Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday: Trivial Things That Are Annoying and Not Really Trivial

1. People talking about finding out the "gender" of their unborn baby via ultrasound.

No. Ultrasounds do not show anyone's gender. They show indications of one's sex. As we were taught in intro to sociology: You learn gender, you have sex. (A particularly funny choice of phrasing to 20-year-olds at a Christian college that forbids premarital sex.) 

Is the gender you're imposing on them going to match its sex? Most likely. But not necessarily. Will a baby care that she's in a pink tutu when she really wants to wear blue overalls? No, but putting her in a tutu imposes the expectation of feminine traits on everyone around that baby, making it that much harder for her to express herself in any contrary ways as she grows up.

You'll have plenty of time throughout the kid's life to enforce gender roles on it, at least let it have the first nine months in the womb without that. 

2. Addressing a couple as Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst TheirLast, or a woman as Mrs. HisFirst TheirLast.

I'm not even talking about last name choices (you've already read my thoughts on that). Even assuming that the woman in a hetero couple has taken her husband's last name: she continues to retain her own first name. Mrs. HisFirst TheirLast completely erases her identity as anything but His Wife. He can divorce or be widowed and remarry, and his new wife will also be Mrs. HisFirst TheirLast. It's all about her relationship to him. 

There's a reason that traditional "etiquette" uses this as the proper address for a married woman. It's derived from a time when being married to a high status man was the pinnacle of achievement for a woman. Called a woman Mrs. Bob Smith would be akin to referring to her as Dr. Smith - an acknowledgement of her status in society being determined by her marriage.

It's also related to the concept of coverture. She didn't need her own personal identity, because legally she was the same as her husband. Women at times in the not so distant past had no control over their own assets and income, everything belonged to their husband. 

It's not quaint or proper etiquette to erase a woman's name and personal identity; it's an incredible lack of respect.

3. Using someone's mother's maiden name as a security measure. 

This is oddly an issue that didn't fully occur to me until recently, when Abe and I opened a joint account together, and the banker asked him for his mother's maiden name to put in the records. Ummm, my mother-in-law's "maiden" name is her current name! His parents were married, she just chose not to change her last name.

The concept of making one's mother's maiden name as a required piece of information assumes two things: everyone's mother is married, and every woman who's married changed her last name. Now, this may have been a reasonable enough assumption 30 years ago when my MIL was a, likely rare, exception, but it's far from unusual now!

Nowadays, I can choose to keep my name, my husband could choose to take my name, hell, we could even create a brand new name to both take. Sure, you can still give whatever answer you want to the question, but even asking the question reinforces the norm that taking your husband's last name is "just how it's done". It's cultural infrastructure that supports the continued belief in a patriarchal expectation. That's not ok. 


  1. I really love the topics you cover. Truly, I do.
    I was just having the gender/sex discussion with a friend today. My dad actually thought a "gender reveal" party was when someone announces to their family that they are undergoing gender reassignment (either surgically or non-surgically).
    I did take my husband's last name, but I did that because I have always wanted to name a child my maiden name. It's a really old fashioned and sweet name to me. For now I go by both last names but they aren't hyphenated and I just cause a world of confusion for everyone with that. No one has ever called me Mrs. HisFirst OurLast, not even at our wedding, and I'd like to keep that record going. Fun fact: Flaskins is actually a mash up of my maiden and married last name. I tell my husband that we missed a great opportunity to become the Flaskins.
    And lastly, my MIL never got married so her last name is the same as my husbands, aka the worst security question answer ever. I think that's not a very secure question anymore because of social media. A lot of the people I know my parents' age include other last names they've had on their social media accounts so that old classmates can find them more easily.

    1. Ooh, I hadn't even thought about how people having their maiden name on fb - I know lots of people who do that too. So aside from the patriarchal implications, it's just not secure information! I really want to figure out what authority makes it legal for banks and such to use it, and form or find a petition to make it illegal.

      You should have been the Flaskins! I think name mashups often sound really cool, more people should go that route. We used a mash up for our joint bank account log-in, and it sounds like a really awesome maybe Norwegian last name.

  2. I had never thought of the last one! What a good point. And what flaskins brought up about security and social media. A LOT of things apply to that though. Middle names, when I graduated, maiden names... can we ask trickier questions, please?! :)

    1. There really is a lot of information publicly available! Things like pet names, favorite books/movies, etc. I don't know what the solution is, but the current setup is no longer it!

  3. I think security questions should be free form. You type your own question and answer. Then it could be totally random like "What breakfast did you have last Tuesday?" and the answer is "Mashed Potatoes." The question is confusing and the answer doesn't make sense. The bank (or whatever entity) saves the information in case you ever forget it.
    And I couldn't talk my husband into Flaskins because when you say it aloud it sounds an aaawful lot like a "flacid" and "foreskin" mash up, haha.


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