Friday, June 28, 2013

Trappings

Is there some kind of equivalence - as Britta suggests - between taking one's husband's name and being a housewife? Anecdotal evidence - along with n-of-one evidence - says these two things aren't all that related. Common sense says they must be somewhat related. I've never heard of a survey addressing this - Withywindle, holder of the survey information, care to return as a commenter?

I don't think it's necessarily unfair to assume people are announcing something with their symbolic choices. But does name-change make this announcement? There are a lot of things going on here. The choice to take a husband's name and the one to stay home (possibly after having more than one kid) might be happening a long time apart. People change, circumstances change. Also: a woman who takes her husband's name, people will say, what if the marriage ends? Well, what if it does? She's left with a different last name than she used to have, and she can change it back if she likes. Or not, if she prefers/has professionally established herself with the new one.

But I find that there's a certain type of feminism (not all feminism! I consider myself a feminist! and my intention is not to pick on Britta, whom I do generally agree with on such matters) that is too trappings-focused, in a way that ends up rewarding cultural capital (or not even that - more like, being of a certain subculture) than it does actual paths taken. Referring to a husband or wife as a "spouse," or having unconventional wedding jewelry or none at all, these things may point to an egalitarian marriage. Or they may simply announce a socialization in a certain milieu that just does things like this, but at the end of the day, it's Archie and Edith in their household. Whereas in other milieus, a big white wedding dress and being Mrs. Husband is the way it goes, but in no way means one cannot also be a high-powered professional.

If anything, perhaps this works like "organic" - women who feel they've already made their feminist statements by keeping their names, not wearing makeup, saying hell-no to a diamond (of any provenance), calling their husband their "partner"... obviously such women often are super-committed to egalitarian marriage. But other such women may feel that they've already done their part, announced where they stand, refused to identify as housewives, and then that's enough. The financial underpinnings - which are tougher to sort out in many respects - can remain altogether traditional.

Which makes me think of yet another 1970s sitcom reference: the episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where eternally-offscreen Lars has an off-screen affair with Sue Ann Nivens, "The Happy Homemaker," a kind of proto-Martha Stewart host of a TV show aimed at housewives. Sue Ann is all sweetness on set, but a ruthless businessperson once the cameras stop rolling. Lars's wife, Phyllis, did take her husband's name (they would have married before second-wave feminism), but sees herself as a thoroughly modern woman, with cultural interests, and complete ineptitude in the kitchen. Her image - her clothing, her demeanor - is pure 1970s. Sue Ann: pure 1950s. All of which leads Mary and Rhoda (who need no introduction) to spell out what was on the audience's mind: one would totally imagine man cheating on Sue Ann with Phyllis. The idea being, Sue Ann seems to embody the old-time wife who's gotten the old-time bad deal from the patriarchy. But the financial underpinnings matter more. Sue Ann's an independent career woman with a casual approach to sex (the actress: Betty White), whereas Phyllis, despite dressing like a more chic version of Mary or Rhoda, is much closer to what Sue Ann represents.

13 comments:

caryatis said...

Phoebe, I have nothing to add to your perfectly reasonable post. But if I may go off-topic, is it true that students at the University of Chicago are really competitive and...intense? This relates to a decision I have to make about grad school. I've heard advice that so-called "normal smart people" should try to go to good-but-not-"elite" schools, so as to maintain their mental health and not burn out. But on the other hand, isn't an "elite" school the ticket to the upper class?

I seem to recall you spent time at Chicago at some point, so I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Phoebe said...

I did go to college there, but I'm not sure how to answer this. What sort of grad program is it? Would you be interacting much with the undergrads? Teaching them? If not, you'd be living in the city of Chicago and might hardly even notice them. Either way, I can't see how choosing a grad program, what the undergrads are like would much matter. And that's generally what's meant by student culture. Grad students tend to be applying to programs, and not so concerned with the school's personality.

Anyway, I went to what could well be the nation's most competitive, intense, and burnout-inducing (public) high school, so I didn't find college that way. There was a lot of work, but there wasn't much competitiveness over grades, which is apparently a big issue at other schools. Kids who want a party-intense college experience probably don't choose Chicago, but it's not BYU either.

Oh, and I still haven't received my ticket to the upper class, but that's my own fault for not majoring in economics.

caryatis said...

It's law school, so no teaching. I guess I'd like to be around people who have lives outside school or work. How was your high school competitive if there was no competitiveness over grades? Also, I'm sure I dont' need to remind you of cultural capital.

Phoebe said...

No, my high school was super-grade-obsessed.

And while I do know about cultural capital, I maintain that "upper class" requires far more of the other kind of capital than I've got.

Phoebe said...

Oh, and to finish the thought - the law school at UChicago is supposed to be great. I took some classes cross-listed with the law school that I really enjoyed. Not sure what the other possibilities are, but that's a good one!

