There’s recently been a discussion on the FEAST mailing list about the fact that the APA uses as its online security question, “what is your mother’s maiden name?” And you know, despite all my years of teaching feminist stuff about language usage, I’d never reflected much on the problems with that very standard security question. (And that shocks me, as I’ve thought a lot about marital name change issues, which are obviously closely related. Really a nice demonstration of how something can be taken for granted no matter how vigilant we try to be.) Some problems are obvious, like the fact that it’s based on the expectation that all women change their name upon marriage; and the assumption that all mothers are married. Feminists have spent a lot of time on the problems with this sort of thing, so I won’t rehearse that here. But allow me to mention the really BIG one, which should convince even those who don’t see a problem with expecting women to change their names.
This is meant to be a SECURITY question, which asks for some information that’s not readily and publicly available. More and more women are not changing their names upon marriage, and more and more women are having children without getting married. Mother’s name before marriage is very easily accessible in the first case– especially if it’s THE SAME AS THE CHILD’S– and nonsensical in the second. Times have changed, and the question needs to change too– it’s currently providing lousy security. (And bad politics.)
Update: You know, I even failed to realise what terrible security it is FOR ME: My mother’s maiden name is my middle name, and that often appears on credit cards, etc. (Whenever I’ve been asked, I’ve felt mildly annoyed, but usually set that aside because I was trying to get something done and didn’t want to get distracted from that. So I never thought it all through.)