Thy Name is Woman

I remember the night before I got married, I sat down and wrote this long piece (addressed to me) about how weird it felt to have to change my name just because I was getting hitched. It didn’t seem fair to me then. It doesn’t seem fair to me now.
But I went along because –because I don’t even know why. I wasn’t an impressionable bride of 16. I was a medical doctor of close to 30, for heaven’s sake. And yet I went along with the Philippine norm. Unlike some of my friends, this name change didn’t thrill me at all. Yet I went along. I must have been dizzy with confusion with preparations for the grand wedding that it just totally skipped my mind to register an objection.
This piece I am writing, I am happy and deeply comforted to let you know, isn’t even necessary in other countries, dear people who keep asking why I changed my name back to the name I was born with, my given name, the name chosen by my father and mother to give to me when I saw light. The name I rose and fell with. The name of my earliest awakenings. The name I had known all my life.
Why would all that change just because I had fallen for someone enough to want to share my life with him? Walts fell for me too–and enough to want to share his life with me. Why didn’t he have to go through the potentially plate-shifting experience of a name change?
Till now it feels patently unfair that I have to sit here and write a post about why I changed my name back to my ‘maiden name’ when this experience will never be known to my husband. Or to any man dead or alive.(‘Bachelor name’? The concept doesn’t even exist.)
Yet woman after woman after woman go through this potentially gutting experience on a regular basis. Sure, there are some uber-enlightened men who have done the highly eyebrow raising (I imagine) maneuver of taking their wife’s name but really and truly they are as rare as, well, men taking their wife’s name.
Ok so I reverted back to my maiden name. Like a lot of plate-shifting stories, there is a personal story behind this,of course. And the story is how I had welded myself to my husband’s hip so completely I had lost me. And in midlife, I found me again. Short, not-so-simple story of a magical adventure for another time.
But I digress.
From the pioneering 19th century feminist, Lucy Stone, “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should name is my identity and should not be lost.”
So this little piece of mine? Just another day in a woman’s life. But my husband, an ardent feminist as well, despite all that ardor, will never know, first hand what it’s truly like to feel the wrench when asked to explain. Just as he, or any man dead or alive, will never know what it’s like to bear a child.
I know. I don’t need to explain. But in the last handful of hours, I’ve been asked a couple of times and I have felt me bristle. And this bristling is something I cannot ignore. I’ve been asked a couple of times more than I should have. And by people who should know better–highly educated, highly intelligent, well-traveled, well-read people. But in the face of a simple yet essential change, I have had to explain myself.
In any case this is speaking out far more than it is explaining. This is taking a stand far more than it is appeasing.
Women are so defined by their marriages. We constantly see ourselves in the context of this man we married. And we pay a steep price for it. What we lose is our gift to ourselves and to the world around us–the gift of who we are, stand alone.
We create ladies’ clubs based on our husbands’ accomplishments and we bask in reflected glory–so much that we fail to see who we truly are and to feel, in our bones, what we’re about–our strengths,even the chinks in our armor that define us and at some point, redeem us, the stuff that make us deeply happy and to go for it with all we’ve strike out and craft a life that is truly a reflection of who we are because we are positively clueless about the woman in the mirror who stares back at us.
On the other hand, I have yet to hear of a group of men forming a club based on their wives’ profession or accomplishments. Challenge you to name even just one. The men know something we don’t, girls.
We say and think garbage like, ‘Di bale nang nagloloko sha, sa akin naman umuuwi. Basta ako ang asawa.’-clinging and clutching to one’s marital status no matter if the price paid insults your very stay married because not to stay married would deeply unsettle us–no matter what the price is. And this need to put on a happy face and pretend that our marriages are idyllic no matter if the man who sleeps beside us is an abusive boor who makes our skin crawl.
But we put on our happy faces because this is the price of admission to that ladies’ club and to society. And to lose this place is to lose who we are and all we’ve worked for because we were too lazy, too fearful to be the stars in our own lives and we settle for hitching our wagons to our stars, the men we married.
And as usual and as expected, we cloak our fear in noble names: ‘duty’, ‘commitment’, ‘standing by my man’, ‘obedience’ (tell me again why this is a noble word?? Yep, I know, I know. THAT biblical edict has been stuffed down my throat for as long as I care to remember yet still does not make an ounce of sense to me. So sue me,bible-thumper.)
