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.