Britta said...

caryatis

I know people at UChicago Law school and they seem to be having/had a good experience, insofar as law school can be a good experience. The people I know there are personally great people, but I don't know how representative of the student population they are. One thing that might be common everywhere, but seemed neat to me is that law school students can take classes in other departments if they so desire and even do an independent research class. Hyde Park is not the most happening neighborhood, though it now has an actual movie theater and 24 hour diner, so it's ever so slightly more happening than it used to be. There is also a pretty lively house party scene, though I don't know about the law school student culture specifically. I guess it depends on where else you're considering?

caryatis said...

Phoebe and Britta,

Thank you so much for your input. The other option would be Northwestern, which is also good, but lower-ranked and...less inspiring. Northwestern has offered me $120K and Chicago $90K (give or take a few thousand the tuition is the same for both.) My boyfriend thinks I should go where the money is but...I think you can see where I'm leaning.

As impressive as the movie theater is, I'm kind of afraid of getting mugged in Hyde Park.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

While you're here, any thoughts on the post, what with it being a response to something you wrote? Specifically, I'm curious whether you have seen a relationship between name-change and taking a housewife turn. I'm wondering if my own anecdotal evidence of these things being completely unrelated is just weird.

Britta said...

caryatis,

Haha, that is not a totally unreasonable fear, though crime has been going down in Hyde Park pretty steadily. It was apparently much higher in the early 2000s than now. That isn't to say that there aren't random muggings every once in awhile, though they really are so random in terms of time of day or location that I think it's best not to worry about them. The law school is south of the Midway which is ever so slightly sketchier, although UC is trying to change that. If you do end up in Chicago, I would probably live north of the Midway (if you live in HP). Whether or not it's true, it feels safer, and though it's a longer walk to the law school it's closer to everything else.

As for random advice from strangers. Law school is what--40K a year? 50K? So, you're looking at around 80K of debt vs. 110K? Though, if Chicago is a better school, it increases your chance of getting a better job, right? Do you know the hiring statistics? My gut would say go with Chicago over NW if you would rather go there, but then I'm a) biased, and b) not the one taking out the loan. Good luck in making your decision.

Phoebe,

I don't know if there's actually any link between taking last name and staying home among people who aren't super religious or traditional, it was just odd to see all these people taking their husbands' names, since it wasn't exactly the norm when I was young. Most of my friend's moms kept their own last names, or hyphenated their names, or made up some new combination last name. I do think that it might be some sort of statement though to take your husband's last name if your own mother didn't.

Phoebe said...

Caryatis,

Listen to Britta - I haven't been to Hyde Park since 2005. And my gut says UChicago, but I'm biased. Either way, a good choice to have!

Britta,

"I do think that it might be some sort of statement though to take your husband's last name if your own mother didn't."

It might be, but do/did the mothers work outside the home/have high-powered careers/have egalitarian marriages? That's kind of my point re: trappings. My sense is that more of the women of the friends'-moms generation embraced the trappings of second-wave feminism than ended up in egalitarian marriages. Not necessarily because they were being bad feminists - just because change is difficult, society didn't exactly embrace equality, etc.

Whereas I think that for our generation, there's kind of a sense that career and egalitarian marriage matter, but trappings, not so much. It seems like there are a lot of women in the Michelle Obama mold, who are happy to be The Wife in terms of public appearances, and to be the one who professes to care about organic food or whatever, but who at the end of the day are hyper-educated and ambitious.

caryatis said...

Britta and Phoebe,


The employment and income numbers for Chicago and NW are comparable--Chicago grads get more clerkships, but NW grads are more likely to go to big firms. Also, Chicago students are much more likely to fresh out of college, unlike me.

Anyway, thank you! I'm not used to making decisions about this much money, and I don't know the city either, so I'll take advice wherever I can get it.

CW said...

Most of the student body at NW will have spent at least 2 years out of school, so that should lead to more people whose lives don't entirely revolve around school. Many of the most interesting students at my law school were the people who'd spent a few years outside of academia.

My impression is that Chicago has more of an academic bent and NW had modeled itself a bit on the business school model. I'm not surprised to hear that more people from Chicago take clerkships after graduation while the NW folks go straight into big firms. I have mixed feelings about the differences in academic culture. I loved the some of the interdisciplinary classes and deep legal stuff at my school (Michigan), but also find most of that material irrelevant to my actual practicing life as a lawyer (my knowledge of medieval icelandic blood fueds, for instance). There's something to be said for focusing on the types of business or criminal law that most graduates hope to practice. Or you can just figure that like all law students you'll actually learn how to be a lawyer once you start practicing and you might as well take some interesting classes while in school. (We don't have residencies like doctors or 3-5 year periods of practice before we are allowed to take the license exam like engineers, but the first few years of practice are critically important and should be thought of as part of your training.)

caryatis said...

Thanks, CW!