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What’s in a Name?
July 25th, 2013

It’s a funny thing watching your positions change over time.  But time does change our perspective, and with shifted perspective come shifted viewpoints.  This, apparently, is true of my views on feminism.

A couple of weeks ago as we drove home from dinner the radio station in the car aired an ad for Beyoncé’s current string of tour dates.  Her current tour is named “The Mrs. Carter World Tour,” to which I took exception.  GAP pointed out that this bristling on my part ran counter to what my position would have been just a few years ago.

It wasn’t that long ago that I subscribed to the belief that the purpose of feminism was to allow every woman to decide for herself which path is right for her life:  To follow a career passion.  To stay home with children.  To dial back the career, work part time, and spend additional time with her kids.  To join Green Peace.  To live in a yurt.  And I still believe that every woman should be able to make that choice… with one caveat.

I believe that women, no matter their chosen path, should not allow themselves to be disempowered by men.

They should not allow it for their own sakes, for the sakes of their fellow women, and for the sakes of the generations of women who will follow them.  For the corporate woman this might mean fighting for equal promotion opportunities and special projects.  For the stay at home mom this might mean standing up to an overbearing school principal.  For part-time workers this might mean fiercely negotiating for her work-life balance.  For yurt dwellers it might mean having equal say in where to move the yurt.  And so on.

For Beyoncé, I think it means not naming your entire world tour after your husband.

There is power in being known by a single name.  Not many people can pull it off, and there are two major prerequisites to doing so.  1) You must have a pretty unique name in the first place.  2) You must be a big damn deal.  (Cher.  Bono.  Barack.  Oprah.  Beyoncé.)  If you are known by a single name and you sacrifice that name in order to be known in terms of someone else – as in belonging to someone else – you sacrifice some of the power too.

Perhaps in Beyoncé’s case she’s not actually sacrificing any power.  The fact of a world tour in the first place suggests that she is on an impressive trajectory (as if we didn’t all know that).  Perhaps Beyoncé can afford to go around referring to herself as Mrs. Carter without the risk of being rendered impotent in any way.  But we haven’t come so far that this is true of all women.  And until such time as it is true of all women, I wish that Beyoncé would save the Mrs. Carter stuff for her private life and stay aboard the power train in her public and professional life.

As we drove home from dinner that night and I explained my rationale on this topic to him he asked what made me change my tune.  I gave pause for a moment or two and told him that it is in part life as a working mother that altered my perspective, but also just additional years in the workforce.  Having to fight for maternity leave benenfits.  Watching a former employer hire almost exclusively male MBA grads for its fast-track program.  Looking at the list of C-level executives in multiple companies and not seeing nearly enough women.  We still have a lot to work for.  And I believe that women in positions of power (whether known by one name or two) owe it to women in general to continue that work.  They are the beneficiaries of an incredible amount of chipping at the proverbial glass ceiling that was done by the generations before them.  They owe it to the generations that will follow not to settle for “equal enough.”

And this isn’t a burden to be borne only by corporate executives and entertainment moguls.  We all have a role to play here.  Any time I let myself be disempowered by a man it negatively affects all women.  We each have to stand up for ourselves, because in doing so we stand up for each other.

4 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Holly Says:

    I will say that this doesn’t bother me as much if it’s actually her name (I don’t know whether she changed it), but the pet peeve of mine is when I’m addressed as Mrs. Jason Yoakum. No one ever addresses him as Mr. Holly Yoakum. My place card at a wedding last weekend had his moniker and he wasn’t even there. I thought about pretending I didn’t have a seat, but realized shaming the mother-of-the bride would have been worse than her adherence to antiquated etiquette.

  2. Gale Says:

    Holly – To answer your question, I think her name is officially hyphenated. That said, it is not her professional name. As I understand it, while married to Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston was legally and in her private life, Jennifer Pitt. But it was not her professional name and she continued to use Aniston in her public life. So what Beyonce’s name is legally doesn’t really sway me one way or the other because from my perspective it has little bearing on the situation since she has been married for several years without taking his name. (Jamie Lynn Siegler, then Discala, then Siegler again, would be the inverse situation.)

    Also, as I have thought further about this topic throughout the day (I encountered a few more conscientious objectors over on FB) I have come to this: The name of a tour is a brand. These things both cost and earn mega bucks. Touring is the single biggest money maker for musicians (if you’re factoring out additional income like endorsement revenue), and they aren’t named lightly. You don’t have to look too far through Beyonce’s list of hits to know that she is very much about female empowerment. From “Irreplaceable” to “Single Ladies” to “Independent Woman” she has never been one to apologize for herself or sing with any submission. So I find it odd that with this tour she has chosen to brand herself as a function of her husband. Because of that factor, I see this decision as more than just her name, which I think is why it bothered me in the first place.

  3. Heather Says:

    Yes, totally and completely yes.

  4. anne Says:

    So interesting that (in your comment) you brought up her song titles…I hadn’t thought about it from that angle. I wonder if motherhood has, in its own way, made her think of herself in a new light? I have no idea. I do agree with you, though. Something about the title rubs me the wrong way. I was very much in favor of changing my name when I got married, but I do get a little peeved when (like Holly), I’m just “Mrs. R. L.”