I am sitting at my kitchen bar with a lemon Perrier bottle next to my laptop on faux marble counters. Scattered around are Christmas cards I just opened since it is Christmas Eve and I really should open them before tomorrow. I gave up sending my own Christmas cards years ago, when Seth and Michaela were little. It was one of the social obligations I consciously removed from my life to make the holidays less stressful.
The majority of these cards, still, fourteen years later, are addressed to Will alone, or “The Dixons”, or “Mr. and Mrs. William Dixon” or “Will and Callie Dixon”.
I should be grateful for the cards people send us. Honored that we rate high enough on their list to warrant even a small amount of added effort to show appreciation during an already hectic time.
However, I feel infuriated and annoyed instead.
Angry and frustrated because the majority of these cards, still, fourteen years later, are addressed to Will alone, or “The Dixons”, or “Mr. and Mrs. William Dixon” or “Will and Callie Dixon”.* In light of all that’s happened this year with #MeToo, Susan Fowler, the Google Memo, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keilor, Louis C.K., Al Franken, and class action sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits filed against multiple tech and media entities, being addressed by my husband’s surname by default, a seemingly small, innocent slight of the pen, is simply maddening.
Wikipedia defines the abuse tactic “gaslighting” like this:
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.
The societal norms responsible for people assuming that my last name is Dixon because my husband’s is, or, worse yet, continuing to address me by his surname despite knowing that I did not take his surname when we married** and have never addressed myself that way in 14+ years of marriage is a form of collective, patriarchal gaslighting. It denies the fact that I choose not to adhere to the diminished hierarchical structure implicitly enforced when a woman takes her husband’s name, rendering the female forever lower than the male through twisted semantics. It contradicts the existence of me, Callie Neylan by replacing it with a woman I do not know and have never met. Callie Dixon? Who is she? Who is this person and why is her name on my Christmas card? It delegitimizes me and my choice and my personhood, represented by a name that I deliberately chose, not the one that our legal structures so readily assume for me. And, to add insult to injury, for the past four years, I have been the major breadwinner in my marriage, my equity with Will undeniable and irrefutable. And at times, tenous, because women with more power than men, especially financial power, are a threat.
I’ve had people ask me, before and even after marriage: “Don’t you just want a sugar daddy, Callie?” NO. I do not want nor have I ever wanted a sugar daddy. To the contrary, I AM THE SUGAR DADDY. Reminiscent of Walter White in Breaking Bad, I am the one who knocks. The one who earns, the one who pays, the one who fights stereotypes in the tech industry head on, day in and day out by being present and vulnerable and strong and seated at the table, with my own courage and grit and intellect and under my own name, not anyone else’s.
NO. I do not want a sugar daddy. I want equal pay; equal opportunities; sponsors not mentors; eye contact with my face, not my breasts; to be heard and believed. I want dignity, acknowledgement and respect. And for the last time, I want to be called by MY OWN NAME, GODDAMMIT.
* If you are one of the people who now make sure to include my name when addressing cards to us because I’ve reminded you that I did not take Will’s surname when we were married, thank you. That small gesture means more to me than you will ever know.
** I did not take Will’s surname; however, I took his first name, William, as my middle name, making it my third legal name change since becoming an adult: Upon my first marriage: Catherine Neylan Holmes to Catherine Neylan Pomeroy, 1986. Upon my divorce: Catherine Neylan Pomeroy to Catherine Ellis Neylan, 1994. Upon my marriage to Will: Catherine Ellis Neylan to Catherine William Neylan, 2003. Legally changing your name, for the record, is a major pain in the ass, a tax that falls on women and a societal expectation that men are not expected to meet.