Fair warning: This is an account of a recent, profound, and uncontrolled regression into complaint.
Today I found myself filled with nearly uncontrollable fury. I live in a conservative pocket of a liberal state. Staid, traditional folks surround me. They have the same hearts that I have — the same amount of goodness, the same amount of irritability, the same measure of clumsiness. None of them surpass me in worth, virtue, or that ration of peculiarity which characterizes the human nature.
They just happen to espouse patriarchal traditions that drive me mad.
I cannot fathom why anyone would want to perpetuate traditions that symbolize the ownership of women by men — first their fathers, and then their husbands. Changing your surname and adopting the “Missus” title mark you as property. “But it shows unity!” cry the women who tout these features and flash them in your face like diamonds on their left hand. When asked why only the women must publicly label themselves as unified while a man remains rigidly unidentified with his original name and unaltered title, these married gals have no answer. It’s because men weren’t property and didn’t have to be branded as such, I inform them. They scoff and proclaim me a bitter old hag that no one wants.
In fact, after the third of my 300 husbands left me (for another woman), he proclaimed that if I had only changed my name, we would still be married. Sighing, I replied that if I had known it was that important to him, we wouldn’t have wed in the first place.
My collapse into complaint over this issue today sprang from a form completed by a male client of the California attorney for whom I work. He entered his own birthdate and social security number, but for his wife’s data, directed us to ‘see above’. Either he interpreted the form as only requiring his identifiers, or he couldn’t see past himself. And in completing the form, he had soundly circled “MRS” for the preferred title for her, and identified her former surname as her “MAIDEN NAME”. All of these antiquities left me gasping. The sheer, rank patriarchal nature of the rhetoric astounds me every time I see it.
My own uneasy place in this local society compounds my frustration with a world that I strove to escape all of my life. With no partner, no California law license, and no professional reputation here, I find myself falling between some wicked deep cracks. I quite literally get no respect from anyone; no invitations to dinner from my married acquaintances who seek couples with whom to socialize; and repeated slaps in the face from my employer’s clients with remarks such as one recent observation that “for a secretary”, I seemed pretty smart.
I did this to myself by not taking the California Bar, although truth told, I interviewed for about fifty not-for-profit jobs striving to enter a new field. I spent all of 2018 being repeatedly told that I was overqualified or that the interviewer would be uncomfortable with me on their staff due to my superior experience. These statements masked obvious ageism, which brought me to finally seek a job in the back office of a California attorney, where at least my skills would earn an income, even if at the occasional expense of my self-respect.
At the end of a day when numerous small occurrences reminded me of both frustrations, I sat reading an Icelandic novel and nibbling small squares of dark chocolate. I don’t feel much better, but getting these words on the page has lightened my mood at least a fraction. Sometimes finding joy requires me to rummage in the muck beneath the seemingly sunny surface. I can toss the debris into the trash can, and recognize that whatever others think, I’m still me. First published at fifteen; made law review, AmJured in two subjects, and graduated from law school “with distinction”; saved more than my share of family farms and forgotten children; birth-giver of Patrick Charles Corley, whose compassionate values might one day prove to be my best legacy. I’m an adventurer in the world of life after divorce at sixty. Unabashedly ambulatory and relentlessly liberal, I still put my best foot forward and keep walking, every day of my life. Occasionally, I might take a step or two backwards, but I gather my wits, square my shoulders, and regain my onward stride.
It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundred and thirteenth month of My [Endless] Year [Trying to Live and Thrive] Without Complaining. Life continues.
I can relate to all your descriptions of the patriarchal presumption that females are property and, thus, need to be labeled by their owner’s name. I can’t convince my grown nieces that they have the right to keep their birth name and to give their children the same name. It’s a choice, I say. They tell me “It’s the law!” Nothing I say will persuade them otherwise. They truly believe that the law mandates that their children must be given the last name of the father. Now, I won’t get on my soapbox about OBs telling their patients that the law mandates they wait at least five years before having a tubal ligation. (Resulting in two miscarriages and three additional live children, all of which put my niece in danger). But, that’s another soapbox. Thank you for your messages. This one hit me in the heart.
In many ways, I feel we have backslid as a country. The resurgence of women feeling that they should take their spouse’s names and name their children with the father’s surname illustrates the regression. Your nieces would one day thank you for showing them that they can maintain their identity and that their children do not have to be solely identified as being their male parent’s offspring.
I am shaking my head. It astounds me that the form provides such options! But beyond that, it seems to me that much of what you attributed to a “conservative pocket” is actually a function of the age group of most of your firm’s clients.
But the hazards of being a single woman, here… I rather routinely experience those as well. It can be frustrating, and downright hurtful!
Sending warm thoughts; I appreciate your comment and your support of my blog.