To the boy at the table who was thoughtful enough to remind me that I, in fact, “had to” take the last name of my assumed future husband, I thank you. It was high time I remember how much my body, decisions, and intelligence are policed and denied, because I generally tend to avoid pretentious places like that and silencing people like you. Thank you for the sobering and necessary reminder.
I sound angry. I am angry. Not necessarily at you - well, maybe a little bit - but not really. You don’t really know any better - aye, there’s the rub! - and judging by how you’ve otherwise conducted yourself, I don’t doubt that you “meant well,” or might now remark that you were “just joking around!” But herein lies the issue, and if you’d indulge me for a moment, I’d like to break this down a bit.
You and I both grew up in the same Los Angeles household, more or less. Wealthy parents, private education, mostly white neighborhoods and social circles. We took lavish vacations over the summer, had our birthday dinners paid for, and have flashy watches so everyone knows that we’ve got some version of “the good life,” so long as you define that term by standard American (see: Consumer-Capitalistic) ideals. You’re maybe two years my junior, but other than this and our gender, we’re essentially cut from the same cookie dough, baked in the same oven. We even went to the same university.
In general, us LA folk tend to be rather liberal - at least socially. In fact, most large, coast-lining cities are perceivably more left-leaning than the middle of the country, a place and populace we tend to forget exist as seen by our initial shock at Donald Trump’s rise to power. Gay marriage, absolutely; racial profiling, hell no; affirmative action, yep. But our ideas of “progress” exist in a bubble.
They’re the ideas that have taught us to think of the right to marry as the ultimate goal for our homosexual friends, without considering that 40% of all homeless youths in this country are LGBTQI+. It’s the kind of “progress” that has certain white folks still saying things like “we are all one human race,” without any reflection on how such a statement ignores the daily discriminations facing our non-heterosexual, non-white, non-male, queer, 99%er brothers and sisters. It’s “progress” that reinforces the belief that you have done your civic duty as a man by holding the door open for a woman, but teaches you nothing about the importance of the word, or even body language that communicates, “no.” In essence, we understand and celebrate progress only as far as we can see it ourselves. Our liberal bubble extends no further than do our comfort zones, only insofar as those with the power - economic, social, or otherwise - are able to keep their sense of security, and, well, power, intact and so tethered to our perception of reality: this liberalized “status quo.”
This may seem unrelated, but it’s not, really. Talk to me two years ago and I wouldn’t have been at all offended by your insistence that it was my duty to assume the personhood of my presumptive future husband. It took until my final few semesters at our shared university to understand the nuances of oppression and disenfranchisement, because up until then I hadn’t really been exposed to the multidimensional identities and consciousnesses that comprise this world of 8 billion and growing. I thought of feminism as the desire for equal pay; the battle to control our own reproductive systems - you know, the stuff that doesn’t entirely threaten the quotidian patriarchal populace and that definition of progress, however liberal. But we’ll come back to all this in due time. For now, let’s return to our evening out.
You and I were sitting at this table, and it was my first time out in NYC since a bouncer at Provocateur had felt the need to criticize my choice to wear Tims during the snowstorm Nemo, demanding, “Construction boots? Really? We haven’t let anyone in wearing construction boots since 1993, and we weren’t even open then.” This is an exact quote, and I remind you, this was during a nationally recognized snowstorm. He let me in, but needless to say these kinds of spots don’t mesh well with my general disposition, nor my wardrobe. However on this night, being already a little tipsy and so eager to prolong the fun, I decided to join my good friend, her boyfriend, and you at this swanky hotel lobby on this the sticky summer eve. I sat at the table, joined the conversation, and enjoyed the fleeting social power and accompanying regret I couldn’t help but feel as I ordered my $17 glass of rosé.
And so there we were, discussing your name. It’s a fine name, one that reminded me of a very cute dog breed. Perhaps I offended you by drawing this playful parallel, for you seemed a bit taken aback, plunged into some deep sense of inferiority. “Well,” you said with an all-too-familiar self-protective tone, “You’re lucky you’re a girl. You get to change your name when you get married.”
Let’s pause here, and return to our previous issue for a moment. Systems of domination are both overt and well-cloaked - they can look like couverture law, the insistence that a woman’s body is provocative whether fully exposed or entirely covered, or the astonishment at a woman’s decision to consider her options, educate herself, and make personal choices based on equally personal opinions.
