Hi! We’ve been talking about complementarianism lately. It’s gotten me thinking about various run-ins I’ve had in the past with men who followed this purely-toxic ideology. Today, I want to show you a doozy: a Christian guy who lost his top because I didn’t change my last name after marrying Mr. Captain. Along the way, we’ll travel down Memory Lane, look at some statistics, and talk about why complementarians hate this trend about as much as they hate no-fault divorce. Hop on in to the Wayback Machine!
A Beautiful Night For Important Questions.
Set your Wayback Machine for a bit over ten years ago. Mr. Captain and I had been together for years even by then. Oh sure, we had already talked about marriage. It was always part of our long-term plan. But we both had stuff we had to sort out first. Since we’d both been down the aisle before, neither of us felt any overwhelming need to rush. (See endnote for how my work friends reacted to this perceived delay.)
One beautiful early-summer evening, we went for a long walk through our favorite park. At night, this place became downright magical–awash in hidden beauty and arcane wildness. The creek running along our favorite footpath burbled contentedly in the near-darkness. Underneath the quiet loomed a bursting-to-speak sense of fey anticipation.
Just a few minutes into the walk, he stopped us. The question he asked was as loving, passionate, and respectful as Mr. Captain himself is. Obviously, I said yes to it.
A few happy minutes later, we continued along our way.
And a few minutes after that, I stopped us again.
I had a question for him too, you see.
Navigating Choppy Waters.
I didn’t even know how to begin asking it, however. What I wanted to say was bound up in my still-painful fundagelical indoctrination, my still-lurking fear of offending any man’s fragile ego, and my desire to behave in a loving and kind way despite the unexpected anger my own question had stirred up in me.
Mr. Captain had never tangled with fundagelical culture. He had no idea what was going through my mind right then.
In my old culture, brides almost universally change their last names to that of their grooms. So when I got married to Biff, I changed my last name to his. It was a huge hassle, too. Biff mocked me regularly when he saw me filling out YET. ANOTHER. GODDAMNED. FORM to snail mail to YET. ANOTHER. GODDAMNED. COMPANY to change their records, all while he goofed off and played video games in the background. He thought it was hilarious that women had to go through all that extra fuss. (See endnote.)
When he felt like I wasn’t moving quickly enough to finish all that paperwork, however, he got touchy and petulant and started huge fights over ridiculous things. He saw the entire project as a performative show of what fundagelical men mistakenly think represents “respect.” When I didn’t perform those tasks adequately (in his eyes), I was not only being “disrespectful” but also offering up a vote of no confidence in our marriage itself and even making a direct stab at him as a human being and at his entire extended family.
See: Dierks Bentley, “My Last Name” (2003)
Pretty much everyone in that entire end of the religion back then felt exactly the same way.
Enough Red Flags For A Communist Parade.
Even today, the very most toxic Christian leaders clutch their pearls over the idea of women not taking this step.
Rowdy John Piper, Desiring God: “Both man and woman are created in the image of God, but the man bears a special responsibility before God for this union. And that is signified with putting his name on the banner that flies over the family.” (Also, he says, won’t someone think of the poor confused children with hyphenated names?)
Mary A. Kassian, Crosswalk: “Since the relationship between husband and wife is a paradigm of the relationship between Christ and the church, Christian women who change their name model and bear witness to the reality of Christ changing our names when we enter a relationship with Him.” (How sad that men don’t have anything similar they must do to allude to that notion! Also, she informs us, a study about it only asked stupid college girls and what do they know.)
Lori Alexander, the eternal land of total nutjobs: “Several years ago, I heard Dennis Prager tell this young man who was interested in a young woman but didn’t want to take his last name to RUN! He encouraged the young man to never marry a woman who refused to take his last name. She would be preferring her father’s protection and name over her husband’s.” (What was her second guess about why some women make that choice?)
The Transformed Wife, possibly also Lori, who knows: “. . . many women are usurping men’s first names today and refusing to take their husband’s last name in marriage. She says, ‘No man will name me,’ or she gets a hyphenated name.” (Oh, that evil Jezebel spirit! Oh no! Bad, bad Jezebel spirit!)
