Possibly the world’s most famed barrister, Amal Alamuddin, wife of George Clooney, is taking on two new things: her husband’s name and a Greek case to reclaim the Parthenon Marbles.
How life has changed for Ms Clooney, nee Alamuddin, as The Guardian reports.
Amal Clooney, prominent human rights lawyer, has today started advising the Greek government in its bid to reclaim the Parthenon Marbles. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, acquired the 2,500 year old classical Greek sculptures in the early 19th century through a possibly-dodgy deal with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Having always intended them for display in the British Museum, they were placed there in 1816, where they remain to this day.
Greece has been making efforts to get them back for a while, to which the British respond with arguments like “but then we might have to give back all the other stuff we’ve pillaged” and “what if they get damaged”, which seems weak when you consider that Elgin’s original transport ship actually sank on the way home and the Marbles had to be retrieved by a team of divers. It’s the world’s most famous case of cultural restitution, and I will follow it with keen interest.
Oh, and also, Amal Clooney, née Alamuddin, recent bride of famous actor George Clooney, has possibly changed her last name to either Alamuddin-Clooney or just straight up Clooney. Predictably, everyone is losing their minds.
Whether or not women take their husband’s name upon marriage fires up feminists like almost nothing else. The couple’s celebrity status adds fuel to the blaze, as well as Alamuddin Clooney’s status as a high flyer in her own right. As a broad generalisation, the two sides boil down to “that’s patriarchal nonsense in obvious need of rejection” and “leave her alone, it’s none of your goddamn business”. These positions crop up again and again in feminist debate over everything from leg-shaving to breastfeeding, but name changing has become a totemic issue that has us grabbing our torches and pitchforks at a moment’s notice.
The real problem is that a conception of feminism centring individual choice runs into problems when we consider that all of our choices are mediated by language and culture. This is true for everybody: nothing that we do or say can spring fully-formed from an inner well of volition, unmediated by social forces. The way we conceive of agency is itself influenced by what we’re taught about our own subjectivity. Of course it’s a two-way street, and critical awareness of how we’re shaped by norms enables us to tinker with and change them according to what we think should be happening.
Resisting widely-accepted norms involves varying levels of inconvenience and risk, from women getting funny looks on the bus if they’ve not shaved their legs all the way through to rape and murder for more grave “transgressions”. This is where the structurally relevant choice lies: how will I navigate a social space that assumes I will take my husband’s name? How much effort am I willing to make?
For an issue as materially trivial as name-changing, it’s just a waste of time to pick over one person’s motivations for doing it. We’ve been having this fight on permanent loop for decades, and it’s been an embarrassing diversion from more important considerations. On top of this, the feminists who tend to fruitlessly perpetuate The Issue That Must Not Be Named are often unacceptably ignorant of cultural perspectives other than their own, which are frequently (although not exclusively) white, middle-class and liberal.
Naming practices are deeply embedded traditions with very long histories, and they differ significantly depending on the culture to which you belong – even the subcultural context, ethnic, socio-economic, familial or otherwise, within one country’s borders. The political valences attached to taking your husband’s name are different for different groups of women, but the arguments we hear most centre the perspectives of feminists with a prominent platform.
Unsurprisingly, these feminists belong to the same white, middle-class, liberal group for whom name-changing is a crucial issue of personal identity, tied up with career concerns, symbolic ownership of children, and self-reflexive displays of autonomy.