Institutionalized Sexism

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 28 March, 2007 at

We hear all about ‘glass ceilings’ and other forms of institutionalized sexism towards women. Today I’m going to tell you story about sexism towards men.

When we got married in 1998, my wife and I agreed to both take each others’ last names through the common practice of hyphenation. “Frances Collins” and “Ben Sussman” would become “Frances Collins-Sussman” and “Ben Collins-Sussman”. No big deal, right?

Well, it was no big deal for my wife. She walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles, showed them her marriage license, and asked for a new driver’s license. “No problem,” they said, “what would you like for a new last name?”. They quickly issued her a new I.D., which she then carried over to the Social Security Administration to get a new card, and to various other agencies. Each agency was happy to reissue documents for her.

I tried to do the same thing. Despite my showing the marriage license, not a single government institution was willing to change my records and issue me new documents. Each one looked at me like my request was insane, and they all gave the same reply: “Sorry, we won’t give you a new I.D. unless you show us that some other agency has already done it.” No agency was willing to be the first one to do it.

I finally got the Social Security office to give me more details. They said that they’d only issue me a new card if I legally changed my name. In other words, I had to fill out a bunch of forms, swear I wasn’t changing my name to evade debt, place a public notice in a newspaper for a few weeks, then go swear in front of a live judge that I want to change my name… oh, and pay $200 for the court proceedings too. And pay another $220 for the other official name-changing processing. Here’s a receipt that shows the line-items. Then, after all that, I had to change my birth certificate as well. Yes, seriously. Apparently a birth certificate is not an immutable record of history, but it’s some sort of morphable record of identity.

In summary: my wife was instantly allowed to change her name with no forms or fuss. I, however, had to pay over $400 and stand before a judge. My marriage was irrelevant — I went through the exact same process that I would have gone through if I had wanted to change my name to “Glorbo P. Stranborf.”

I’m surprised there hasn’t been some sort of class-action suit against the government about this.

13 Responses to “Institutionalized Sexism”

  1. Joey

    At least it was something not time sensitive and only of cosmetic importance, rather than any of the other innumerable ways that the goverment probably discriminates on the basis of gender, like
    adoption, marriage itself, or who gets the kids in a divorce.


  2. C. Michael Pilato

    I remember taking a trip with you to one of the government buildings in Chicago get this done (during a lunchbreak at Inso). But I seem to recall you telling me at the time that if you’d simply chosen to put your new hyphenated name on your marriage certificate, none of this would have been an issue.

    Am I misremembering?

  3. Chad Whitacre

    Ouch! My wife and I took her maiden name as a second middle name, and I hit the same deadlock. However, I was eventually able to sweet-talk/cajole the lady at Social Security into giving me the new card w/o the cash and hoops (and for the record the name is not on our marriage license).

    Look on the bright side though: with hyphenation, you at least get to *use* your new legal name. The IRS only recognizes one middle name. :-/

    Bottom line: keep me posted on that class action.

  4. Michael D. Houst

    You actually have strong legal grounds to sue any government organization that makes a distinction on how they process requests for service based on the sex of the person.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, July 2, 1964) outlawed discrimination based on sex in several areas, including publicc services.

    In the case of name changes upon marriage (or in this day and age, civil unions); the DMV, SSA, or any other governmental agency, by law, must treat men’s and women’s requests identically. Either everyone must pay for the changes, or no one has to pay for them. The caveat being that the marriage license should list your new names as the definitive source document.

    You may need to get tough with these clerk types. Bring a copy of the act with you to show them the law itself. Take it to their supervisor they can’t make their own decision. Threaten to take them to court over it, if necessary; and be prepared to do so.

    Finally, be prepared to have to pay anyway. And be prepared to have a LOT of women mad as hornets at you when they have to start paying too.

  5. Charlie Lindley

    That is absolutely appalling. It is all-round sexism, not only because it assumes you WON’T be changing your name, but it also assumes that your wife WILL be changing her name to yours, ie: giving up her own identity on her marriage. What kind of medieval world do we live in?!

    But I have to say Chad, I don’t agree with you and your wife taking her surname as a middle name – sounds like blatent subordination to me. Not really equality is it?

  6. Georgette Oden

    I find it strange that you could put a name not yet your own on your marriage license. At least here in Texas, the man and woman’s names are printed on the form in the pre-marital manner, and then when you get hitched, the pastor/priest/judge signs their name, and that’s it… there isn’t place for your “new names” to go.


  7. PinkyToe

    Sexism? Not surprised in the least.

    What did leave me slack-jawed and drooling with disbelief were the words “quickly,” “happy” and “no problem” used to describe staff behavior at the DMV.

    Are you sure this wasn’t just a dream?

    If these words did indeed issue forth from a government-trained-and-paid pie-hole, no doubt it would be grounds for insubordination and immediate firing.

  8. A Woman

    Why didn’t you contact the ACLU and sue?

    Your rights were clearly violated and you have the paperwork and receipts for the charges to prove it.

    Please post an update on what came of this.

  9. It’s a matter of choosing battles. I was annoyed, but not enough to go through the hassle of a lawsuit.

  10. katre

    When I was married in New York in 2004, I was told that either of us could change our name to anything as part of the process, just by filling out the marriage license.

    Now I wish I had snagged “Glorbo P. Stranborf”.


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