What's keeping me sane right now


Why I'm Glad I Let My Husband Keep His Name

I like to think of myself as an evolved, 21st century kind of woman. I believe in equality between women and men. Still, when my then-fiancé, Joe, told me he wanted to keep his own name when we got married, I had a cave-woman reaction: I felt like I was being rejected, and my femininity was being undermined.

We had already discussed our vows, and I had agreed (without hesitation) to forgo the traditional “obey”. Why should Joe have to promise to obey me, if I’m not asked to promise the same? That’s just silly and outdated. I hadn’t asked Joe to give up his career and become a fulltime house-husband, either, because, damn, this isn’t the 1950s!

But the name thing caught me off-guard. It had simply never occurred to me that my husband might not want to change his name. Why would he not want us to have the same last name, thereby symbolizing a unified family in the eyes of the world? Did he not want other women to know he was spoken for? Did he want people to think he didn’t respect me? Was he trying to “hedge his bets” in case the marriage didn’t work out?

I presented my concerns, he maturely and rationally explained his reasoning, and it actually brought us closer together. It helped us to clarify our pre-existing expectations about marriage, and it forced me to confront some unconscious biases.

“What’s wrong with my name?”

Why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to abandon the barely-pronounceable Slavic mess that is “Brofcak” and become a “Powell”? He pointed out that he has been Joe Brofcak for his entire life, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a man who chooses to abandon the label he has used to identify himself since before he could speak, he was uncomfortable with the idea.

My husband and I are both playwrights, but it had never occurred to me that he had spent years “making a name” for himself, just like I had. If he suddenly started publishing under the name, “Joe Powell”, he would, at least in one sense, be starting from scratch. The average man only has to worry about no longer being recognized by old friends on Facebook if they change their names, but the stakes for someone like Joe were much higher. Even if he published as “Joe Brofcak Powell”, people still might not know he was the same writer. I had assumed that he should care less about his career than I care about mine – even though we have the same job!

Once I realized this, it was obvious that I had, unconsciously, assumed that my husband should make a sacrifice for me that I would never be willing to make for him. And even though that sacrifice may be a tradition, that doesn’t make it any less unfair.

“Don’t you love me and want to be part of my family?”

He insisted that keeping the name he was born with didn’t mean he loved me any less – and it was ridiculous to think it did. It took some time for me to understand that he was not rejecting symbolically becoming part of my family, he was choosing not to symbolically reject his own family. He is proud of his Russian heritage, and did not want to give up that part of his identity. While there are thousands and thousands of Powells, there are very few Brofcaks, and I realized I couldn’t fault him for wanting to protect his name from dying out for as long as possible.

He rightly pointed out that just because people don’t share the same last name doesn’t mean they are not a family. A father who re-marries and take his new wife’s name doesn’t suddenly love his children from his first wife any less, even if they still have their mother’s last name.

When two women get hitched, or when two men tie the knot, neither of them is expected to change their surname, but that obviously doesn’t mean they’re not just as committed to their marriage as a straight couple. Why should I hold my husband to a different standard, just because I happen to be a woman and he happens to be a man? I realized that if I truly believe men deserve the same respect as women, I needed to respect his wishes.

“People are going to assume you’re a Powell.”

He acknowledged that yes, when I introduce him as my husband, people are most likely going to assume he was a Powell. He said that he didn’t mind being occasionally referred to as Mr. Powell, and that he would only correct the person (“Actually, it’s Mr. Brofcak; I kept my name,”) if it was an individual he was likely to speak to again in the future. But he wouldn’t go out of his way to make people uncomfortable, accuse them of being sexist, or act like a Masculininazi.

He also explained that most banks will still let a husband cash a check made out to “Ms. and Mr. Wife’s Name”, as long as he can provide a copy of the marriage license, so he would still be able to deposit the checks our families would give us at the wedding.

“People are going to think you’re the boss in our marriage.”

I’m not proud of this one, but it is something I said during the discussion. And Joe had to admit, he certainly knows women who would never consider letting their husbands keep their own names, because they would consider it defeminizing.

