It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The air is chilly, lights are twinkling in the trees, and it’s perfectly acceptable to blast Michael Bublé from your car. But Christmas is also a time where inequality and sexism seeps through the cracks.
Remember when you’d go to your nan’s or aunt’s for dinner during the holiday season? Remember the female member(s) of your family buzzing around the kitchen, constantly moving, serving, doing. Remember the male family members sprawled in an armchair, with a beer or a glass of whiskey, watching some kind of sport? I’m generalising I know, but this is a real memory for me.
My nan’s birthday was on Boxing Day (26th December, for you non-British out there). We’d often visit her on that day, exchanging Christmas presents as well as celebrating her birthday. She wasn’t married by the time I came along, but some of the strongest memories of her son, my uncle, include him squirreling himself away in the dining room, sprawled in an armchair with some kind of alcoholic drink, watching some kind of sport, while my nan (and other women, including little ol’ me) helped in the kitchen.
The same thing happened (still happens) at my grandad’s. Whenever we visited, his wife would spend half the day in the kitchen, slaving over a meal for sometimes a dozen people. While my grandad sprawled in an armchair (in the living room if we were lucky, shut away in his study if not), drinking some kind of alcoholic drink, watching some kind of sport. See the pattern?
First, fuck this shit. Gender roles can do one. In our house, we both cook, together. A shocking notion, I know. There are some things one of us are better at than the other – I cook a mean beef stew, and my partner is ace at steak – but the other is always there, hovering, helping (or getting in the way!). We’ve lived in our house for a year now, and this December we were able to host family members. We had my partner’s grandparents over for lunch, and took turns either doing bits in the kitchen or talking to our guests. We can’t imagine doing it any other way.
The reason for this blog post came from what happened yesterday. I returned home from work to find two cards on the mat, addressed to Mr & Mrs E Surname. [To be clear, that’s my partner’s surname. We got married in September.] Now, not only did I not change my surname upon marriage, but I’m also pretty sure that I didn’t change my first name. The senders of these cards somehow found it okay to erase my identity, and reduce me down to the female counterpart of my partner. Here’s why this really isn’t okay:
- I’ve lived as Vikki Patis for 25 years. My surname comes from my father, who, well, let’s just say wasn’t a great person. Since he died, and I grew up, I’ve made that surname my own.
- I’m an author, a writer. My name is part of that. It’s unique, so people can find me easily, and it’s the name on two (so far!) published books.
- The idea that “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” is bullshit. Names mean something. It’s part of who you are, your identity. Nobody gets to strip that away.
- I have an entire life – a career, friends, a history – that has nothing to do with my partner.
I’m not just the female counterpart in this relationship. I’m my own damn person. I would accept, quietly, with gritted teeth, for people to address me as Mrs Surname, because it’s still expected that women will change their surname to their husband’s. But I will not accept my entire name being erased.
When I posted about this on Facebook, a family member decided to chime in with some rather nasty comments, about how “sorry” she was that she’d “offended” me by writing my married name. The cards I was referring to weren’t even from her, but I had previously sent her a message to say thank you for her card, but to remember that I kept my surname. She didn’t respond to my message, but had clearly had a problem with what I said, because she jumped on my status with both feet. Not only did she misunderstand what I was saying, but she also declared that, if she was writing to me, she would write to Mrs V Surname, despite my wish to be called Ms V Patis, which is my name. Why this idea is incomprehensible to some is beyond me.
Some people may find this petty. And it is, in the grand scheme of things, a small thing to be fighting for. But the point to take away is this: why are we even having to fight for it? It’s not something men ever have to experience. Their identities are never erased when they get married. Gender norms carry their own issues for men, but allowing a woman to be engulfed by her husband is not acceptable in modern society. Let us breathe. And listen to me when I tell you how I wish to be addressed. It really isn’t that difficult.
Recently, on Twitter, I got flamed for sharing another story about our letting agent being so confused about me not changing my surname, she became flustered, and didn’t know what to say. A woman of about my age was so aghast at the idea of a woman not changing her surname upon marriage, she forgot to say congratulations. The trolls of Twitter descended upon me, and declared that my marriage is a sham, it won’t last 5 years, and I’m not fit to bear children, because of my stance on women’s equality. Lovely.
This holiday season, we may be sitting around the table with family members who hold outdated (or, fuck it, bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc) views. We may be asked uncomfortable questions, such as when we’re having children (never). We may have to listen to bullshit opinions. We may have to listen to offensive bollocks. We may want to stand up and scream, rage against the bigotry and the hatred. I know I do sometimes. But I’ve made it my goal to quietly, subtly, address every such instance. (Note: you should only speak out if you feel safe doing so.) Part of me wants to scream at the patriarchy until it snaps, but my anger only hurts myself. I will rage quietly, and I will use that rage to try, desperately, to make a difference.
And so it just leaves me to wish everyone a very happy festive season! Whether you celebrate or not, I hope it’s a happy, peaceful, and equal time.