Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shiny objections

-The Letters response to Roger Cohen's latest can be summed up, respectively, as: reasonable, reasonable, pro-Israel and not going to convince the unconvinced, and huh? Re: the last one, where exactly did Roger Cohen encourage "conflation of criticism of Israel, or Zionism, with anti-Semitism"? I thought the thing with the academic boycotts was that even many people far from rah-rah Israel find that a poor approach. People like... Roger Cohen!

-Controversy! A self-proclaimed "half hippie" is also a cosmetic-surgery enthusiast. I'm not even an ounce hippie, but I'm not buying this:

Surgery and cosmetic procedures are such an individual decision, and I would never judge anybody for doing anything. I mean I grew up with a Jewish mother who was always, ‘Look at me now, should I do it?!’ And I thought, ‘Blech, I’ll never do anything.’ You hear so many young people saying, ‘No way, never,’ about something, and I’m like, ‘Honey, just wait.’
Not sure what her mother's Jewishness matters - isn't aging something women of all backgrounds, if especially white women, fuss about? I thought the stereotype with Jewish mothers was that they encourage you to eat?

But in terms of just-you-wait, it's the kind of thing that sounds reasonable - YPIS, oh young people with firm and line-free skin - but is not. It's quite possible to know your values (and squeamishness) well enough that you know you would never sign up for unnecessary and expensive (as in, could go to charity, yes, but could also cover a fab vacation) medical procedures in the name of vanity. Aside from supermodels, most of us late-20-somethings (and indeed most nubile 15-year-olds) already have features a cosmetic surgeon would be happy to address. If you're already not going in for whichever applies in your case (breast implants, liposuction, nose job, or indeed Botox - because past college, there's often a line or two already), you kind of do have a sense of how you'll react when you're 45 and look it. And there's the fact that, while a nose job can definitively change the shape of a nose, anti-aging procedures only succeed in making a woman of a certain age look like a woman of that very same age with disposable income.

-The women of Jezebel, however, can't be accused of not knowing their values. The general consensus among the commenters is that one should only accept an engagement ring from a man who's done extensive research on the ethics of each part of said ring, who's also taken into account his girlfriend's preferred (and preferably obscure) stone, who has taken the time to comb through Etsy and drive to a bunch of estate sales, only to come up with the perfect ring that conveniently enough cost only $10. Extra points, however, go to the fiancés who go out to a shed and weld a modest yet delightful little number.

I suppose it's not so insane, if there really are otherwise sensible women demanding massive rocks or else, to try to change that norm by addressing women rather than men. But I can't quite figure out the logic behind this scenario, in which women expect to be proposed to, with a ring their (male) fiancés have paid for, yet to have micromanaged the ring purchase at a level well above and beyond that of anything they'd buy for themselves. I'm also amazed at how coordinated families and fiancés are when it comes to heirlooms - I can't be the only one who learned of the existence of an heirloom after already having a ring. (I am, however, also wearing my late grandmother's ultra-shiny wedding band, which - ah, living next to Wall Street - cost almost as much as a new ring to resize.) With purchases generally, I do wish more would make the point that if you care about the ethics of your shopping choices, you're better off buying less than shopping like crazy but turning each purchase into a where-did-it-come-from research project.

-OK, so name-change, though a decision I'm happy with for myself, is indeed a massive bureaucratic hassle. Everything on those checklists not related to driving I've been dealing with the past couple weeks. In the process, I was reminded that the university is not sure if a grad student on fellowship is a student or an employee - whichever one I told any of the dozen or so folks I've dealt with in the quest to make the name they have match up with the one Social Security does, the other was inevitably correct. Only at the end of this adventure did I speak with someone who gave me the winning answer: you have to just assume you're both, and do everything separately as a student and an employee. Made sense in retrospect, but I'd been dazzled by the idea - supported by the claims of two different employees (student workers?) I dealt with - that changing my name in one office would automatically, if I was patient, change it in the whole system.

This experience led me to wonder what, precisely, is meant when women say they're going to continue to use their last names professionally. If you've changed your name at Social Security, presumably you have with HR as well. Isn't it confusing if your boss/clients/whatever know you by a name that's not the one on your paychecks? This question is more than theoretical, because I'm keeping maiden-as-middle for the wild off-chance that I at some point publish a paper (sent a draft to a prof just today, so anything's possible), and for my Facebook/Google identity, but did not think it necessary to go the extra bureaucratic mile required to make that official.


Britta said...

I think the ring demanding is coming from a different social class (?) of women then the ones Jezebel readers, or you or I am in. I worked for a woman (a successful small business owner) who demanded a giant, expensive engagement ring from her fiance, who earns less than her. For her, the sign that her fiance was willing to make a costly investment and sacrifice for her, on something she cared about more than he did, was a sign that he was willing to prioritize her above all else, and that he was willing to commit substantial financial and material resources to the marriage. While I don't have the same priorities or necessarily agree with her, I can see her logic. It wasn't that she couldn't afford to buy the ring for herself, or would only marry him because ooh, shiny, but rather, that the investment signalled a willingness to "walk the walk" of love and commitment rather than just "talk the talk." She would regard a wooden engagement ring as on par with a guy inviting you out on a date, and then the date turning out to be you watching him play video games while eating his leftover pizza from last night. i.e., you might not have a problem with video games and leftover pizza per se, but you would have a problem with the level of consideration your date showed to you.

Dan O. said...