Let’s assume you think said couverture law is still in effect - that is, that a woman’s “very being or legal existence…[is] suspended during the marriage, or at least incorporated, and consolidated into that of her husband.” That’s a direct quote from the 18th century law, and in case you missed the message, it states that once married, a female’s very “existence” - that is, her right to be an individual living, breathing person, was no longer of concern, as she would be “incorporated and consolidated” - a bit like a piece of property - “into that of her husband.”
So, assuming you think this law is still in effect and that women are still required by law to take their husband’s last name, your insistence that I “have to,” then, was to you a mere reminder of my responsibility as a civilian to uphold the law. Fine. But - and here we return again to my original point, about the nuances of oppression - is my assurance to you that, in fact, women are not required to do so, that I have a choice in the matter, not enough to give you pause, to stop commanding that I must, over and over again?
I know you don’t think that I am stupid or uneducated; I know you don’t think women as a whole are stupid or uneducated; I know you have a Facebook and so can see with your own eyes how your women friends are taking action and educating themselves on their own rights and freedoms. So, did you consider that, despite all this, my knowledge is still thought of as less meaningful, less likely to be correct in perceiving and dictating the reality of the world - of my world, for that matter - than yours? Nuance pill #1, best taken with something caffeinated, to keep you alert for nuance pills 2, 3 and 4.
Now, I’m going to bet that you don’t think couverture law is still in effect, and that you were just genuinely shocked at the expression of my personal opinion and possible choice to not go along with the existing state of affairs when it comes to marriage. To remind you, I replied by letting you know that I was not yet sure if I would be changing my name should I get married, in large part due to my being the last Lambert in my familial lineage. Let’s also remember here that I had not even expressed a fully-formed decision, because I have not yet reached one - I was merely sharing my thoughts on the matter. As I will now.
When you consistently said, “No,” to me, you weren’t simply silencing me. You were attempting to impose your will onto my deliberation process while outwardly denying my capacity to weigh my options based on the information I have sought out, and stifling my right to communicate them freely.
This may seem absolutely crazy to you, and for a number of - yup, you guessed it - nuanced reasons. Like I said, we experienced very similar upbringings, and we were never outwardly racist, sexist, or bigoted in any way. But the patriarchal society in which we both live has produced very divergent understandings of bigotry because it has delivered very divergent experiences to those living in it. Once again, I’d like to break this down a little.
Yes, white supremacy looks like hate crimes and “Make America Great Again” and Brock Turner serving 3 months for raping a woman compared to the 15-25 years sentenced to Cory Batey. Yes, patriarchal domination looks like Brock Turner’s “future” being taken more seriously than the safety of both the past and future women he may come into contact with; like asking a woman what she was wearing when she was assaulted; like using the word “cunt.”
But white supremacy also looks like color-blindness or the bootstrap theory; like not challenging racist jokes; like news articles using the words “thug” and “welfare queen.” Patriarchy also looks like attacking women for taking Turner’s father’s “20 minutes of action” out of context, rather than addressing the power of language and the importance of using words thoughtfully and with consideration to whom and what they are addressing.
It looks assuming that I, as a woman, am too unaware to know what I am talking about; or too emotionally volatile to have these opinions taken seriously; or that I am challenging you “just ‘cuz” when I express a contrasting opinion, and so am best met with silencing tactics rather than interested engagement. It looks like the assumption that marriage is not an “if” but a “when” for us females; that I should be so “lucky” as to “get to” marry a man and take on his name.
It also looks like you rolling your eyes when I tell you that all of this has a negative effect on me, on women, and should be taken seriously.
Our shared liberal views of the world are just, dear boy, and they stand out as enlightened and comprehensive when compared to the out-of-bubble communities we are so consistently shocked to find still exist in this world, and yet are so regularly utilizing to fortify the righteousness of our beliefs. I also still have much learning to do in the way of dismantling the methods of domination that mar and mask so many of the deliberately yet surreptitiously minimized, ignored and talked at.
This is just one rich white girl’s perspective, and I will never truly know what a black, bi-sexual woman experiences at the intersections of her identities - how could I? But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I don’t have to myself witness or experience something to engage compassionately and respectfully with its existence, especially if I am being given the opportunity to learn from a life other than my own. I should never expect any disenfranchised group to hold the hand of their oppressors while gently explaining their struggles to them, much as I may be doing so here (although it’s possible you may not find this to be terribly “gentle.”) There is always more learning to be done; there are always more voices to be heard; there is always more life to listen to, honor, affirm and love... It just takes a little attention to nuance.