And so on and so forth. Christian leaders accuse women who refuse to change their surname of nothing less than being led astray by demons. Such women are “in rebellion” against their divine god’s eternal desire for women’s complete subjugation by men.
When I was married to Biff and Pentecostal, not many women kept their maiden names after marriage. In fact, Time puts it at 14% in the 1980s and 18% in the 1990s.
But in 2015, the New York Times (NYT) discovered that about 30% of women married recently kept their maiden names somehow (they either didn’t change anything or hyphenated). Interestingly, NYT links the trend to increasing liberalization among those marrying.
Also, older women and more financially successful women tend to keep their maiden names more often than their younger, less-successful counterparts. NYT also ties the keeping of maiden names to the very beginnings of feminism and the women’s rights movement. We already know that the women marrying these days skew older and more financially secure, so this trend will likely only accelerate.
Another Time piece tells us that in many countries, women can’t auto-change their surnames upon marriage. If they want a name change, they must go through the usual legal hurdles that anybody else would go through. In Quebec, someone commented on Lori Alexander’s blathering post, that can cost thousands of dollars (and Canadian dollars at that). The countries named in that article tend to be way less Christian-dominated, interestingly.
So this trend hits all the fundagelical pinball pop bumpers of deep frothing hatred of liberalism and feminism and their terror of lost dominance. Yeah, I can see why fundagelical leaders do their best to make this relatively minor private and personal decision between two people into a do-or-die battle for fundagelicalism’s entire future.
In a way, I reckon it kinda is.
How I Handled All That Drama.
Hie ye back to that moonlit, starlit walk in the park. I’m still weighing my words carefully, trying to figure out how to encapsulate years of tin-pot-dictator demands, personal pain, humiliation, and hard-won independence into one graceful, loving statement of intent.
A moment later, as per normal for me, I simply blurted out my concern.
I’m smooth like that.
“About changing my name..? I did that once. I’d rather not do it again. I’d like to keep my last name where it is.”
I couldn’t see Mr. Captain’s face, but I could hear his soft chuckle.
He said, “I was wondering how to bring that up.” We walked in silence for a minute. Then, he said, “I was going to say that if you don’t want to do that, it’s fine with me. I’d actually feel really uncomfortable with you doing that.”
Amazingly, he’d been struggling with that exact same concern from the point of view of a man focused on enthusiastic consent, loving interdependence, and mutual respect. He didn’t want anybody to subsume their identity into his. Sure, the man loves his family name. He’s very proud of it. That Dierks Bentley song setup, above, might well have been a snapshot of his family history.
All that said, the idea of me changing a name I was also happy with and proud of? That all made him feel supremely uncomfortable.
What We Knew That My Old Crowd Didn’t.
Performances don’t alter the reality of a situation. They can’t. Substantive changes do. And as the Bard said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Changing a surname, as I discovered personally, doesn’t make a weak relationship stronger. It just changes a person’s window-dressing. Not changing one’s maiden name doesn’t affect a strong one, either.
Biff browbeating me into a name change I didn’t particularly want was a huge red flag–but one I didn’t know how to recognize back then. He wanted to see me sing and dance to prove my devotion and “respect” to him–and to demonstrate my loyalty to our marriage. Even when I performed to his liking, he found reasons to criticize how quickly events progressed. And yes, our marriage broke up even though I’d complied with his demands.
Now I know that a man who gets totally hung up on performative demands like that is one I simply can’t make a relationship with. Our values are simply too different. He cares more about those performances than about me as a human being with my own needs, desires, and boundaries.
Then there’s this: I’ve never run across a man that focused on those performances of false respect who was actually worthy of the deference he ached to have.
We Were Doomed! DOOMED!
Not long after that beautiful night full of questions, Mr. C and I nipped on down to the courthouse to do the deed itself.
Around that same time, I wrote an essay for a site collecting opinions from women in opposite-sex marriages. They wanted to know how women handled changing their last names after marriage. (I’d link y’all, but I can’t remember anymore what the site even was. I think it’s dead.)
See, some women there had changed their last names; some hadn’t. Some had gone hyphenated. A few husbands had changed to their wives’ last names. And a few couples had both hyphenated, or had even made up entirely new last names that both partners adopted.
