A few weeks ago I was taken to task over my last name. Linda and I have chosen to share our last name. If we tire of it, we will change it. So far so good. However, I was accused of letting down feminism by continuing a tradition of male domination though usurping a woman’s name, regardless that we were two women. Many of our gay friends having civil unions back in the UK are going through the same questions about what to do regarding the last name. For me feminism has always been about choices and the ability to make them. We had a choice, I told this critic, and we made a choice. Eruption ensued.
Feminism, I was told, was not about making choices but about making the RIGHT choices (ours, this person believed, was wrong). They went on to say, that while I could CHOOSE to have an affair, would that be feminist choice? It was, I thought, a perfect example. Yes, that would be feminist.
Feminism, for me, is about joining choice with reasonable equality. Having choices does not always mean that the best choice will be made. But my objective in feminism is for women to be treated as full and equal adults, able to make their own decision and deal with the consequences.
Traditionally, the most important thing about a woman was her vagina and her womb, and which man controlled them. This is why, under the Christian rule of Emperor Constantine women who committed adultery were put to death. Under Justinian law, that was changed to being sent to a convent for life. Under Calvin’s reformation, the penalty, which used to be time in prison, was changed back to death and in 1555 an “adulteress” was drowned in the Rhone. Even recently under Edwardian British law, while a man could divorce if his wife committed adultery, it was insufficient grounds for a woman to get divorce no matter how much he slept around.
Even today, in Iran and other countries, the penalty for a WOMAN who commits adultery is death. The nature of equality in choosing adultery has been unequal and unjust between the sentences for a man versus a woman, In Puritan Massachusetts in 1641, Mary Latham, an 18 year old girl was caught in the act. After being “questioned” she gave the names of 12 men she slept with; but as there was no other witness, these men were never prosecuted. The Town Mayor did report that Mary was “very penitent” at her execution, so a satisfactory Puritan ending. Today, in New Hampshire, the Supreme Court has determined that a married woman having a lesbian affair is NOT committing adultery, at least not legally. A large move from New Hampshire’s founding when the penalty was 40 lashes of the whip. However, with New Hampshire’s decision, once again, woman are denied choice and meaning to their actions. Until a man is involved, women don’t matter. (I suggest a concerted effort of lesbians seducing all the wives of the husbands on the New Hampshire Supreme Court might induce a second opinion.)
I don’t think adultery is a smart choice. But I think legislating morality so that one gender, given either disproportionate blame or being treated like a non-entity means there is not an equal choice, and thus becomes an issue of feminism. Or to put it another way: I may not think your choice is the best one (and may be a very stupid one indeed), but I will fight to ensure that the law and society sees it as an equal one.
8 hours ago