Half of US citizens want women to be forced to take their husband’s surname by law, study finds

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Kayleigh Dray
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It may be 2017, but women’s rights are well and truly under attack.

We’re constantly scrutinised over our appearance, we’re criticised over our reproductive choices, we’re fighting for autonomy at home and in the workplace, and we still earn significantly less than our male counterparts. Worse still, this rampant misogyny is becoming more and more prevalent; less than a month ago, “pussy-grabbing” Donald Trump was elected President – and one of his first acts was to officially ban US-funded groups around the world from even talking about (let alone providing) safe abortions.

Now, in a worrying new development, it has been revealed that around 50% of US citizens believe that women should be forced – by law – to take their husband’s surname.

A study, which surveyed a representative national sample of 1,200 people, found that an overwhelming number of American adults think there needs to be a law in place to stop women from keeping their own last name after marriage.

However, when you delve even deeper into the study and you begin to learn why participants really want women to take the name of their husband, things become even more disturbing.

Study author Emily Schafer – a sociology professor at Portland State University – explained: “The most common reason (approximately 50% of the cases) given by individuals who advocated women's name change was the belief that women should prioritise their marriage and their family ahead of themselves.”

Men, on the other hand, have no such expectations thrust upon them.

Unsurprisingly, it was less-educated men who think that a woman who does not take her husband's last name is not committed to their marriage. Or, to put it more bluntly, is a ‘bad wife’.

The study went on to reveal that these same men believe a husband would be “more than justified” to file for divorce if his wife works “too much”, as it is a form of “neglect”. And, again, there was no vice versa; men, unlike women, are allowed - nay, encouraged - to act in their own self-interest.

Thankfully, there is no such law in place; roughly 20% of women married in recent years in the US have kept their maiden names, according to a Google Consumer Survey conducted by The Upshot. An additional 10% or so chose a third option, such as hyphenating their name or legally changing it while continuing to use their birth name professionally.

And it goes without saying that we should never judge a woman for her choices; taking your partner’s name can be every bit as valid and empowering as keeping your own.

Because there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer, the subject of what you do with your surname after marriage is a completely personal choice – and it’s a difficult, complex, and weighty decision, not to mention one which can make people overwhelmingly defensive. For that reason, you may think it prudent to stay quiet about your choices. But, with Margaret Atwood warning of a real-life Gilead on the approach, we can’t stay silent.

Instead, we all need to stand up, raise our voices, and support one another’s right to make our own choices in all areas of life. Whether it’s our bodies, our jobs, or our names, women 100% deserve to put our own interests first – and we deserve the right to do so radically and without apology. 

Images: iStock


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.