“Ze” has entered my vocabulary. Ze will not eliminate “he,” “she,” and “it”; just adds to it. It might even delight my Tejas-Mejicano campesinos who will mistake my use of zee language. Ze does not matter.
So I wrote in a previous column. “She”, however, does matter.
It is no longer as repeated as often, but the old Chinese saying, repeated by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiao Peng, was nu ren neng ding ban bian tian, “women hold half of the sky.” China today has gone back to being unapologetically patriarchal. The systemic reasons are deep, not the least of which is the universal pattern of naming a child after the father’s ancestral beginnings rather than combining the mother and father’s gifts.
In my former university classes, I printed my whole name on the board, Jaime Ravelo Vergara, to indicate how my father and mother’s last names are my surnames. When I was in Spain once, I was called Señor Ravelo. My name over there was formally written as Jaime Vergara y Ravelo.
The name in Spain was actually the way Filipino names were given during the Spanish period, still true in many Hispanic countries. The European practice included both parent’s surname when naming a child. It varied on whether the father or the mother’s came first or second. In some English influenced countries, the middle name is the mother’s maiden surname. In some places in the United States, the mother’s surname is dropped. In China, the wife actually had no personality in the husband’s household until she was with a child. The only time a mother’s name shows up is when a combined child’s given name includes that of the mother, more for sentimental reason than proprietary one.
My children have their mother’s surname as their middle name. However, in some places where the mother is the primary care giver, a child’s surname often takes after the mother, like those of single mothers, or divorced mothers who have sole custody of the children and reverts back to the maiden name as well as renames everyone with her surname.
Some boutique practices have entered Americana like families where the boys take on the father’s surname, and the girls, the mother’s, or vice versa. In some, a myriad of combinations apply. The hyphenated family name, i.e., Ravelo-Vergara, is common among wives and children.
The family’s surname after a marriage is also changing. In previous times, the universal practice was for the man’s surname to be adopted, and only after a divorce does the woman have the option to revert back to her maiden name. There are actually eight States in the Union that allows men to change into their wives names in marriage without petitioning the court for the normal process of name change. I once adapted to my Chinese wife’s surname since the Chinese female always retained her maiden name after marriage. My gesture was ignored and stayed unappreciated!
If patriarchy is deeply embedded in many cultures to the detriment of female roles, conservative forces in Islamic countries insists that Sharia provisions on women’s behavior need to be followed. The kind of literal fundamentalism that dogged the Christian church of my youth is hard to dispel when imposed on members as inerrant scriptural law. Judaism and Christianity have variations of the same theme. The Taliban want women to be subservient. Gang rape in India has exposed a common travesty. But SHE is fighting back.
“A rose by any other name” served Shakespeare’s audiences well, and was cute with Romeo and Juliet, but no longer. A rose by any other name is a fluke. She wants her name in golden letters in the annals of history, just as much as he does, and has as much equal right to it as anyone. No affirmative action required, just the right to be SHE!
There were seven revolutions I’ve joined in my life: 1) youth and emotive exuberance, 2) minorities and their civil rights, 3) Third World’s independence from imperial and colonial designs, 4) university vs. multiversity without a cognitive overview, 5) global business against protectionism and entrenched patrimony, 6) the rise of local men and women, and 7) women’s rightful place in humanity’s leveled field.
The ethos of youth now pervades fashion and there is nothing more disconcerting than to watch a grandma in jeans trying to look like a teenager. Minorities no longer wait under the corporate table to catch droppings. They insist on sitting around the table of life’s feasts with the rest of the crowd. Third World’s fight against imperial and colonial designs is harder to shake. Constitutional monarchies, an anachronism, still keep the aristocrats in England and the elite in Thailand in power. Universities try to keep things together, though pyramidal hierarchy still define tenure rather than flatbed swirling networks of lively intelligences. Globalization is a monster, though it shook the roots of privileged economic monopolies. The rise of local people is wreaking havoc around the word. My daughters have gone way beyond “God is a girl!”
The We shall overcome chorus is still playing at my house.