Thursday, January 31, 2013

Identity Gift

Identity Bereft

In a world filled with constant warnings about the dangers of "identity theft", there is one very large group of people who are routinely bullied into giving theirs away. If you guessed married women, then you are correct!

While most women in the western world no longer suffer overt legal sublimation to men, there are many stubborn remnants of our proscribed past that refuse to go away such as taking our husband’s family name at marriage. Even the most talented and famous among us are not immune to such an Identity Gift:

 “I had no idea what to get [Freddie Prinze Jr.] for our five year wedding anniversary…”
Actor Sarah Michelle Gellar on why she “finally” decided to take her husband’s last name.
Hey, I’ve heard he’s hard to shop for…
Reasons for said gift:
-Tradition dictates that there is only room for one name and that name is his.
-The children should have the same last name as parents.
-The woman hates her family’s long unpronounceable last name or likes the man’s name better.
-Your mom is afraid your husband will think you don’t really love him unless you give it up—yes, mine actually said that to me.
-Cultural messages say that women are selfish, heartless b-words not to take the man’s name; thus my mom’s concerned warning.

What's in a name? If you are asking a man; everything! After all, his very existence in a family full of girls may be the result of his parents’ dedication to baby making in order to produce a male heir who will “carry on the family name”.  A woman will feel obliged to relinquish her identity not because she is flighty and has no sense of family history and tradition, rather the weight of centuries of law, custom, family expectations and the repercussions of labels like “feminist”, can be enough to produce anxiety attacks even in the most stalwart individualist.

Justification for keeping our names:

-It’s part of my identity, I grew up with this name!
-I like my last name.
-Professional reasons (except if you are famous).
-I thrive on the complexities of life and the annoyance of constantly explaining that my hubby and I have different last names. Okay, “thrive” might be an overstatement.

-The paper work is hell. I once worked in a busy hospital medical records department. It was difficult enough keeping track of patients with only one name, never mind the confusion when they changed names.

Explain it with Humor:
While my husband rolls his eyes, I have often used this little gem:
“He insists on keeping his name.”

Skip the Laughs and take no prisoners:
My sister-in-law has written, “no such person” on letters addressed to “Mrs. Husband’s Name”, and sent them back to those stubborn relatives and friends who refuse to get with the program. Hey, if you coddle them how will they learn, right?

If you remember the Clinton administration, poor Hilary Rodham finally caved to pressure, dropped the Rodham and became the less threatening Hilary Clinton. Can you imagine Henry Kissinger having to do that?!

My hubby will usually introduce me to people with my first and last name, which is handy since I am often too lazy to do it myself unless I am introducing myself first. I have found that most people take it in stride out of, politeness, boredom, or perhaps fears of their own.

Maiden Reform
Women are identified not just by our husband/father’s names but also by our sex lives. Take the term “maiden name” for example. What is a maiden? Why it is a woman, usually young, who has yet to be….ahem…plucked or deflowered or pick the euphemism for sexual intercourse. We don’t assign these terms to men. A man is a man no matter where he falls on the virginity scale.

Miss    Single woman
Mrs.    A married woman
Ms.     A woman, married or single
Mr.     A married man
          A single man
              A man, married or single

Ms. Understanding
I have found that people miss, or Ms., the point of what Ms. is all about. I once heard a fairly intelligent woman on a popular radio show say that she wished she were still young and single so that she could be “a Ms.” even though the whole point of the lack of an R or extra S is that you can be married, single or undeclared and it doesn’t matter.
I admit to having difficulty correcting people when they call me Mrs., because of the voices in my head saying, “Who are you kidding? You are old and married and people will think you are trying to relive your young single days and that you don’t really love your husband and he never wants a second cup of your coffee and secretly lusts after the Doublemint Twins...!” This is my brain on internalized sexism, not to mention too much classic TV.

Wedding reality shows reveal that the days of a bride being “Mrs. Manly Manhood” are back in style, while at the same time her wedding vows pronounce her and the groom “husband and wife” instead of “man and wife. All of this takes place after the bride’s father has “given her away”.

With all of these contradictions, it is no wonder that heterosexual relationships are so often in a state of insanity, but hey it makes for an entertaining night around the tube.

Who Gives This Woman….?
Who gives a…ah hum…excuse me. Okay, look; if you really want to take your husband’s name or let your father hand you off to another man in some antiquated ritual meant for exchanging goods and services, be my guest. Just know what you are doing and what it all means. A good deal of feminism is about choice, informed choice. Just remember that a choice without healthy options isn’t really about freedom and individuality.

Think about that the next time you see the popular girl group of the moment gyrate around stripper poles in the name of sexual empowerment.

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