Covering My Hair and Changing My Name

When I was in Israel, I remember studying the laws of hair covering with a woman who grew up in the US, moved to Israel as a teenager, and got married in Israel. She and her husband honeymooned to Italy. She told the class of how, when she arrived at the bed and breakfast in Italy, the very religious Catholic host wouldn’t let her and husband share a room, because she didn’t think they were married. They hadn’t yet changed their names, and they didn’t wear wedding rings. In an attempt to convince the host that they were, in fact, married, she pointed to her mitpachat (head scarf). “This is something that only MARRIED Jewish women wear, see.” The lady didn’t buy it. I don’t remember how, but they did eventually convince their host that they were married, and they were able to share a room.

I make a big deal out of the fact that I don’t cover my hair at work or during day to day activities, only when I’m at shul or weddings or otherwise religious activities. For me, that’s my way of letting the world know where I stand Jewishly–I follow halacha, but I’m not an extremist. I think that because I had my struggle with hair covering, other things, such as changing my name after marriage, were less important to me. Still, for most secular people, hair covering or lack thereof really means nothing. It seems, however, that a woman’s last name after marriage is much more symbolic in secular, feminist circles.

I have been reading a lot from feminists in support of women keeping their last names after marriage. From the blogs that I read, it appears that if you’re “a real feminist” and a “strong woman”, you don’t change your name. (See, for example, this article about why Emma Watson thinks Hermione Granger wouldn’t change her name to Hermione Weasley after her marriage to Ron Weasley). Well, as I’ve told you all before, I changed my name after I got married. Sure, there were (and still are) some logistical difficulties, but once I get past those, I really don’t mind that I changed my name. In fact, I WANT to have the same name as my husband and our future children. But then I read things like the Emma Watson article above, and I start to doubt my decision. Am I a bad feminist? Am I supporting a society of Patriarchy? Will people think I’m naïve and–gasp–a republican, once they find out I have a maiden name??

In my heart, I know these things aren’t true. But, in some ways, I feel that perhaps the reason that I cover my hair in the manner that I do is exactly why a lot of feminists keep their maiden name: A way to show the world that I am a non-conformist, and that I don’t want to do things just because I’m told to do things.

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