FEAR AND CLOTHING
Pah to the patriarchy, just give me back my own name
A weekly reverie on the vagaries and charms of fashion
I was standing at the Mango Airlines counter this morning dealing with all the irritating consequences of the patriarchy. How, you ask, is the simple act of checking in a stand-in for the patriarchy? Easy! According to the government, I am not who I say I am and I don’t have a choice about it. When I went to renew my driver’s licence recently, the state automatically and without consultation changed my name. Now I am someone’s Mrs.
Nobody asked me what name I would like to use – they just did it. Belatedly, I might add: I had gotten away with my maiden name for ever. Like some double agent for the feminist cause. I was lulled into thinking I had exercised my choice and that they had respected it. But the dark forces of the deep state will always catch up with you, Missy. So suddenly they sprang the new name on me (lest I forget my marital status or something).
I never agreed to changing my name – and filled out the form when I did get hitched that stated I wanted to keep my own name. But the government will have none of this newfangled feminist stuff. I know because they stared blankly at me when I said they had put the wrong name on the card. “But you are married,” they stated with finality, and behind me the endless queue of people sighed collectively and willed me to move on quietly and accept my fate. You will be who we say you are and, moreover, you will like it.
Now I don’t mind being the Mrs on certain occasions, when dealing with certain male members of the service fraternity – an implied husband does wonders for service standards. But if you are in a rush, as sometimes happens, and you did not inform your travel agent to book you under this newfangled identity, and then read your own name on your ticket (the name you have had for a lifetime), and did not remember that actually now you are someone else entirely, you too will find yourself whipping out the old driver’s licence at the Mango counter with the proof of your old identity and swearing to all sorts of gods and your mother’s life that you are who you say you are. The person behind the counter will be placidly unmoved. Perhaps she has not married yet, so cannot imagine how this could be such an existential issue. “Go pay for a name change,” she will say. “You are in the wrong.”
And you will shuffle off – defeated by the sheer dull mindlessness of this interaction that has just cost you your zen, your mojo, R300 and your name. Because have you ever renewed your driver’s licence? Then you know how soul-destroying that experience is. And so in your heart you know you are not going back to Home Affairs and to the licence department until the damn thing runs out again in 2028. The fight has gone out of you and you will now and for the foreseeable future be this new person with this new name. What’s in a name, you say? After all, this was probably your father’s name so you are just perpetuating the patriarchy anyway. And you would be right. But it was my name and the name that was mine. I kind of liked it. And it makes sense to me in a visceral way. And now it has been taken from me. By the patriarchy. Just like that.