Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Many women told us that they had been surprised at the extent to which giving the baby the father's name meant so much more to their husbands than not doing so meant to them. The men in these marriages-- these apparently pro-feminist, sensitive men-- clamped down hard when it came time to give the baby a surname, or at the very least snatched the olive branch when their wives tentatively offered to concede the matter, and the temptation on the part of the women not to fight too hard about this was clearly strong. I knew that giving the baby one's husband's last name alone is not a big deal for most women. But I also knew well that, before their babies had born, the naming issue had been a big deal to these women. I understood what they were conceding, and why-- and even why they were rewriting their personal history to make the decision square with their own ideals after the fact.

Thomas Verny found that mothers cross-culturally tend to exaggerate to others their infant's resemblance to the fathers. Psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson report that mothers in hospital delivery rooms insist upon the new baby's resemblance to the father. It seemed to me that this kind of subconscious make-the-man-stay behavior was exactly what my friends and I were engaging in. For was there not some slight anxiety beneath the surface of these dinner table conversations about the decision of what name to give the baby: a fear of carrying our insistence on our rights and belief in equality a shade too far for our babies' well-being? If our children do no have the father's name, if women don't inch slowly toward doing the bulk of the caregiving, if we make too big a deal out of our egalitarian dreams once the baby is born, can we be sure the family will survive? How else, other than pleasing your mate and signing over the identity of the family, can you ensure that you will have a male to help you raise the brood? With a baby, too much depends on stability-- and on the father's presence-- for that casual young-woman's testing of the limits we used to so enjoy. As new mothers and mothers-to-be, our feminism was undergoing a kind of triage; whatever was inessential got hauled overboard so as not to rock the fragile, all-important boat of the new family.

It was fascinating to see a group of women who believed fervently in women's equality unconsciously revert to some of the basic tenets of patriarchy they had all their lives rebelled against-- for love.

I felt that pressure myself, on a primal level. I was still a feminist. But I understood, at this point in my life, that it could be dangerous to be one.

-Naomi Wolf, Misconceptions

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