This is just one of those examples where feeling overrides logic, and where women’s hearts have just not caught up with our brains. If I keep my name, and he keeps his name, we’re doing the exact same thing, meaning we’re perfectly equal. But somehow, we see this as favoring men. Just as a group of five men and five women will be described as “mostly men”, and a man who speaks as often as a woman in a meeting will be accused of dominating the conversation, this is an example of lingering anti-male prejudices that we all have without even being aware of them.

Ultimately, what Joe pointed out is that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people think of our marriage. I needed to be comfortable enough with my femininity to realize that equality between us is not a threat to me.

Because at the end of the day, he is still my husband, and he’s still going to give me the same respect any husband would give his wife. He’s still going to have dinner ready by the time I get home every night. He’ll still be the one to take time off from his career to stay home with the children (whose last names will obviously be Powell), if I decide we want them. I’ll still be the one to control our finances and pay our taxes, and he’ll still check with me before making any major decisions that affect both of us.

My husband and I have now been married for three years, and I’m glad I let him keep his own name. He has just as much right to his career, his family heritage, and his outside interests as I do to mine. Some women have made comments, like, “I guess we know who wears the pants in your family,” but I don’t let it bother me. (He can wear whatever he wants as long as he still does the laundry!)

And when I went with Joe to the premiere of his new play, and the ticket-taker jokingly called me, “Ms. Brofcak”, I wasn’t insulted. I didn’t feel defeminized. I was too busy being proud of my husband.

Further Reading:

Why are women still changing their names?

Why should married women change their names?

Why I’m not changing my name for marriage

The Plays of Kellie Powell

The Plays of Joe Brofcak

This piece was proofread by, and improved with the help of: Kat Helgeson, Kathleen O'Mara, and Adriana Jones.


Joe: "You were never this passionate about politics when Obama was President..."
Kellie: "I didn't have to be! You should have seen me during the Bush years. Want to see my collection of hate mail? I got doxed before doxing was even a thing!"

In retrospect, I do regret dialing down my political activism during the Obama administration, but at the time, I felt like I needed some rest.
Gay Rights

The Consequences of Hate


A community reacts to the death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who committed suicide after months of anti-gay taunts …and little action from his school.

Sirdeaner Walker, who has survived domestic violence, homelessness, and breast cancer, knew death could come suddenly -- but she could not have predicted it would find her 11-year-old son first.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover was a sixth-grader at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Mass. There, many of his classmates were initially strangers, as few of his friends from Alfred Glickman Elementary followed him.

On April 6, Sirdeaner Walker came home, walked up the stairs to the second floor of her home, and saw her son suspended from a support beam in the stairwell, swaying slightly in the air, an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to police. He apologized in a suicide note, told his mother that he loved her, and left his video games to his brother.

Walker said her son had been the victim of bullying since the beginning of the school year, and that she had been calling the school since September, complaining that her son was mercilessly teased. He played football, baseball, and was a boy scout, but a group of classmates called him gay and teased him about the way he dressed. They ridiculed him for going to church with his mother and for volunteering locally.

"It's not just a gay issue," Walker said. "It's bigger. He was 11 years old, and he wasn't aware of his sexuality. These homophobic people attach derogatory terms to a child who's 11 years old, who goes to church, school, and the library, and he becomes confused. He thinks, Maybe I'm like this. Maybe I'm not. What do I do?"

His birthday, April 17, falls this year on the 13th National Day of Silence, a day on which individuals observe vows of silence for students bullied at school.

But instead of silence, Walker wants action from the school, which she said continuously ignored her, chalking the situation up to student immaturity. She said that every day her son left for school, he walked into a "combat zone" assigned to him because of his inner-city address. But he would not point a finger at specific classmates for fear he'd be called a "snitch."

Walker said that she is angry with teachers and administrators for not taking action, and she called on the state of Massachusetts last week to probe the school, hoping she might prevent other children from feeling as her son did.

