I came across this article, « Le nom composé en voie de disparition au Québec, » in La Presse a few days back, as we were just coming down the high of having named our second child. The article essentially says that the practice of giving children both their mother’s and father’s last names, in hyphenated form, is a dying practice in Québec (which, to my knowledge, is the only province where it’s been a relatively common and accepted one). Whereas 22% of children born in 1992 were given a hyphenated last name, this number has fallen to a mere 10% today.
(In the interest of not writing a rant, I will ignore that some of the respondents say that giving children both their parents’ names signals that they’re not committed to one another, or that it’s really quite pompous to do so.)
. (from Nikki McClure’s ‘The first 1000 days. a baby journal.’)
As a sidenote, I had meant to write about CBC radio’s C’est la vie episode of May 24th, A maid in name again, where the host Bernard St-Laurent talks to a number of QuébécoisES new and old about the Québec law that says that women must retain their maiden names when they marry. This is contentious to some but it struck me that the equality benefits of this law, lauded by both the older interviewed women and the researchers, are incomplete if both names aren’t also automatically passed on to their children. Sociologically interesting stuff, for sure.
I totally appreciate that this naming thing isn’t everyone’s feminist battle, that there are a number of factors that influence decision making around which names children are given, and that there are many ways for children to be rooted in both their matrilineal and patrilineal family lines. I don’t at all mean for this to be a judgement of other families’ choices and practices.
For me though, last names matter a lot.
I started using (a slightly modified version of) my middle name, which is my grandmother’s given name, as my (non-legal) last name about a decade ago. I felt quite a bond with my maternal grandmother and I yearned to wear my matrilineage, to declare myself (first and foremost) of my mother’s line. The only downside to this was that this name — Madéia — sounds quite Portuguese, which I’m not. This, of course, isn’t a problem per se, but I had a real cultural aha! moment when I presented a membership card with my old legal patronym, — which sounds as French-Canadian as my accent (no doubt) — at our independent video store about 4 years ago. The man who was serving me read my name on the card and spoke to me en français right away, which really never happens in Ottawa — a city that might feel like a very bilingual place to some, but you certainly can’t (easily) get by with just French, nor do people assume francophonie/bilingualism in their exchanges with strangers.
I appreciated the culturo-linguistic recognition that the name afforded me and when I got pregnant, the quest for a French-Canadian legal name I liked, and would pass down, began.
I met with a genealogist at the public library to trace back the mothers and grandmothers, women-way, of my line. It struck me how challenging this was, even for a professional. At the end of an afternoon, with a missing birth and marriage notice, we could only dig four generations back and the furthest family name we found was « Malo » — a name I hadn’t heard before and that didn’t mean anything to me or mine.
I had hoped to come out on the other side of this search with a name that felt very powerful, very rooted and rooting. I ended up with a sad feeling that the herstory of my family was lost because of patriarchal traditions and that even though it was important to both my partner and I, I could not pass this lineage down in name to our children.
I opted to legally change my family name by adding my mother’s maiden name to the mix, hyphenating the two. It was a peace offering to my family, because this name search of mine had lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. This way, there was some ‘mother line’ to my name, and I could pass on a French-Canadian matronym, however imperfect, to my offspring.
When I read articles like this one in La Presse, I am struck by how little regard the lines of women are given. These children of mine are certainly « of me » as I’ve grown them, shared my body with them, birthed them, nursed them to plumpness and loved them to bits. But why would that preclude my passing on a name? Why would this impossibly rich tie of the body negate the importance of a tying of our names? Why would the weight of my biological role as their mother need to be offset by the absence of my name in theirs? And their father, my life partner, why would he need for his name to be the only one passed on to feel confirmed in his role as a father, as a parent? If it can be deemed unimportant for a matronym to be passed on, why would fatherhood require full last naming rights? Regardless of how clunky the resulting name might be. Regardless of how important my family name is to me.
It pains me that this is still the norm.
I am quite pleased that my children, both male, carry my name and that their two very distinct cultural backgrounds are spelled out in them. They may not be the smoothest sounding out there, but they are unique and, I hope, they will be a source of rootedness for them. And for me.
In a city jaunt last week, we stopped by a ‘work warehouse’ in the hopes of finding insulated coveralls for both P. and I and instead, it appeared we stumbled upon the warehouse of very segregated blue collar/pink collar work clothes. Construction/Outdoors etc. workwear in the « Men’s » section and scrubs and office-like workwear in the « Women’s » section.
Sociologically fascinating, of course, to see such a prescriptive and backwards division of men and women’s labour force choices, but scrubs won’t help me much on the farm. And a 36" waist just won’t hold up either.
On my previous trip to that place a year ago, I left in a similar frustrated huff after having a choice of exactly two steel toed work boots in women’s sizes — and only one option in the non-pink category. I’m not against pink, far from it, I just don’t need ALL my work clothes to be that colour to, you know, like remember I’m a woman.
If anyone has any leads on where to find smaller sized farm/outdoor work attire, I’d love the tip. Ordering online from any other retailer also an option.
From snow and frosts (bringing with them the stress of not having completed our frost-free winter water pumps project), to t-shirt weather (bringing renewed hope that we’ll get the potatoes out of the ground before they’re frozen solid), the farm emotions roller-coaster continues.
Again, we’ve been so fortunate to have had so many good friends come to spend time with us at the farm and that so many have come with a great willingness to roll up (and muddy) their sleeves.
Our latest visitor has been an inspiring femme-à-tout-faire here, a Jill-of-all-trades, if you will.
