When George Clooney finally tied the knot, to internationally renowned human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, millions of women around the globe let out a collective sigh of disappointment. However, having decided to follow tradition and take her husband’s surname, Alamuddin has come under intense fire from some feminists, who have condemned her for ‘bowing to the patriarchal system’. One of the main sources of the criticism directed at Alamuddin for changing her name is because she is a highly successful human rights lawyer. Currently working Greece, advising the government on the Elgin Marbles, Alamuddin is living proof that women can succeed in competitive and traditionally male sectors, such as law.
Whether consciously or not, Alamuddin is certainly a figurehead for the feminist movement, and an excellent role model for young women everywhere. However, this does not mean that every action she takes should be judged in relation to ‘the patriarchy’. Her work alone is enough to inspire even the most laissez-faire feminist, and the fact that she chose to stick with convention and take her husband’s surname has no bearing on this. If anything, Alamuddin’s actions could actually benefit the feminist movement. There is, even now, much stigma surrounding the word ‘feminist’, and many people still regard it as an aggressive and man-hating movement. However, Alamuddin’s decision demonstrates that you can be an independent and successful woman in your own right, without having to criticise and attack every man that comes your way. It illustrates that feminism is an inclusive movement, about equality and acceptance rather than destruction and rejection.
It is true that many women choose to keep their maiden names, whether for ease, for work purposes or as a political statement. Double-barrelled surnames are becoming an increasingly popular option, and seem to offer an effective balance the two sides of the argument. The institution of marriage is constantly evolving and becoming more inclusive in its definition, as gay marriage is being legalised in more and more countries around the world, and consequently there is little obligation for a woman to take her husband’s surname any more.
However, weddings in themselves are comprised of traditions which show our cultural past. Whilst history certainly is largely sexist; this does not mean that we should overturn all the established practices in our society.
Equality can be achieved without erasing our entire cultural heritage. When compared to some of the other atrocities carried out against women and girls around the world today, the issue of Alamuddin’s change of surname pales in comparison. Perhaps critics of the new Mrs Clooney need to shift their focus and realign their priorities.