Tuesday, September 1, 2009

No, You Don't Need to Speak with My Husband

One of the people I met in Austin was the amazing Starr C. who has started the insightful and funny Suburbtopia. Some might call it a mom blog, but really it is about living as a feminist when you are also a wife and mother and graduate student and a veteran and work full-time and you do all of those things awesomely. Really. In the middle of Texas.

She recently shared her experience of trying to find a realtor whose gender norms were not firmly planted in 1952. After setting up the initial process on her bank's website, the bank-assigned realtor called and said this:
I'm sorry, I thought Starr was your husband's name. Should I discuss the selling of your home with him or is it okay to talk with you on these matters?
When Starr C. told her that she could more than handle the call, the realtor then questioned whether or not it made sense for her to work in addition to her husband, because could her salary really cover the cost of day care?

Yeah, that is how you start a good client relationship. By being totally intrusive and condescending. Oh, and the realtor was a woman. Who obviously works, and who works in real estate. But, of course she assumed that she makes more than Starr C. and understands real estate better. Obviously she hasn't met Starr C. That woman is probably smarter and more skilled than most people on the planet. Needless to say, she got a new realtor.

In a recent post, I talked about how I chose not to change my name when I got married, and that it has not caused the end of civilization. But, regardless of the fact that I did not change my name when I got married, the assumptions tied up in the grand idea of "marriage" are so ingrained that most people assume you have taken your husband's name, regardless of whether or not you have. Built into that assumption is the belief that along with taking your husband's name, you also relinquish your power to your husband, particularly your economic power.

Starr C.'s post reminded me of my first experience of working against this assumption. As I said, most people assume we have the same name. The only reason they know we don't is if both of our names our on a document. And in that case, there have never been questions of why our names don't match, but of whose name should go first.

The most jarring example of this, was when we filed our first taxes as a married couple. Since it was our first time filing, we figured it would be a good idea to talk to a professional to see if we should file jointly or separately and to make sure we got it all right. We gathered all our paperwork and went down to visit a very jolly man my family has known for years. All was going well. We asked if we should file separately or jointly. He said jointly would be our best bet. He asked if I changed my name. Nope. Okay, moving on. Then he asked who should be the primary name and social security number on the return and who should be the "spouse". Both my husband and I said I would be.

You would have thought we said to make our cat the primary. For a good five minutes the accountant tried to dissuade us and make me the spouse, "because that is what he IRS is used to." Really? I thought they were used to processing things by social security number. Oh, and they are also used to seeing my tax returns because I hadn't gone straight from being my father's dependent to my husband's, since you know coverture is over.

My insistence (backed by my husband) that my name be first on the return had nothing to do with asserting our feminist principles to the federal government. It has to do with the simple reality that our relationship is egalitarian to begin with. Each of us have different strengths and interests, and based on those strengths and interests we divide up the household responsibilities. Sure, no one likes doing the dishes, so we try and do our fair share. However, when it comes to the economic front, I am the one that makes sure bills are paid and we are getting the best deal on our cell phone and internet contracts.

Not because I am better and handling money, we make decisions jointly and my husband has managed his own finances and that of his touring band for years, but because I am more comforatble dealing with people on the phone when things having to deal with money don't run smoothly. A wierd charge on our credit card? I call to clarify it. Our internet is down? I call to see what the problem is. Our renter's insurance needs to be adjusted? I call to talk to them about it. Why? Mostly because I am more comfortable asking to speak with someone's manager when I don't get the answer I need or they continue to try and up-sell me.

So, if I am the one handling all this on a daily basis, wouldn't it make sense that I be the one to file our return? Afterall, the world revolves around social security numbers, or at least the last four digits. When we merged a few accounts where it made sense to keep my husband as the primary, it has been a pain to try and remember the last four digits of his social security number in order to get anything accomplished. And god forbid if something was wrong on our return, it would be me that ended up talking to the IRS.

Of course, I didn't share all of these details with our tax guy. Instead, I resorted to framing the discussion in terms of finance-speak and asserted, "I am the CFO of this household!"

It worked. My name is first. Now lets just hope I never have to talk to them.


  1. Thanks Stephanie, you're the best! Another update: yesterday I got a packet from said lady realtor on selling my home (she must have sent it before I gave her the boot) and I couldn't help but notice that it was addressed to "Captain C.". My bank, a military bank, still addresses me by my former Army rank and must have given such title to the Realtor. Which makes the conversation all the more interesting. She obviously assumed she was talking to "Captain C.", who, in her world, can only be a man (for the record, the hubby was also a Captain in the Army..confusing, I know). Hence why she was so perplexed that the person who made the realtor request was a female. Since when did we allow women to become officers in the Army or enter the Army at all? Holy Moley!! What is this world coming to?

  2. Oh wow, Starr, that just sends it over the edge.

  3. For a good five minutes the accountant tried to dissuade us and make me the spouse, "because that is what he IRS is used to."

    I think what he meant to say was, "Because this is what I personally am used to, and the thought of change actually kinda scares me."


be nice.


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