It’s been great to have the help of a can-do fellow farmer, of course, and for me, it’s been especially soulful to have another woman in this home, a competent, assertive, kind soul who knows what she’s talking about and holds her own in our pipe trenches, working with P. and the male contractor. I breathe easier living with individuals who subvert stereotypes and dated social norms. I am less on edge, more able to go about my business of garden tending or child minding, knowing that someone here is pushing the boundaries, broadening the scope of what women and men can (and choose to) do here. Both in my mind and for the older neighbours, farmers and contractors around who sometimes make it so hard for me to have any hope that I’ll choose a career/project path without having my main motivator be « I’ll show them! »
Having her company this past week has confirmed for me the importance of having other women on the farm. Both for my sense of safety and to open up the realm of what is possible. To foster the alternative and progressive home base we’re both, P. and I, longing for. And to show them, quand même.
We will miss you , A.
so a group of young women farmers created an indiegogo campaign to buy farmland. they created a calendar and a short video with quasi naked photos of themselves and women farm workers they’ve worked with in the past. it’s selling like hot cakes and to date, they’ve raised 15,000$ more than the four grand they were initally hoping to raise.
a number of farmers i know shared the link and today, it was posted on a young farmers’ network’s page, with folks saying it was a great campaign.
une parenthèse : i’ve recently vowed to speak up when i encounter things that i feel are wrong or unjust. i’ve been too good at keeping it in, fearing the confrontation, but it’s been an unworkable strategy, especially since living with a child. we need to model the behaviours we want to encourage, and we want this little person to be as feminist and social justice-minded and kind and authentic as this world needs him to be.
so i piped up a bit. and a friend who agreed eloquently backed me up. but the internet is a bad place for piping up, really. (so instead i’m going to write about it on a blog. ha!)
i believe that using this type of power (female sex appeal) undermines the real power that women should (and more often than not don’t) wield in society. i think it plays into a status quo that keeps most women down (economically, socially, politically) and that it teaches young girls that being beautiful and heterosexually attractive is top currency.
i get that all of this is macro and that at the personal level, these four farmers are probably super awesome, that they thought of this cool idea and ran with it, got loads of support and had a bunch of fun. they have beautiful strong bodies, nice old farm machinery and it totally worked.
i get that they (and all women) can make all sorts of personal choices and that they aren’t victimized or traitors to the cause or anti-feminist for it.
i have no beef with them.
i have a beef with the ugly intersection of capitalism and patriarchy where this is the primary and often the only power women wield, where you get ahead by « playing the game » and in so doing, often end up working against others who are trying to get ahead by changing the game. i have a beef with individualistic solutions to social problems (access to land is a huge issue for young farmers. it requires political pressure and important policy changes. i realize that those take time and that down payments don’t grow themselves, but it irks me, especially when an organization is seen as advocating for methods like these instead of engaging in systems thinking.) i have a beef with how little structural analysis is present in our discourse and thinking (even the responses to my comment — and i realize one shouldn’t read comments usually but this is a young farmers network — questioning that this initiative is a great and creative way to raise funds for land is met with : « people who have a problem with this campaign are uptight/are bitter and envious/are against naked bodies » etc. engage with and critique the argument, don’t settle for personal attacks). and i’m kind of baffled that so many people think this is a great and novel idea. if i started advocating for law students to strip tease to pay for their studies, this wouldn’t be seen as creative problem-solving, i’d wager.
as a woman who’s getting into farming and trying to be taken seriously in a pretty traditional and male-dominated farming community, i have almost daily reminders that the people we work and do business with in this town don’t appreciate that i am an equal partner here. i am at best a good gardener, a useful translator, an administrative worker. i appreciate that this isn’t every woman’s experience, but i doubt it’s mine alone.
and i can’t help but feel that this sort of thing sets us back.
i can be set off for whole days by people coming over and talking about « p’s farm ».
yes. p. is a cattle farmer. he has been running a successful farm enterprise for over four years now. the cattle he pastures sells out quick and he is staying on top of countless infrastructure projects all the while managing two separate herds and a dairy duo on our 270 acres. he is awesome at what he does and i am awed by his creative problem solving daily.
but this is our farm. regardless of whether or not i become a big « F » farmer (regardless of whether i become more comfortable moving fences for forty large and hungry mammals, regardless of whether or not i staff the tractor half the time or know which insulators to order) coming here and calling it his makes me feel like this is the 1950s and that i am also his. or that i’m just along for the ride and don’t really matter.
and the truth of the matter (and the reason it really gets to me) is that i’ve had a hard time accepting that this is also mine, that we’re partners, equal stakeholders despite my very limited knowledge of farming. but i’ve gotten there. because it takes more than someone working with cattle to run this place. because we’ve taken on this massive debt together. because this is a shared life project.
the previous owner used to come around and ask about p’s tractor, p’s fields, p’s cattle, p’s sheds. we were just settling in, i was trying to find my bearings, and it almost did me in, almost sent me packing (« how can we raise progressive, feminist, kind-hearted children in a place where people think a woman on a farm is a lodger, is a house worker, is expendable?! »). he’s since seen how ridulously large (and successful!) the vegetable garden is, has seen me working tirelessly, has seen p. caring for our child and taking on reproductive work, and he has reeled in the comments. i breathe easier now when he shows up.
an unfortunate side-effect of all of this is the depreciation of all work and crafts traditionally done by women. all of a sudden it’s more important to learn to drive the tractor than to meet up with le cercle des fermières to learn about working with looms. or i temper my desire to take up sewing projects because i feel the need to be non-traditional and make the neighbours bite their tongues. it’s the exact same as foregoing pink for both girls and boys in the quest for ‘gender neutrality’ in children’s clothing. erasing all traces of femininity as though there’s something inherently wrong with being a girl, as though pink is specific and blue is not.
i aspire to not giving a shit about what people say or think about my role here. it’d be so nice though if people didn’t make sweeping, sexist assumptions about people’s roles, especially when a business is tied to a place and to a family. because it can be all the more alienating then.