Almost two years ago (2012) my son married a very lovely woman and we had a wonderful, joyous wedding in Bath’s beautiful Assembly Rooms. My husband and I accompanied our son to see the registrar pre the service when all details for the marriage certificate were finalised. My husband was asked for his full names and occupation. I mentally began preparing myself (always hard to know the right words to describe what I do and I was fully aware of the fact that this was an important document) but question came there none.
“Don’t you want my name and profession?” I asked.
“No”, replied the registrar, “Unfortunately we don’t.”
For a few seconds I felt totally invisible and unimportant, and it’s not often I say that…but of course the joy of the day overshadowed it.
However, should my daughter choose to marry it will not be an issue as she lives in Scotland. I’m pleased to say the Scots are way ahead of us on this one, and both her parents’ names details would be on her marriage certificate.
It is a ridiculous anomaly and may seem insignificant. But it is important and it does matter. It matters historically because historians and genealogists can get plenty of details about men but few about women, and that skews history. And it matters on the macro scale of women being *’second-bested’ in society. It is blatant unequal treatment.
So I was very pleased when I opened my paper this morning and saw that Caroline Criado-Perez was lending her support to a campaign to have the rule changed. A few Tweets later I learned that the woman behind the campaign was Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler who had begun to realise just how married women got airbrushed out of the picture when they took on their husband’s name, often even being addressed by their husband’s surname. I’m with her on that one too. I married in 1977 and didn’t change my name. It was slightly unusual back then but, to be honest, I assumed it would be common practice by now. It isn’t.
I contacted Ailsa to ask her a little more about her campaign.
Jane: Ailsa, what prompted you to start this campaign?
Ailsa: Well, a few years ago I saw a series of programmes on BBC 3 about feminism, and I was amazed that I didn’t know some of the history; it was a real consciousness raising for me. I thought ‘ I must have been sleep walking to miss all of this’. Of course, I knew about feminism but I hadn’t really thought deeply about it.
Part of my feminist awakening centred on my name. I hadn’t wanted to change mine when I married in 2001 but didn’t know anyone else who had kept their name, so succumbed to the pressure to conform. I decided to change my name back but as we have a 6 year old son, I didn’t want it to be completely different. I chose to have two surnames and change by deed poll for which I needed to produce my marriage certificate. It was then I saw, to my horror, that none of the women in the family were recorded, neither my Mother or my Mother-in-law had a mention, just the fathers.
In a burst of feminist enthusiasm in the summer 2013, I set up the petition.
It ran along gathering quite a few signatures and I started blogging on the topic too, but it wasn’t until The Telegraph wrote about it in January 2014 that it really gained momentum. Some people in the church, too, had been aware of the inherent unfairness of always wanted to see change, such as the BBC’s Rev Richard Coles, who tweeted it out to his many followers. Caroline (Criado-Perez) also picked it up and offered her support, which led to the article appearing in The Independent, which is how you found me.
Jane: What is the aim of the petition?
Ailsa: Well, we want the rules changed to match Scotland and Northern Ireland. We want women to be equally represented and, when possible, for both parents to sign the marriage certificate. So far over 24,700 people have signed which shows the level of support.
Jane: And when you’re not campaigning for equality, what do you do?
Ailsa: I’m a freelance Chartered Accountant and I also lecture part time at University on Accountancy.
Jane: Ailsa, I know you’ve had a lot of interest after today’s press story and are really busy, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It’s a brilliant campaign and I sincerely hope that you succeed.
If you’d like to add your name to Ailsa’s petition you can do so at www.change.org/nameequality or by simply clicking this link. Please do share it amongst your friends. It would be so good to see this old fashioned custom written out of history.
And if you’d like to take part in my one day RenewYou course for women, click here.
*I also think both parents should walk their child down the aisle, if that is what is wanted and appropriate, as it’s so beautifully symbolic. Not ‘giving away’ but happily extending the family. We happily both escorted our son as he walked into the room for one of the most important days of his life; it just seemed fitting.
Posted on May 2nd, 2014 by Jane