Yesterday, I wrote a piece on the politics of naming–use of the title “Mrs.” for adult women, or the default use of a husband’s surname–for WBUR’s Cognoscenti that touched a nerve–at least for a few commenters. Some suggested that I was being overly sensitive, while others echoed my discomfort–but the real reason I wrote the piece, which was to consider the question of why this can be a fraught experience for many women, seemed to get lost in the shuffle.
I wear a lot of hats. I am a wife and I am a mother. And I would say that for me, those are the two most important hats I wear. But I am also a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a writer, a really bad piano player…you get the idea. So in some contexts I do feel a twinge when referred to as “Mrs.”–and it is hard to explain why. Is it because it presumes (or privileges) one identity when ignoring the others? I don’t know. Would I feel better being addressed as Ms.? Maybe. Or by my given name? Probably.
There is no easy answer.
For some women, this is a non issue–not something they ever consider. And that is fine too. But to dismiss the fact that this *is* a gendered conundrum would be akin to wearing blinders. The truth is, men are always Mister–married or not. But it is only women that have to address the question of prefix titles once they are of marriageable age.
A male friend made this point: “A discussion on gender roles in our society is certainly something that matters, given that women still earn less than men and are still having to assert and prove themselves more rigorously than their male counterparts. And what may be just a silly name to one can mean a lot more to another…like the whole ‘marry’ vs. ‘civil union’ thing.”
And so. Where do we go from here? Address that how we are addressed is a topic worthy of debate. Allow other women to grapple with the matter–publicly, privately–however they see fit. And finally, appreciate the fact that our varied points of view benefit us all–particularly when we take the time to truly listen.