I've changed my last name twice (once to hyphenate, twice to remove hyphenation), as a result of marriage and divorce. My three year marriage wasn't remarkable (it was actually two, extended by an archaic and now altered NYS law). I know plenty of people who've had short marriages, but I'm that dude who changed his name.

Anyway, my U. changed the name on the pay stubs, and my student records, but was able to keep my name unchanged throughout in course catalogs, online course listings, etc., because they had a field for that built in their employee database displaying nothing but the ridiculous power database designers have over our lives.

It's been a long time since G. (for Gertrude) Elizabeth Anscombe refused to go by her husband's last name, Geach, because she couldn't abide being called 'Gertie Geach'. (Anecdote from Michael Stocker.) Therefore, universities should have more flexible databases.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The engagement ring has the significance you describe even, I think, among plenty of academics. It's still what announces the difference between talking about getting married at some point and having official plans to do so. My own feeling was that any ring (I had my eye on a lucite one, not wooden, but same idea) would make that point, but I don't think it's so terrible for the ring to cost a bit more. Any woman who wants her fiancé financially incapacitated from the purchase is not thinking much into the future, which will be a broke husband, but especially if there's going to be a long engagement, I get the point of making it a significant purchase.

What's confusing class-wise about this issue, though, is that it's pretty much super-intellectual-and-progressive women and those who see themselves as somehow European/"old money" vs. all others. A big diamond - like a logo'd handbag - can signal being upper class, middle, or lower. It can mean having money to spare or having those notoriously materialistic American priorities. The more expensive item doesn't necessarily indicate privilege or the reverse. One route means conventionality and the privilege that entails, the other can mean being above the masses and their tacky concerns and the privilege that entails.


Was this as a grad student or faculty? In my case, the confusion came from my having a variety of different identities at the university (student, employee, employee in a different sense if teaching or not, if after certain financial aid reforms or not, summer student/teacher or not, etc.) making the database issue a bit complicated. But yes, I could probably ask to be called anything informally.

Dan O. said...


As Grad Student and Teaching Associate (i.e. I had my own intro course lectures). Informally, I was called a number of other things.

I can't say the same for my bank, since I still have not succeeded getting my name changed on my debit card (although I have on my bank statements), 6 years after my divorce, which itself took over a year to complete due to an archaic NYS waiting requirement that is thankfully gone. A run on sentence is about how I feel about that.

PG said...

This experience led me to wonder what, precisely, is meant when women say they're going to continue to use their last names professionally.

I think that generally means they're going to use that last name legally, because as you note it's complicated to get a paycheck to a name different from the one on your SS record, but they'll socially go by their husband's last name. "Socially" includes the name that goes on forms at kids' school and pretty much anything else that has to do with family life. I haven't made an active effort to use my husband's last name socially, but if people make that assumption I don't bother correcting it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"I haven't made an active effort to use my husband's last name socially, but if people make that assumption I don't bother correcting it."

But isn't that just... social skills, or not making a fuss? I did change my name, keeping my maiden-as-middle unofficially, but if someone calls me by my old name without tagging on the new one, most of the time I wouldn't correct it.

I guess I don't see how forms at a school wouldn't, like HR at work, require an official name, or, more broadly, how a name "kept professionally" then differs from saying you'll pair keeping your name with a nonchalant attitude about others you meet later, through/with your husband, not realizing you've done so.

Anonymous said...

Never made sense to me to change my name just because I was getting married. Most women my generation kept their names. I loved my last name and felt that such a change might be hard for me to wrap my brain around. Just as well since the marriage didn't last. Does it feel odd to you at all to write a new signature? JM

PG said...

I don't feel that social skills obligate me not to make a fuss in all name-related circumstances. I will, for example, if someone asks "Am I saying that right?" when they're not pronouncing my name correctly, repeat it for them instead of just beaming and saying, "Yes." So if I were inclined to care much about what people think my last name is in a social context, I would correct them on that, but I don't so I don't.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


But this is what I'm trying to figure out - it's basic social skills to let things slide much of the time (a vet we saw thinks my name is "Thoevie" -thievy! geez! and I paid in full!), but perfectly reasonable to correct people if, as in the case you mention, they're explicitly open to being corrected. Where does this "professionally" enter into it? Does this mean women want to be called the new name in all settings other than the office, or that they will tolerate it? I'd assumed it was the former.

PG said...

I think there's an ambiguous zone between toleration and preference: there's certain tradition-oriented social settings in which Mr. & Mrs. seem especially appropriate (e.g. weddings), and I'd probably be fine with being Mrs. X to any offspring's teachers, coaches, et al. Whereas I'd want to be quite clear in any situation involving my professional life -- attending conferences, meeting potential employers, even getting thanked in an author footnote for a law review article -- that one must use my legal name, and I'll proactively correct anyone who doesn't.

Then again, it doesn't come up very much that I'd need to make the correction, because even though my husband and I are in the same profession, we have different sub-interests within that. So if I'm at something involving Delaware corporate law it's quite all right to call me Mrs. X because I'm almost certainly there due to Mr. X; and if I'm at an antitrust or gender & law reception, my husband is probably avoiding it entirely.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I think I understand your own arrangement, but am still lost when it comes to how these things work practically. From a feminist perspective, or even just a logistical one, isn't there a challenge that it's more of a burden to use two names than one? And how does it work socially? Wouldn't some friends end up calling you by one name, others by another? And I don't say this to judge - I'm also using a mix of new name and old name as middle name, but have not yet figured out where to draw that line.