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The Antagonizing Hyphen

Friday, June 10, 2016

This is not an article about the proper use of a hyphen. To be perfectly honest, I usually have to consult a dictionary or punctuation guide to figure out when to use a hyphen, and when to abstain.

The only time I am confident enough to use a hyphen is when I use it to connect my maiden name, "Rowell", to my married name, "Stansbury." While using a hyphen to form the last name, "Rowell-Stansbury," is one example of a grammatically proper use of a hyphen, some might argue that it is not socially proper.

Hyphenated Last Names & Assumptions

What comes to your mind when you see a woman with a hyphenated last name? Does it conjure up images of bra-burning, bullhorn-wielding, man-hating feminists, or liberal-minded divorcees who are not "marriage material?" 

Perhaps you are a more open-minded person; maybe you assume that it is a matter of convenience, or you view the punctuation point as an insignificant part of that person's name. It could be that the person has explained the reasons for the hyphen, and you understand its significance. 

Should what you assume about me matter? In a perfect world, it should not matter; my words and actions speak for themselves. However, we live in an imperfect world; one in which my words and actions are apparently not taken at face value because of a single punctuation point.

My Experiences

I had an online presence before I was married; I was active on MySpace and Facebook several years before I started blogging. I freely participated in discussions about political affairs and social commentary in which I openly shared my opinions about a variety of topics. Sometimes I participated in conversations with like-minded individuals, other times I attempted to persuade someone who disagreed with me to look at a topic from my perspective, and I was sometimes the voice of dissent. 

For the most part, I was understood; even if people did not always agree with me, they understood what I was saying. There were times when I needed to clarify what I was saying, but those occasions became even more rare as my communication skills improved. It took me a little over a year of consistent and active participation, but I built a reputation for being the voice of reason in the groups I belonged to.

Life online was good for me; then I got married and hyphenated my name. It was only a matter of a few weeks after my marriage that I began to notice a change. It seemed like my communication skills deteriorated overnight; people (particularly men) who I had conversed with in the past suddenly acted overtly hostile towards me. Instead of being asked to clarify my point of view, I was subjected to rants that were supposedly meant to "bring me down a peg" because I was "arrogant," "unsubtle," and "hateful." 

I did not understand what had changed; the tone of my messages remained the same, and I was sure that my communication skills had not deteriorated overnight. I suddenly felt insecure about my ability to communicate effectively, and I wracked my brain trying to figure out what had changed. This went on for months, until one of the men I was holding a conversation with addressed me as "Ms. Stansbury" in a rant.

I corrected the 50-something man by stating that I was "Mrs. Rowell-Stansbury," but he was free to address me informally as "Mrs. Stansbury." I will not deny that I was being cheeky, but I felt that it was the proper response under the circumstances. However, I did learn something from this exchange; my ability to communicate was not the issue, but how some people perceived me because I hyphenated my name was.

Happily Hyphenated

It is unfortunate that I encounter people who assume the worst of me because of my hyphenated name; however, I do not regret hyphenating my name. 

I kept the "Rowell" name for a few reasons: 

First, I did it to make a point. When I was younger, my father used to bemoan the fact that there were not many "Rowell" boys in the family to carry on the "Rowell" name. The fact that my sister and I could continue "Rowell legacy" by passing on his DNA to our theoretical children, as well as certain learned behaviors that should be lost to the ages, did not occur to him at the time. 

Second, I kept my maiden name to remind myself of the harmful legacies that have been passed down to me. Even though Kyle and I do not have children, I am determined to break the cycle of behavior that will lead to an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage.

Third, I was in my 40's when I married. I had been blogging  for eight years before I was married, and I was active on social media with my maiden name. It made sense to keep my maiden name online, and I made it legal to avoid confusion when I am not online.

While it is true that I am a feminist and believe that women are entitled to the same rights that men have, I do not hate all men.

I also support granting rights to people, and not taking them away. I have no interest in taking away the rights that men enjoy; however, I am firm believer in removing the sense of entitlement that some people in "majority" groups have regarding a number of things. This includes people's sense of entitlement to form an opinion of a woman based on the last name that she and her husband have agreed upon. 

Let's talk about this. What are your first impressions of a woman with a hyphenated last name? Why do you have those impressions? Where do you think the antipathy towards women with hyphenated last names originates from? What can we do to change it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.