A staunch feminist, I always say I was born one. Because I had no real influence or examples at any of the impressionable phases of my life to turn me into one. I had no big life events or tragedies either of a considerable size that would propel the conscientious voice in me to come out in the form it did. Even at the tender age of ten. So let’s say a protest march against anything that seemed remotely unfair came to me naturally.
This is how, as a commonwealth correspondent representing cultural issues in Bangladesh and thereabouts, I wrote at length about the unfairness of the situation that befalls on every married woman, threatening to alter the first and perhaps the biggest identity of their life. A name change.
Where and how this culture came and developed in most of the western world does not need much probing. I say just the western world because in lots of parts of the world, the importance of a woman’s official identity is minimal, due to a lack of stringent legal processes, banking etc. I don’t need to refer to my cultural anthropological journals to convince you that we live in a patriarchal world and expansion of lineage follows the father’s family footsteps, not the mother’s. Though you, as the mother, might make the biggest contribution to your child’s life, it is as though you’re building it all up for somebody else really. It’s a favour you’re performing so to speak. It can be identified in terms of the saintlike reverence that pours in for a mother figure in this world, as if mothers are involved with social work, and not raising the offsprings that they, as consenting adults, have decided to bring about and raise. Like a job they are punished to perform and should be praised for.
This always created a bit of cloud in my mind over motherhood, parenting and most importantly the role “consent” plays in all of it. It’s similar to the culture of bawling your eyes out during a marriage ceremony that amazed me as a young, single person. Traditionally, in most societies marriage and childbearing signified a painful experience because consent was missing. But in 2020, where do we stand on these issues, and how do we approach naming our children and ourselves to establish continuity?
I find these questions very personal. I strongly believe these decisions are very individual and subjective to how you perceive the world. With a world rife with rights and equality, I also find this particular sector a little ignored. Perhaps because there is no straightforward solution that would make everyone happy?
So all I can do is share my very individual own story, which absolutely did not change pre or post marriage/becoming part of a couple. Like I said – feminism chose me, I never chose it.
Just as sure as I had been about the person I wanted to spend my life with, I was as sure about adopting my new surname. When I met my husband I had no qualms about the future I saw with him. I had no qualms about the fact that I wanted to start a family together and willing to meet him halfway in creating a brand of our own mixed culture, unique to just ourselves. I also wanted to create a seal that would represent our belief and motto but my husband stepped in to bring balance to my enthusiasm in life, as usual.
We didn’t choose either one of our family names. My husband’s name already was long and confusing enough with the family title in the front and his last name being his actual first name. My name was threadbare. With no actual surname, they were two first names in reality. It’s not uncommon for women to not receive their father’s last names in certain cultures, and in all honesty, receiving and not receiving my father’s surname, both these scenarios were equally misogynistic in my mind and I could care less about. So what did I want to do?
I closed my eyes and thought about why I was making such a big deal about being with this person that was my husband. All the trouble of charming each other’s families, becoming a part of each other’s social lives, the marriage itself and the many meaningless ceremonies – the whole fanfare. The answer was very clear to me. I could not (and still cannot) think of a better person to become my other half, and the father of my child. He was deserving of every bit of the trouble, and then some.
Now to avoid making this into an ode to my husband, let me introduce you to the simultaneously pressing thoughts in my mind that were equality important to my existence. The fundamental question was what aspects of each other deserved to be continued?
It was clear that we did value ourselves enough to think we should procreate. That having decided, was there a familial extension that we wished to pursue because we were two very different people. Then how do we survive as a family and what belief should we raise our children on, if not a shared belief system that was a mix of the best of the worlds we represented!
With that pursuit in mind, I, devoid of an iota of ego or pride, decided when it came to passing things on, there were way too many qualities of my husband’s that inspired me to want to start a family with him, to begin with, and also happily have passed on to my future children. I set out to choose a surname for myself and my future family that would bind us together and inspire our future generations with what we stand for together. I chose my husband’s first name.
You know I have seen in my own life many a times, how uncomplicated decisions become when they are your own. Not thrusted upon you, or even expected of you by way of culture or even practicality/convenience of life. But solely about choosing what you want. Those decisions are just of the best kind! They are guilt-free and comes loaded with the kind of conviction that cannot be invoked but can be inherited.