An internet advice column responded to the question of a man who was uncomfortable with the idea that, assuming the two of them would marry, his girlfriend would not agree to take his last name. The columnist deftly turns his original question around in her reply, suggesting that perhaps he should agree to take her name or that the two of them could form a new surname unique to the both of them. Inherent in the whole of the reply is the assertion that the soon-to-be husband in question isn’t nearly as open and accepting of a woman’s right to individual choice as he thinks he is. The major issues expressed in the column are an articulation that men who place demands upon women, especially in situations like these are speaking from a place of privilege and in so doing need to rethink their attitudes. When politically problematic and personal choice butt heads, the two almost always clash.
A particularly popular line of thinking states that, should a woman make a conscious decision to participate in what would at its face be a restrictive, oppressive custom, she should be allowed to do so without being criticized as somehow violating the aims of women’s rights. Up to a point, I think this statement is justified but if one expands the application, it becomes more and more problematic. It should be noted that not all oppressions are the same, but in an earlier post this week, I tried to draw a parallel between all systematic injustices. If, for example, an African-American chooses consciously to dress in blackface and to participate a minstrel show, offensive and demeaning though it is, is the practice any less evil and reprehensible if it is justified by deliberate personal choice?