Missing International Women’s Day

I missed the celebration of International Women’s Day this year (it was on March 8th). It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it. I just didn’t care.

That’s a terrible thing for a feminist to say. How can I not care about the plight of women all over the world?

All I can say in my defense is that, as a feminist, I sometimes have to fall back on the adage:  “Do as I say, not as I do.” Of course I should care about International Women’s Day. Just as I should care about all feminist issues. But the truth is, sometimes I’m just too involved in trying to live my own life to be concerned about the lives of others.

I’m not much of an activist. My actions on behalf on feminism are pretty much limited to signing email petitions and writing for this blog. I also rant and rave about feminist issues when I’m watching the news or reading comments on the Internet. And I spout feminist ideology when I’m talking with my friends, sister, daughters and husband. I’m constantly trying to parse what feminism means to me as an American, a Muslim, and an over-the-hill Second Wave feminist.

In the TED Talk that I posted yesterday, Courtney Martin spoke about how we all must accept our smallness while believing in our greatness. It’s easy to get down on ourselves for not accomplishing more, but it’s important to see the ways that we do make a difference. We make a difference by the way that we handle the details of our lives.

When I give advice or voice an opinion as a feminist, I’m always uncomfortably aware of how badly I’ve lived up to the feminist ideology in my own life. I dropped out of college when I was twenty to get married. I started having babies right away. I put aside my desires for self-advancement during my children’s younger years. I worked at a job that was meaningless and toxic toward women for over sixteen years. I never had enough guts to stay unmarried while trying to raise my children. (I thought I was remarrying for love, but it was mostly because I felt overwhelmed by single parenthood.) I demeaned myself by having an affair with a married man. And I never, ever got it straight that being a woman did not mean that I couldn’t be a success.

But at the same time, I’ve never wavered in my support of other women. Maybe having four daughters contributed to that attitude (well, of course it did), but I’ve always  been aware of the injustices dealt to women just because they’re women. I haven’t always been the best example to my daughters, but one thing they learned from me was to never settle for less than the best for themselves.

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I’m celebrating Thanksgiving a little differently this year. On the actual day (which is tomorrow), it will just be my husband and me because my kids are all going to be with other relatives. However, I will be participating in a Thanksgiving luncheon at work today. (See my post on I, Muslimah for details.) But no matter how I celebrate it, I welcome this time of the year because it reminds me to be thankful.

One year when my kids were little I had them write out what they were thankful for on slips of paper and then we read them during Thanksgiving dinner. I kept those slips for the longest time in a keepsake box my children had given me. We should have repeated it every year. In fact, I would like to do that now.

So, in lieu of slips of paper, here is what I’m thankful for:

  • First and foremost, I’m thankful for God, because without Him there would be nothing else to be thankful for.
  • I’m thankful that I have had a rich and exciting life (I’m even thankful for the bad parts, because they make me appreciate the good!)
  • I’m thankful for my children, because they changed me for the better.
  • I’m thankful that I had all daughters who are now beautiful women inside and out.
  • But I’m also thankful that I got to experience a grandson.
  • I’m thankful for my sons-in-law and their families for expanding my family so wonderfully.
  • I’m thankful for my husband for showing me what true love really is.
  • I’m thankful for my mother- and father- in-law for raising such a wonderful man, and for my sister-in-law who always keeps him honest!
  • I’m thankful that I am a woman so that I could experience pregnancy and childbirth—yes, even that!
  • I’m thankful for all my friends and relatives who make me feel like I’m part of the human race.
  • I’m thankful for the faith path that God has led me on, from Christianity to Islam.
  • I’m thankful for my Muslim brothers and sisters and the love and guidance they give me.
  • I’m thankful that my parents were amazing people who always loved, accepted and supported me.
  • I’m thankful for my sister, my only sibling and my compatriot through life.
  • I’m thankful for my two cousins who make me feel connected to that side of the family.
  • I’m thankful for my home, which has nurtured me and been my safe haven for over a decade.
  • I’m thankful for technology for opening up my world immensely.
  • I’m thankful for my psychiatrist!

To Keep or Not to Keep: Your Name After Marriage

My youngest daughter got married last weekend. She and her fiancé picked the date based on the fact that there was no Ohio State football game that day. It also happened to be the night of the switch to (or from, I can never remember which) Daylight Savings Time, which gave everyone an extra hour’s sleep the next morning, something I’m sure was badly needed by several attendees. (There was an open bar.)

This was the second wedding among my children and also the second one that didn’t have a wedding party, much to the dismay of my oldest daughter who is just dying to have dresses that match a color scheme. With three sisters, each of my daughters has a built-in wedding party, but instead the brides have opted for simplicity. Both have also opted to keep their names.

That’s a weird phrase: “keep your name,” as if you somehow lose it, or have it wrested from you, when you get married. But that’s exactly what does happen for most women as far as society is concerned. I don’t know the statistics on how many women keep their former last names when they get married, but so far in my family it’s 50%.

I took my husband’s name each time I married, but returned to my maiden name after each divorce. I also use my maiden name as my middle name when I am married, and I’ve hyphenated it on some legal documents. I don’t want there to be any doubts about who I am and where I came from.

And yet I go by my husband’s last name in most contexts. I like people knowing that my husband and I are married. Besides, Keim is a lot easier to write than Appleby. (Although it’s not necessarily easier to spell or pronounce.) And since there’s another Ellen Appleby in the writing world (she writes children’s books), I’ve chosen to write under the name Ellen Keim.

One of my daughters asked me the other day if I’ve ever minded changing my name. I told her only when I got married the first time. It felt strange to have another person’s name hung around my neck. But after changing my name the second time, it became old hat to me. It’s more a way of marking my passage through life: I can remember when things happened by what last name I had at the time!

I guess I see marriage—and changing your name—as an evolution. As you change from one state to another, you take on another identity, chameleon-like. Some women insist on keeping their maiden names as a way of hanging onto their identity. But the truth is, it’s usually your father’s identity that you’re hanging onto. (Unless you were given your mother’s or a hyphenated name at birth.) There’s really no way to get away from familial or marital ties unless you make up a completely new name for yourself.

If you could give yourself a new last name, what would it be and why?

The Hidden World of Girls


THE KITCHEN SISTERS are launching a new NPR multimedia series exploring the hidden world of girls. Stories of coming of age, rituals and rites of passage, secret identities—of women who crossed a line, blazed a trail, changed the tide.  Listen:


telephoneCall the NPR Message Line – 202-408-9576. Tell us your stories and ideas. Share your photos, audio, video. We hope you’ll join us in this quest.

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