Monday, January 3, 2011

From the vault: You choose your choices, but not in a vacuum

Over the weekend, someone commented on one of my posts about black hair. She said that a black woman choosing to wear her hair straightened is just a choice--a legitimate choice. And she is right.

But choice is tricky. It comes up a lot when we talk about why people do what they do. And there is a fine line to be walked. We must honor people's personal decisions. We also must understand that none of us make decisions in a vacuum. Our every choice is influenced by a host of things, including innate preferences, but much more than just that.

The following post, from the fall of 2009, gets at what I mean:


Two conversations broiling on the InterWebs caught my attention this week and got me thinking about "choice." On Sunday, television personality Star Jones tweeted her thoughts on the "good hair" issue. On Monday, Feministe published a post about a recent study that found 70 percent of Americans believe a woman should change her name at marriage and that 50 percent believe women should be legally MANDATED to do so. (I still can't look at that stat without blanching.)

On the subject of natural vs. straightened black hair, in response to a USA Today article on the controversies surrounding Chris Rock's new movie, Jones said:

I love me some Chris Rock...& I thank him for making AN ASPECT of Black culture relevant to the masses. But it is only AN aspect...not all.

I reject the premise that if I wear my hair short & natural I'm more black; any more than wearing a weave means I want to be white.

Long & Straight, Short & Red, Braided &'s all least it is after I pay for it. LOL Sorry...just not that deep to me.

One of my fondest memories as a child is sitting on a white stool in the kitchen getting my hair straighted by my Mommy with a "hot comb."
Jones seems to believe that a black woman's decision to straighten her hair is just that--her choice--and that much too much ado is being made about the meaning of it.

Over on Feministe, commenters were talking about a different sort of choice. In her post "The Name Game," blogger Jill said of the pressure to adopt one's husband's family name:

What throws me off even more is when I see feminist-minded or liberal women take their husband's name, and then defend it with "Well it's my choice" or "My last name was my father's anyway" or "I don't care about my name." I can understand the name-change part, even if I don't like it — it can almost be more of a hassle to keep your own name than to take your husband's once you're married, especially if you have kids. People may criticize you for keeping your own name. In a lot of communities, it is what everyone does. Your husband may even be upset if you don't want to take his name (although I'd say that's a pretty good indicator that he's kind of self-centered and you probably shouldn't marry him).

What confuses me (and gets under my skin) is the justification — or at least, the justification based on things other than the very real, tangible sexist reactions that married women face when they keep their own names. Things like, "Well, it was my father's name." Well, sure, but what does that mean? That no woman ever has her own name, unless she was born into a culture where naming is matrilineal? Or, "I like his name better." Ok, but do men regularly change their names just because their partner as a "better" name? I've come across maybe one man in my whole life who has done that — I somehow doubt that it just so happens that 99 percent of people with the "better" name are male. Or, "I want our whole family to have the same name." Again, understandable, but how come he didn't change his name? Or you can both change your names. Read more...

But readers who have made the choice to adopt their husbands' names, or who plan to do so, bristled.


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