In other even less evolved cultures, the price women pay for being second class citizens is far steeper. Women pay with their very lives.
I suppose you’ve heard of dowry deaths and rapes and Eve teasing and bride burning and acid throwing and other more insidious acts of violence against women? Will it surprise you to know that one in three women suffer serious violence from their mates? Violence against women is a global epidemic that burns a hole in my soul. It’s made me cry at the unbearable pain and indignation I feel in my deepest recesses.
To be murdered or be driven to kill yourself because you cannot bear any longer the abuse and the harassment of the man you are yoked to and/or his family because of their constant demands for a higher dowry–how can anyone turn a blind eye to this? How I wish for the day when these women can say, ‘Oh you want a bigger dowry? Here’s a knife. Gut yourself, asshole.’
Or better still, ‘A dowry?!! Hahahaha!! Nahihibang ka na ba??!! Ikaw ang magbigay ng dowry, tangangot!! Ang swerte mo pinapatulan kita!’ –because I read a Time article about dowry abuse and the men who committed this horrendous crime—man, they looked like something I had stepped on when someone forgets to clean after their dog. They make me want to go, “Sister, really?? You want to kill yourself over this pissashit who doesn’t seem like he has a regular relationship with soap and water?? Really, sistah?? It doesn’t occur to you to say, ‘Shiyet. Me, I could do better. Saan ka na, Daniel Craig??'”
And Eve teasing’s when a woman is blamed for a sexual crime done to her because she was ‘asking for it’. It can be as mild as a sexual remark and go all the way to groping then rape. But what it has in common is the surreptitious belief that a man is a man and cannot be blamed for his sexual shit but a woman better be virtuous and if lines are crossed, we know who’s at fault. Clearly. She asked for it. The bitch.
So yes, you’ve made me do a treatise on women’s rights just because you’ve asked a question or made a comment that was so fourscore and twenty years ago.
I keep my name because this is who I am.
That I am married to an intelligent man who fights for women’s rights as well and didn’t even blink when I did the rechange-the-name-thing is beside the point.
I would’ve done it regardless.
And I do it because my name is my home, who I am and this empowers me because it reminds me who I am–an individual-finally, an individual. And I believe it empowers other women to do the same–reclaim themselves. And I believe women are a powerful lot. And all these speaking out and standing your ground for women will redound to a world where we live out the best versions of ourselves. For us all.
I did it when I realized what I wanted was an end to outward displays.
I do it because this is my way of speaking out for women who are voiceless-who are mute and blind and deaf and who live in that intersect of howling wasteland and Dante’s inferno simply because they are women, born with that pesky x chromosome instead of the y.
If no one speaks for them, who will?
Keep your husband’s name if this is what you want. Go the hyphenated route if this is your happy middle. Women’s rights is all about a woman’s right for self determination–without being harassed or being asked to explain.
So today, you made me feel like a second class citizen, asking me to explain what you will never ask a man to explain.
I went to all this trouble because I have a daughter and I hope she reads this and I hope other daughters read this and I hope I’ve given you pause to rethink and redefine your definitions.
I went to all this trouble because I dream of a world where social equity is just as natural as the air one breaths. I’ve prayed that I be given the gift to see this. See, it’s a trick prayer. I don’t want to wait too long. We’ve waited long enough. We have the tools in our hands, we know how it gets done. I say we rock and roll already.
And I hope someday, real soon, we can look back at that dark era when we had to remind the whole world and ourselves about the bone thrown our way, us, women and our daughters, that ‘March is international women’s month’ (-a whole month to yourself- cry with deep gratitude, nigger. Liberation is at hand.) and laugh at the absurdity of it all.
And even as they lose themselves in love as they are meant to, I hope my daughter and yours get to keep all that is rightfully and deeply theirs. And I hope they remember, for all time, who they really are then say to us all, ‘Here world, here is my contribution’, as we stand positively gobsmacked at the exquisite gift of self presented to us.
Amaze us, girls. More important, amaze yourselves.
“Remember your name. Do not lose hope–what you seek will be found.” ~ Neil Gaiman

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Shaye says:

    one of my favourite pieces of yours, Tita Wee ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you shaye. this is from the heart and soul of me. i am glad you and i speak the same language of equal rights and the empowerment of women. we lose ourselves in pieces. we must gain ourselves back in pieces and sometimes in huge chunks. hugs to you shaye! hope to see you real soon.


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