Then it dawned on me. She has got married, bizarre enough in itself these days, and changed her last name to her husband's. What an anachronism ...
Wake up! We are in 2007. Women are no longer owned by their father and then their husband. So why are some women still changing their surnames? And why do some men still want them to? It's sad, it's misogynous, it's archaic, it's insecure and it's unnecessary.
Why would you do something so drastic simply because you decided to delude yourself it was easier? Because you are deeply insecure, deeply conservative or deeply stupid. And in deep denial.
Deveny is pretty free with the insults here, so it's not surprising that she attracted a largely hostile response. Most of the criticism, though, focused on her bitterly aggressive style, rather than on her argument.
So why might a woman change her name on getting married? Is she simply a deluded victim of the patriarchy in doing so? Or are there other ways of explaining this custom?
Societies generally don't have to worry about connecting mothers with their children.
It's possible, though, to have a situation in which men father children, but then don't stay around to help raise and socialise them.
This is roughly what happens within black American families. About 70% of children within the black community are born to single mothers. The social consequences for both mothers and children aren't good; there is an increase in poverty, crime, drug use and gangs.
There is a rational purpose, therefore, in encouraging men to stay. And one way of doing this is to appeal to the instinct men have to feel a pride in paternity, including a pride in family lineage.
My own father often discusses the history of our family (sometimes considerably embellished) and he is obviously concerned to keep the family name going. If you grow up as a boy in such an atmosphere you absorb a basic expectation: that you will marry, father children and do your best to raise them so that they too can successfully carry on the family tradition.
The idea that you would reproduce simply as a sperm donor for a single mother just doesn't match expectations.
That there is a benefit in women encouraging male participation in family life is borne out by research into the "marriage gap" in America. There is a growing divide between upper class women, who continue to believe that paternal investment in family life is important, and lower class women, who are more likely to become single mothers, or remain de facto, or divorce and remarry:
America really has become two nations. The old-fashioned married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among college-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income women with only a high school education that it is in poor health...
Virtually all — 92 percent — of children whose families make over $75,000 are living with both parents. On the other end of the income scale, the situation is reversed: only about 20 percent of kids in families earning under $15,000 live with both parents ...
Educated, middle-class mothers tend to be dedicated to what I have called The Mission, the careful nurturing of their children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development ... It’s common sense, backed up by plenty of research, that you’ll have a better chance of fully “developing” your children — that is, of fulfilling The Mission — if you have a husband around.
It is the better educated and more ambitious women who most want to keep the father of their children around. They are seeking a high level of paternal investment and they're more likely to be successful if men are encouraged in their instincts toward a pride in paternity and lineage.
A counter-argument might be that a woman could achieve the same desired effect by having her children adopt her husband's family name whilst she retains her own. This is, as I understand it, the custom in some countries such as The Netherlands. It seems, though, that once the children adopt the father's last name, many women find it simpler to also change their own name, and some feel that it improves the sense of family unity if they too share their husband and children's surname.
A while back feminists decided to introduce the term "Ms" as a title for both married and unmarried women. It didn't work. Most women still prefer to use the title "Mrs" after marriage.
The most obvious reason for the failure of "Ms" is that many women still associate marriage with status, and that "Mrs" therefore denotes a positive status compared to either "Ms" or "Miss".
Similarly, it's possible that for some women a change of surname on marriage is another marker of increased status.
Is it rational to encourage this form of status seeking? It depends on what you think of marriage. If, like Catherine Deveny, you're hostile to marriage, then you won't approve of the link between marriage and status. However, if you believe that that marriage is of overall benefit, it does become reasonable to encourage such "marital status seeking" amongst women.
A romantic gesture
You can't ignore heterosexuality in all this. Think of the psychology of relationships between men and women. A man perceives that a woman has something to give. He pursues her and tries to win her over.
A woman in yielding makes herself vulnerable. She gives herself in trust to the man; she places herself in his care.
For a man, there is a kind of thrill in the realisation that the woman has voluntarily consented to yield to him.
At no time is this interplay between men and women likely to be more intense than when we marry. The sense of feminine yielding is much more likely to lead to women changing their name (and residence and even their religion) than vice versa.
Do women experience this as an oppression? I don't think so. For some women, the romantic interplay is intoxicating. They try to heighten the effect by making the act of yielding more dangerous: they place themselves in the care of "bad boys" who can't be trusted to do the right thing.
The columnist Andrea Burns wrote recently about her own addiction to bad boys:
Maybe there is something addictive in the poison relationship? ... I'm talking about a feeling we get that is so powerful we just can't keep away. These boys who treat us so bad, but make us feel so good are everywhere ... No one wants to date a nice, boring bloke. That's just not exciting.
If anything, the "thrill" that women get in yielding and trusting needs to be drawn in at times (which seems to be the theme of various Jane Austen novels).
The problem for Deveny is that these kind of feminine romantic gestures run counter to the official political programme of female independence and autonomy. It's difficult, though, to entirely suppress heterosexual instincts. Most women make some sort of compromise between their heterosexuality and feminist politics; Deveny is too strident to accept a compromise position.