I’ve been re-watching Alias lately, and I’ll probably do a more comprehensive series review later, but for now one thing is jumping out at me:
The men go by their last names. The women go by first names. WTF?
At first, I tried to cut them slack because Sydney’s father is also “Agent Bristow” (and he’s often called “Jack” for that very reason). But Vaughn, who at first has no contact with Jack Bristow, calls her Sydney. And Sydney is still calling him “Vaughn” after they’ve been dating for a while.
But that excuse fell apart when Lauren Reed showed up, and everyone mostly called her “Lauren”.
We could go on for pages about the significance of women’s surnames in a patriarchal culture, but I’ll try to be brief: surnames belong to men. Everyone inherits their surname from their father (except in rare instances which are considered abnormal and socially suspect). Men are socialized (at least in the US) to respond to “Hey, Smith!” as easily as “Hey, John!” and be proud of the surname. They’re socialized to feel rejected if a wife refuses to take their name.
Women are conditioned not to get attached to their birth surname because they’re going to trade it in for hubby’s surname. We’re taught from grade school to write out what our names would be if we married our crush du jour and see how the new name sounds. Men’s last names are fixed – a foundation to build on. Ours are borrowed, transient – dust in the wind.
Which is why it irked me when Lauren – who’s kept her “maiden” name instead of taking her husband’s last name, thus suggesting an attachment to her birth surname – still gets the first-name treatment, just like Sydney. The effect is to keep her and Sydney girlish next to the men. I mean, contrast this with “Cagney and Lacey”, who get called by their last names and titles just like the men they work with. Hell, even Stargate SG-1 kept Carter on a last name basis (except with Daniel, who called almost everybody by first name). There’s also Scully of The X-Files. The use of last names remind us that these women have achieved rank, distinguished themselves somehow. Earned the right to be called by another name than the one the kindergarten teacher had for them.
For Sydney, I could come up with one more excuse – that the show is about her as a whole person, not just “Agent Bristow.” But, again, that wouldn’t explain the producers’ choice to have Lauren go mostly by her first name, too.
And no, I don’t think the producers sat down and thought this up to be sexist or to denigrate the two characters (some of the writers and producers are in fact women). More likely, they just automatically envisioned the women characters by first names (and the men by last) because that’s what we’re all trained to do.