4 years ago by
I’ve watched women and men sign their names alongside their significant others countless times. It ranges from RSVPs, to birthday cards, thank you notes or guest books. From my vantage point I’ve seen a pattern emerge where, in heterosexual relationships, women predominantly sign their name second when signing their name alongside their significant other’s. Men almost exclusively sign their name first.
If you are furrowing your brow in doubt, please peruse last year’s Christmas cards from your heterosexual friends. They will read, “Happy Holidays! Love, Husband, Wife, Child, Second Child if applicable, Dog, Cat, Hamster.” Even the masculinized dog is placed before the feminized feline. And I have no idea what gender, if any, hamsters are identifying as these days.
This phenomenon amazes me because the majority of these holiday cards (and other forms of written communication) are predominantly spearheaded by the female head of house. No? You don’t believe me? Does a man appear in your head when reading any of the following tasks…
1/ Picking out and coordinating the color theme for the holiday cards.
2/ Calling and negotiating with a local photographer (must be done in September because they book up by October.)
3/ Finding a Saturday morning where the whole family is free and then driving the family to the beach / mountains / somewhere 20-30mins away from their house that is both scenic and rustic that was pre-determined by her and the photographer.
4/ Ironing said clothes for the chosen color scheme, including the dog bandana found on Etsy.
5/ Writing copy to include a politically correct, but mass-appeal joke so everyone knows their family is the “fun” one.
6/ Addressing every envelope in the calligraphy from that class they took four years ago before they had kids and realized that hobbies no longer had a place in their life.
7/ And finally…signing the cards.
After all that, why in all that is holiday and holy are women consistently putting their names second in the pecking order?
Not to mention — and sorry to burst anyone’s bubble — aren’t we primarily sending out these cards for other females? When Tyler and I receive holiday cards I’m not even sure if he focuses in on the faces (let alone the theme) before he says “cute” and turns back to whatever he was doing prior to me shoving the cute card in his face asking for a reaction.
And I’m definitely the one who then plunks that card up on the fridge and makes sure it’s straight and not too dusty for the next 12 months (I am going to honor the emotional labor that went into the making and delivery of that card!) until we get another holiday card from said family and the whole dynamic repeats itself.
Is this pattern of names so engrained in us we don’t even realize we’re doing it let alone what subliminal messages we are sending by having the male partner’s name come first on most forms of communication? Is the ghost of Emily Post coming to haunt us?
*Searches and reads the official Emily Post website (yes there is such a thing) for approximately 20 minutes. Gets distracted by one well placed banner ad that lures her to Barney’s where she scrolls for two minutes before coming to her senses and thinking how the hell did I get here?! But back to Emily Post…
While I couldn’t find something that explicitly said what’s the proper way to sign off a correspondence from a male and female, Emily Post did note, in terms of social correspondence, a woman is typically addressed before the man, because she has more social capital.
Hmmmm. That may seem great at first — having more social capital — but I think it also speaks to a time when social capital was women’s only capital. And this still persists today in some form or another. I think there’s a reason women dissect, discuss and judge other women’s relationships. While men dissect, discuss and judge other men’s professions. A man’s primary capital in the modern world continues to be financial. While a woman’s primary capital in the modern world continues to be societal and romantic relationships. Hence a bachelor does not have the same negative connotation as a spinster.
On a side note, what’s the equivalent of a bachelor pad? I’ve always wondered. Is it a lady den? I’d very much like a lady den. Or maybe a lady lair? I would be very good at prowling around in my lady lair in a silk kimono and a sheet mask, looking and feeling just like American Psycho. And loving it.
A female acquaintance of mine even noted recently, as we sat on the sidelines within a mixed group of friends and made some social-watering-hole-observations about the conversations that were happening around us, “look, men can always bond over sports and their job. It’s the usually a commonality they can fall back on. What commonality do women have? Men.”
Alright. Yes, I want a woman’s name to come first on a signature from a holiday card, but when a woman is given first rank due to her social capital, I’m annoyed for the reason she’s given that first rank.
Here is the bigger issue– I want our emotional labor recognized (at first recognized, and then more evenly divided within the house, but baby steps, baby steps). I want the FREE labor we do day in and day out, to be recognized. If you’re a female head of house reading this, I bet you can say (within a roll or two) how much toilet paper is left in your house. Without even thinking too hard about it because you quietly monitor it day to day. That is emotional labor. That takes up a spot in your brain, not to mention then the time to either add toilet paper to the grocery list, ask your partner to pick it up on the way home, or picking it up yourself.
I fell hard into the emotional labor trap when Tyler and I first moved in together. It was the first time I cohabited with a parter as an adult, and we only have a dog and three hundred and fifty square feet to keep up. It’s minimal at best. And yet still, I found myself the secretary of the house.
At first, I kind of loved the power. I started sending him Google calendar requests and life was organized into little colorful boxes on a shared calendar and I thought, is this living? Have I won at life?
I was also doing grocery runs, stocking up on supplies that were low like dog food, and simply venmo-requesting his half of the payment. Technology is making our lives so much easier! I booked plane flights and forwarded him the reservation numbers. I checked in for both of us on my United app, screen shot his boarding pass, and texted it him. It’s so much fun to take care of someone else!! (shudders at her ignorance in hindsight).
And then one day we were having one of those days with friends where no one has any plans or an agenda so a beer garden or two is involved with lots of conversation. And Tyler brought up that he noticed he was slowly becoming “Uncle Tyler.” In other words he’s having to do less and less because I’ve been taking care of everything, including him, and when and where to show up.
OH HELL NO.
HAS HE BEEN TAKING ADVANTAGE OF ME?!
