously consider it) or neither of us would change our names. At the time, I didn’t really like my last name (I was young and stupid!) and that, coupled with what I felt was the futility of changing vs. not changing (I mean, do I take my husband’s last name or keep my dad’s last name? Either way, I’m choosing a man’s name!) led me to change it, but I changed it back when we separated and have totally been kicking myself for changing it in the first place. What really irks me about the whole name change thing is that men never have to deal with it. Women are confronted with it if they marry – some people get mad at you for not changing it, others get mad at you for changing it – and men just don’t even have to deal with that situation at all.



1. Word.
2. Word again.
3. You make a good point it being a man’s name in either case. The only workaround here, it seems to me, is for women to increasingly keep their own names. If that became de rigeur, then the issue would go away.

May I ask what your married name was? Because I think ‘Snow’ is a pretty excellent last name, especially when paired with “Elizabeth”. I favour names that don’t have the same number of syllables.



Beth says:

It was Simpson. Why I thought that was better, I don’t know (although part of it was that I thought that “Beth Snow” was too short of a name… didn’t occur to me to go with “Elizabeth”)… I told you, I plead young and stupid!



If you get married in Quebec, the woman doesn’t change her name – she actually has to apply to take her husband’s name.

I can’t go into my issues with feminism because I’ve already tried articulating them here three times and it’s not making much sense. But Gloria Steinem – cool.



Kalev says:

Women shouldn’t change their names when they get married. Call me old-school feminist or whatever, but they shouldn’t. I do like hyphenation but that does get unwieldly. You have a point about it being your father’s name otherwise but that’s true for nearly every name. At least when a woman has her father’s name, she didn’t have a choice in the matter. While you could argue that these days women have more agency because they can choose whether or not to take their husband’s name, (a) there is still massive societal pressure to do so and (b) it’s their husband’s name. It would be different if the… oh I just realised I’m using outmoded terms like “husband” and “wife” when really a woman could be marrying another woman and a man, another man. But anyway, the issue is really about the marriage between a man and a woman case.

So it would be different if the man and woman getting married got together and engaged in some kind of egalitarian name-determining exercises (like which sounds better to them) but of course that’s not how it would play out in real life.

So really the only solution to this is the Kalev patented solution to gendered last name selection, which is that the married couple hyphenate their names in an aurally-pleasing manner and boy children get the father’s last name and girl children get the mother’s last name. There we go… all solved! I’m fixing the situation in the Middle East next week.



[…] to tackle some of the other books that have been piling up around my apartment. As I mentioned, a book I ordered from the library ages ago came in, plus Christmas brought a bunch of books for presents, a few people have loaned me books that they […]



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