I was one of the few women there who had gone through both a name-changing and a name-keeping marriage. So I thought I could contribute meaningfully to their request for opinions.
My essay, detailing both decisions, didn’t garner much feedback–much like how Westley didn’t inspire any great attention at the beginning of his own adventures, I suppose.
But one of the few comments on the essay came from a self-proclaimed TRUE CHRISTIAN™ man. We’ll call him Braighden, because a completely self-absorbed, pompous windbag of a misogynist seems kinda long.
Braighden read my essay about how my new husband and I had together worked out a mutually-satisfactory solution to what had been a thorny question for both of us. And now, based solely on that one essay, he was certain that I was “henpecking” what he was equally certain was my poor, put-upon, hard-done-by husband. In addition, he expressed a deep concern that we stood in danger of imminent divorce.
Thus, Braighden felt compelled to issue a dire warning. The way he saw it, we courted disaster if I didn’t fall into line by adopting my husband’s surname.
And weren’t we terribly lucky that he’d come along to enlighten us even though we hadn’t asked for advice? Wasn’t his Jesus Aura just blazing white-hot?
Hey! Why weren’t we listening to him?
All this human misery dangled before us! It was coming our way because we weren’t following what Braighden regarded as mandatory, non-negotiable rules for marriage. Indeed, he saw my refusal to change my last name as disobedience to rules that his god had set forth for all marriages forever.
As I’ve shown above, this attitude is downright pervasive among right-wing Christian culture warriors. I wasn’t even surprised by his outburst.
The Rules Apply to Everyone. EVERYONE!
Many Christians (and I’m being very generous on that “many” escape hatch there) think that their marriage rules will make any marriage happy and long-lasting. Even nice Christians can get like that.
That’s why that stupid Fireproof movie–and the criminally-inept book sold alongside it, The Love Dare–had a supposedly atheist guy going through a Christian workbook to save his ailing marriage to another atheist. Similarly, a lot of these complementarian-created marriage-advice books end up with reviews from shocked non-fundagelicals who didn’t realize what they’d bought till they were halfway through reading them.
So no. Their rules don’t apply to everyone or work for everyone, no matter how much they might insist otherwise.
And let me say, Braighden wasn’t too happy when I laughed at him and dismissed his concerns and told him he wasn’t my daddy so he didn’t get to lecture me.
I wonder if he remembers my essay.
If so, Braighden me lad, we’re coming up on almost 20 years together now. Still happy. Still respectful–truly so, not fakely so like complementarian men mistake for the real thing.
And it’s sad that you can’t talk to Mr. Captain himself, because he’d set you straight about how much pity he needs from a guy who doesn’t have the first clue how to conduct a good relationship.
NEXT UP: Performative respect is no respect at all. But it’s all complementarian men want. Then we’ll peek in on that Luke nitwit for an update–and another deeply upset complementarian man in my past. See you next time!
About the reaction: None of my online or meatspace friends saw anything wrong with us marrying whenever we saw fit. But at work, all hell broke loose. See, I live in Mormon Central. Consequently, pretty much everyone at my then-job was either fundagelical or Mormon.
One day, they asked me when we planned to marry. I said “at some point when we’ve both gotten our personal affairs in order.” And–get this–they all thought that Mr. Captain was stringing me along. Indeed, that’s exactly what men in their culture do when they don’t wanna get married, but do wanna get the milk for free (so to speak): they set up a perma-engagement that simply never turns into a wedding day. So the women at work literally didn’t believe me when I told them that no, this long wait was actually all my idea and I was 100% the holdup on that project. They gave me pitying glances and sad clucking noises. WTF-EVER. (Back to the post!)
About Biff: I know you didn’t need yet another reason to despise that dipstick. But if I ever needed to provide another one, one that went over the top of almost every other thing I’ve said about him on this entire blog, I could do it simply by telling you about the supremely disrespectful way he proposed. I wish I’d had common sense and self-respect enough to dump him on the spot over it. Now I realize he was testing me to make sure I’d be a good lifelong source of supply for his narcissistic needs. (Back to the post!)
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