Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Politics of Address

It's the one time of year that I sit down to address a hundred Christmas letters to friends, relatives and acquaintances, and every time I do it I agonize over the greeting and the sign-off. I've received enough greeting cards and invitations in my life to be thoroughly disgusted with the form of address to our family that seems to ignore the fact that I am a part of it. "Mrs. Mark Weber" has a way of pissing me off, unmatched by many things. But a lot of women in my generation identify with feelings of anger over their identity being subsumed under their husbands' names, and I'm getting fewer and fewer cards like that anymore. The more subtle and challenging politics of address come, for me, in the ordering of names at, say, the opening of our Christmas letter. "Dear Mike, Susan, and kids" is the traditional route, not "Dear Susan, Mike and kids," but I'm finding myself compelled to embrace a sort of affirmative action when it comes to naming females in the families.

But I pause with each new couple. Is the re-ordering of their family names something they'll notice? And depending on their age, socio-economic status, religious and political persuasions, etc, is this reordering something they'll be offended by? Additionally, I suspect everyone getting our Christmas card will know that I am the main composer and signer-offer on it, that it's the woman in the Weber family making these executive decisions on how to order names. Will they, therefore, perceive these address decisions as the subversion I intend them to be? I prefer it not be so noticeable, and prefer to subtly sneak my female-affirming greeting into their lives, catch one of those mothers or wives off-guard with the site of her name first leaping off the line of greeting in our Christmas letter. How refreshing, I imagine.

At the same time I want affirmative action in these lines of greetings, I am also an egalitarian, and I"m conflicted by the desire to make up for centuries of female-identity-subsumed-under-male-identity (by listing female names first consistently) with a desire for fairness, to affirm the importance of both the sexes in the present.

So it turns out, none of my lines of greeting take the same format. If I address the family as "Susan, Mike and kids" I might find myself signing off with "Mark, Heather, and kids," and if I'm scared of the reaction of a rather patriarchal family in South Dakota (they might write me off b/c I'm a feminist??), then I might just go the traditional route, cringing all the while. This makes for a painstaking Christmas Card mailing, pausing with each recipient, wondering how best to acknowledge them this Christmas.

The possibility that no one will either notice nor care how I acknowledge them has also occurred to me. This is both good and bad news.


Ana said...

I think you should address and sign off on letters whatever way you see fit. Would people really freak if you wrote to "Susan, Mike and kids"? I guess some would, I'm not one of them. Am I a closet feminist by keeping my last name? I am proud to be a woman. You can address any letters to me and Chris as "Ana and Chris Alvarado".... :)

H.W. said...

Incidentally, Ana, you are one of the first to get your Xmas card already and it just so happens that we printed out your address on an envelope twice last year (as "Chris Cary and Ana Alvarado"). This year I didn't have to think on that one too hard--just reused the envelope =)

And you're right, it's entirely possible no one will freak out--that this is just one of those nuanced social codes no one but me is thinking about right now, which could in part be due to the fact that I'm reading "From Housewife to Heretic," which is the story of Sonia Johnson,who in the seventies who was excommunicated from the Mormon church for her support of the Equal Rights Ammendment...There's enough misogyny there to set my teeth on edge.

julieH said...

As long as I'm not Mrs. George, whatever way you address it is fine with me!!! That was my one rule for the wedding announcing us... my first name is still Julie. :-)

Jason said...

I've always tried to mix it up a little in thank-you cards to families. But in our 5 years of marriage, my wife and I haven't gotten around to sending out any Christmas cards yet. Still, next year we're hoping to, and I'm excited about the negative reactions some of my relatives are going to have. :)