He wasn’t exploiting me, or refusing to do things around the house, I was just doing them before he even had a chance to. And then we just slipped into this dynamic where I just took care of all the things.
And I signed my name second. All the time. On all the things.
On thank you cards, holiday greetings, birthday celebrations. I would remember said friend or family member’s birthday, I would procure a card, and brainstorm a witty quip. I would write said witty quip and then write, “love _______ and Veronica.” At which point I put the card in front of Tyler and said, “sign here.” In that big ‘ol front and center space I left you.
Not anymore. Now I still remember said friend or family member’s birthday, procure a card, and brainstorm a witty quip. I write said witty quip and then write, “love VERONICA and ________.” At which point I hand said card over to Tyler and he squishes himself into the margins with, “This is the only space she left me to write anything. -Tyler.”
It’s not perfect, I’m still doing the majority of the emotional labor in our household. Sidenote: I just asked Tyler, as he’s sitting next to me, if he had even heard of the term emotional labor, which he hadn’t, and apologies to all the feminists that A) I haven’t educated him but B) I just didn’t have the emotional labor in me to explain the term to him right now (ahhhh the irony that explaining emotional labor takes so much emotional labour) but it will happen soon.
And dammit if I don’t take ALLL the damn credit for it in the meantime, including signing my name first on every piece of correspondence as it’s a step in the write direction.
You’re spot on on all of this. Signing first seems like such a small thing, but…..Baby steps and then bigger ones.
I unconsciously fell into this in my first marriage and it contributed to our divorce. It was shocking to Feminist Me how easy it was. I’m more aware of it in my second marriage, but if I want certain things to be done in certain ways, it is def still up to me. But he doesn’t ask me to be “second” in any way.
ALLLLLL OF THIS. In theory, we divide this in our house because we just pick up a box of cards: I deal with sending things to my side of the family, my partner deals with his. But guess whose side ends up not getting Holiday cards, despite my picking out a nice big box of beautiful locally-illustrated cards? And guess who ends up being asked about it at the Boxing Day party? (I’m not budging, though – I will redirect the Aunts to ask him yet again this year, if it happens again. It is always the Aunts asking.)
Got the idea from, and I highly recommend, Tiffany Dufu’s brilliant book Drop the Ball for a very practical memoir/how to book focused on turning the dang ship around and equalizing emotional labour. She’s a genius. (non-spon, I just love that book.)
Ha! Lilly I love this Christmas Card divide! It would be the same story in my household. And I’ve heard of Tiffany’s book! I will put it on my list!
This article made me laugh! As a little sister, I was always offended that my brother’s name was always in front of mine and therefore as soon as I had any input to any card writing I have always put my name first. This has hung over into my adult life and I always sign myself first – ESPECIALLY if I have written the silly card myself!
Love that you rectified those years of anguish :)
Lovely post, Veronica. Thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s nice to have another voice here that I love as much as Garance’s. Cheers to giving credit to all the emotional labor!
This was a good read, although in my parts where I live, issues like this hardly ever come up. For starters my hubby shares a lot of that emotional labor. On the other hand though his mother totally enjoys being in total control of everything! (And I mean everything!!) So, it seemed to me, until I read this post, that a lot of this depends on how you start off a relationship and the “rules” you end up building along the way.
Interesting post and I never really considered the emotional labor as you call it. I have to admit that if I sign something on me and my boyfriends behalf, I do put my name last. But also when I sign a card or email on behalf of a co-worker (and most of my colleagues are women). I was taught that when signing something it is the polite thing to do. I will check though, next time if my boyfriend signs a card on our behalf where he puts my name…
Que je suis heureuse d’être une française grincheuse et asociale plutôt qu’une américaine à qui la gentille société impose ce rituel épuisant des cartes de vœux ! Ici ma famille est heureuse tout va bien mais je ne me sens pas l’obligation de le prouver à tous une fois par an, ce qui est bien le but on le voit ici.
Aaaah I love this!!! Good for you! Honest and hilarious writing – I feel ya, sister, as one who does all the plane-ticket buying and the social wrangling and the inviting of friends to events – I feeeeel ya!!!
Good points here. A therapist told me once…”women hold the light into the dark corners”. We are wired that way. As in …why do we always make the therapy appointments..or know we need one.
Damn, I do sign my name first and my partner is thankful..I remember. Particularly, white guys have been really comfortable for a long time….me too and times up are changing minds…will take a few generations!!
Si vous parlez français, faites lui lire la BD “La Charge Mentale” d’Emma (https://emmaclit.com/2017/05/09/repartition-des-taches-hommes-femmes/), c’est une excellente méthode pour expliquer simplement aux hommes ce que cela représente! Je l’ai lu à mon compagnon (il parle espagnol donc je lui ai traduit…) et il a adoré! A lire absolument!
*draws heart* comma Nat & Matt … Married 4 years, together for 7, I’m still unlearning how to take responsibility for the emotional labor, though. When I ask him to do something for the home, I kick myself every time I say “Can you help me … ?” because it implies it’s my responsibility to begin with.
Oh wow — I never thought of the “can you help me” but you’re right! The littlest of things can make such a huge difference.
I find this strange to suggest, but I know a lot of people who get a cleaning person every few months and find it helps their partner/roommate situation immensely. You still have to divvy up chores, but it saves a lot of hours of frustration, resentment, and crumbling relationships. Cheaper than therapy, I think. As an organized person, I often take things over. I try to note my partner’s strengths and ask him to do things that use them. He is good at things that I hate doing, so I try to think of that when I’m grumbling at his disorganization. Sometimes I ask that we put on a record and clean up for its duration, which makes it fun and less like an obligation.