Saturday, September 15, 2007

But why is Deveny wrong?

Catherine Deveny woke up one morning, opened her newspaper and found out that athlete Jana Pittman had changed her last name to Rawlinson. Deveny could not, at first, understand what had happened:

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?

Paternal pride

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.

Status seeking

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.


  1. what about a lot of women having horrible last names? I would change my name for that alone.

    Ms is ok if your a devoiced woman but i see nothing wrong with being a Miss or Mrs.

  2. The name-changing thing is like a bad penny. Worse, for it means absolutely nothing, now that it's no longer considered virtually compulsory. But we can expect gender-war feminists to shriek with outrage as long as any woman agrees to it.

    This is a good match to your observations about "autonomy theory." Gender-war feminism incorporates as core doctrine that no woman should ever surrender her independence to anything, for any reason. The symbolic surrender of her surname to a single name for the family unit piques feminists too sharply to bear, for we tend to equate name with identity. The submergence of a woman's identity in that of her family is regarded as the ultimate apostasy from feminist allegiance.

    But a husband is expected to do the same. Yes, he retains his surname, but in all other respects he's expected to put the identity and well-being of his family above his own concerns for the rest of his life. Has no one reflected on the significance of the traditional arrangement wherein he brings home the paycheck, but she decides how it's spent?

    This ties neatly into the deterioration of communities in Western societies. A community of any sort is always made up of families, never of individuals. A stable community cannot accommodate the mobility and variability of unmated individuals, though one may tolerate an aliquot of it as long as it remains peaceable and doesn't disturb the public order.

    It's material for a thousand screeds.

  3. Laarii, thanks for the comment.

    Francis Porretto, it strikes me that you've set out the argument clearly and in its essentials. Thanks for the contribution.

  4. “[T]he rise in single-parent families is concentrated among blacks and among the less educated,” summarize Ellwood and Jencks. “It hardly occurred at all among women with a college degree.”

    IQ Will Put You In Your Place
    By Charles Murray

    "The differences among the siblings go far beyond income. Marriage and children offer the most vivid example. Similar proportions of siblings married, whether normal, bright or dull - but the divorce rate was markedly higher among the dull than among the normal or bright, even after taking length of marriage into account. Demographers will find it gloomily interesting that the average age at which women had their first birth was almost four years younger for the dull siblings than for the bright ones, while the number of children born to dull women averaged 1.9, half a child more than for either the normal or the bright. Most striking of all were the different illegitimacy rates. Of all the first-born children of the normals, 21% were born out of wedlock , about a third lower than the figure for the United States as a whole, presumably reflecting the advantaged backgrounds from which the sibling sample was drawn. Their bright siblings were much lower still, with less than 10% of their babies born illegitimate. Meanwhile, 45% of the first-born of the dull siblings were born outside of marriage."

    Blacks and the less educated have a lower mean IQ. The Murray study utilised data from white siblings who were not from poor families.

    Desmond Jones

  5. I think it also exposes the deep double standard of these "autonomy" freaks. Catherine Deveny condemns and abuses Jana Rawlinson (nee Pittman) for a) choosing to get married (apparently Deveny isn't herself) and b) taking her husband's surname. She also abuses any woman who has done the same. Why, because SHE doesn't want any woman to do so! This is clear. So where does that leave "autonomy"? Clearly it is nothing more than an attempt by a certainly clique to merely impose their own "values" onto others. Which is precisely what they accuse their opponents of. It is the same with the "multicultural lobby". If they were really all about "celebrating diversity" then all those of Anglo origin would be encouraged to identify as such and to celebrate their heritage and traditions at all times. This is, of course, the exact opposite to what happens.

    I suspect that the real reason for the "progressives" is that they in true "autonomous" manner have identified our old cultural traditions as being "restrictive" for them at least. Hence they take up other cultural traditions to play off against our own to try to neutralise them. This is part of the attraction of multiculturalism. This was what a lefty contributor earlier this year meant when he claimed there was no such thing as "mainstream Australian culture" by saying "you can't say it's English" and then quoting demographic data - despite the fact that the data he quoted still had those of British Isles origin at over 70% of the population, with it being over 60% for Britain itself. He focused more on the fact that the narrow English definition (which was shorn of Cornwall and other "outlying areas") was of the order of 44% of the population. They use other "cultures" to free THEM from any moral restraint. But for them to be free, as they see it, they must impose their morality upon the remainder of society. In other words this "progressivist" approach HAS to be the new mainstream. This is why they are so opposed to Anglo Culture, the true mainstream culture of our society, because it is something they wish to supplant. They see other cultures as allies in their struggle (rather the way the US and UK saw the USSR in World War Two). Hence they get a pass on most cultural practices that the "progressives" would surely oppose. So for Catherine Deveny, it is more important that a prominent woman would marry and change her name to reflect her family and her cultural tradition than it is for say arranged marriages in some ethnic communities in Australia to be forced on unwilling women. It has more prominence than the obviously more open position of women as her husbands’ inferior in Islamic society for example.

    We are dealing with people who aren't interested in letting people have autonomy over their own lives, but on enforcing their views on others so that THEY can live their lives as they wish, something they clearly would deny to others.

  6. I couldn't find any other contact info for you, hence I've posted this onto one of your posts.

    I’m a conservative blogger in the U.S. (Logical Meme - ) who is planning on visiting New Zealand for a couple of weeks before the end of the year. I’m looking to get feedback from some conservative natives on what life is like in Australia & New Zealand, what types of immigration patterns they see happening, where they see the countries heading, etc.

    As I approach 40 (I’ve got a fairly typical, white collar, cubicle-culture background -- e.g., risk management & project management), I’m at a stage in life where I want to try something new, and moving to another country is high on my list. As a hopeless Anglophile, I tend to romanticize all things British and British-based. Relatively speaking, Australia and New Zealand has always seemed like it contains a solid British cultural foundation, albeit without the Muslim problem facing England and Scotland. Of course, I need to visit these places first to get a real sense of what they’re all about.

    In any event, it would be great to touch bases with some folks who share a generally conservative philosophical and ideological perspective to provide advice & opinion on Australia & New Zealand, hence my writing you.

    I’ll probably be sticking fairly close to the metropolitan centers. If you think you’d be up for meeting somewhere for a pint or two, to give me some big picture advice on the region, or speaking via phone, Skype, or email, let me know. It would be much appreciated. If I could ever return the favor for someone interested in nuances of American culture, I’d of course be happy to.



  7. Re Anonymous of (Monday, 17 September 2007 03:20:00 PM EST):

    I think this quote is a little misleading, or at least not the whole truth. It is true also that the more educated women are, the less likely they will be to marry and have children. It seems Western affluence and the ‘autonomy’ of women is the best form of civilisational contraception, or in the case of Virginia Houssegger, steralisation (see Wonder Woman: The Myth of ‘Having it All’).

  8. Anonymous (17 Sep. 7:26), a very able deconstruction of autonomy theory.

  9. I recall one WWI German Admiral or General who changed his name to his dead wife's maiden surname - sounded better apparently.