Mr. and Mrs. My Husband, or, I Guess I Didn’t Need that Pesky Identity
Okay, readers. Let’s assume that like me, you are a heterosexual married woman. Now, let’s assume that someone sends you a holiday card. It is addressed to you as follows, with your husband’s name in place of my husband’s name:
Now, how would you react to receiving a card addressed in this manner? Select one.
- I wouldn’t care. I don’t care what people call me.
- I would cringe. I have an identity of my own and am not defined by my decision to marry a man.
- I would be happy. When I was a tween, I wrote “Mrs. So-and-So” on my notebooks whenever I had a crush on a boy. My dreams have come true.
- I would send the card back unopened to the sender with a note that said, “Return to Sender Due to Sexism.”
- I would not do #4 because I have some semblance of manners and have to function as a social being in this imperfect world. But I would certainly consider this.
So how do I react to holiday cards addressed to me like this, other than to blog about them? I have several reactions. First, I am grateful that someone sent us a holiday card, especially because this one included a holiday newsletter. I genuinely like holiday newsletters. They’re like retro blogs.
Second, as I take a deep breath and try not get annoyed, I remind myself that there are women’s issues that are far more important than what we choose to call ourselves. These include unequal pay, domestic violence, and the fact that a teenage Pakistani girl was shot because she spoke out in favor of education for girls. I also remind myself that I am 100% sure this letter writer did not intend to offend or upset me, and that he wanted nothing other than to share the holiday spirit with my family.
Nonetheless, when I receive letters like this, I do cringe at this archaic, patriarchal way of addressing a woman. For one thing, I chose to not take my husband’s name when we got married. I go sometimes by the last name Rockler (my legal name) and sometimes by Rockler-Gladen (our daughter’s last name).
But even if I had taken my husband’s last name, as most heterosexual American women do, this still would not make me Mrs. Dan Gladen. Marrying a man doesn’t negate your first name. When a woman is referred to as Mrs. His Name, it’s as if her most important role in life is wifehood. And it’s as if becoming Mrs. His Name is a title that people must acknowledge because it’s an accomplishment. If people really want to call me by a title I’ve earned, they can acknowledge my doctorate and call me Dr. Rockler. But much as I love and admire and appreciate my husband, the fact that I landed me a man isn’t an accomplishment.
So, if you’re like many people, you might be asking, so what? It’s just a bunch of words. If these are your thoughts, I invite you to think about these words written as the gender opposite. What if I received a holiday card addressed to Mrs. and Mr. Naomi Rockler? Wouldn’t that seem demeaning and dismissive to my husband?
Or, think about it this way. Let’s say there’s a lesbian couple named Kim Smith and Lori Jones. Kim and Lori live in Massachusetts and are legally married, and both of them chose to keep their birth names. So, let’s say you want to send a holiday card to Kim and Lori, and you’re in the habit of sending couples cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. His Name. How in the world do you address their card? Do you send it to Mrs. and Mrs. Kim Smith? Or to Mrs. and Mrs. Lori Jones?
Both of these options seem odd, huh? After all, Kim and Lori are equal partners in marriage, so it would certainly belittle one or the other to address the letter in either of these two ways. It would be implying that one of these two women is the leader, and that the other woman is defined exclusively in relation to her wife.
If it seems odd to imagine addressing that envelope to Mrs. and Mrs. Kim Smith, then it should seem odd to address an envelope to Mr. and Mrs. Dan Gladen.
Again, I fully realize that there are more important women’s issues than this one. But I do think that the fact that we live in a society where Mr. and Mrs. His Name sounds normal says something about power relationships in this society. These are the power relationships in a society where women earn three-quarters of what men earn, where one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes, where we’re the only developed country in the world without a mandatory maternity leave policy, and where women are measured every day against a barrage of impossible images of beauty and sexuality.
And yes, you may have noticed, the letter writer misspelled my daughter’s name. I guess I should be grateful. He didn’t misspell Naomi.