"A lot of parents don't know the avenues open to them. A lot of parents don't know where to turn," Walker told The [Springfield] Republican.

In the days following Walker-Hoover's death, parents and community members have grown increasingly critical of the school system's approach to bullies and peer abuse, further fueled by administrators refusing to comment to local media.

Hilda Clarice Graham, an expert on bullies and a school safety consultant with International Training Associates, said students often use assumed sexual orientation as a main weapon against one another. "It's the hammer that hurts the most and is the most vulnerable and hurtful thing going," she said.

Nearly half of children between the ages of 9 and 13 have been bullied, and nearly 10% of those students say it happens on a daily basis, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a 2007 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network study, 86% of LGBT students said that they had experienced harassment at school during the previous year.

Days prior to Carl Walker-Hoover's suicide, he confronted a female bully who verbally accosted him. The event served as an apparent catalyst to Walker's suicide. The school's response was to have the two students sit beside one another during lunch for the next week to encourage conversation.

Graham says the school's response is not ideal because "for mediation to work, there must be equal power." She said bullies' goals are to hurt, and to depend on them to feel remorseful is not an effectual way to deal with them -- that victims are at a disadvantage when trying to make peace alone.

Graham added that schools should handle bullying on a small scale to avoid large-scale responses to tragic events.

"It's the most dramatic call to action a school can receive," she said. "Parents want a guarantee that this will never happen again."

Many residents came out in support of the Walker family in a school-sponsored vigil last Thursday night. Walker says school officials didn't invite her to the event. She said she heard from others but chose not to attend.

School superintendent Alan J. Ingram said on Thursday that cases of bullying must be addressed quickly and fairly, but added that many of the state's charter schools are autonomous and have their own policies. He said 11 of the system's schools have bullying-prevention programs, but most operate in elementary schools.

Peter J. Daboul, the newly elected chairman of the school's board of directors, said the board will have an emergency meeting to review the circumstances surrounding Walker-Hoover's suicide. He said the school follows the Springfield Public School System's protocols for dealing with bullies.

For now, Walker says she worries about her son's best friend, a heavy girl with whom Walker-Hoover would have lunch. Walker said the girl is still teased for her weight. "By whatever means necessary, I'm going to get the message across that the taunting has to end in the schools," she said.

More information and video.

As someone who was suicidal in grade school and junior high, and someone who was ostracized by classmates, this story really hit home for me. The sad thing is, there's really not much that teachers and administrators can do. They can stand up for bullied children, but they can't be everywhere at once. As long as kids are learning hate at home, they're going to bring it to school with them. And it seems like even this child's suicide hasn't made these kids feel remorse. What is it going to take?

It's Back Up Your Birth Control Day!

Right-wingers refer to emergency contraception (also known as EC, also known as Plan B) as "the abortion pill" but it is not the same thing as Mifeprex or RU-486. EC will not terminate an existing pregnancy. EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant. EC is a higher dosage of the same hormones found in birth control pills. EC, when used within 5 days of unprotected sex, can significantly reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Every women can use a back up method. No contraception method provides 100% protection. And sometimes, mistakes happen – a condom breaks, a diaphragm slips, a woman forgets to take her pill. Or she has sex when she didn't plan to – or want to. In fact, women who use a regular birth control method account for just over half of all unintended pregnancies.

Emergency contraception gives women a second chance to prevent pregnancy. But they need to know about it and be able to get it in time. Even though the FDA has made Plan B available over-the-counter to women 18, the high cost of EC - usually between $40-60 in pharmacies nationwide - is a continuing barrier to access.

Here are some ways that you can get involved. There's a Facebook Group you can join - for fans of one-click activism.

It's abstinence-only lobby lobby back!

Today the National Abstinence Education Association is having their annual Capitol Hill lobby day. They're planning on meeting with legislators to ask them to continue funding ineffective, inaccurate, misleading and dangerous abstinence only education.

Amplify Your Voice has the full story and a call to action:

This is where you come in: the progressive blogosphere, the reproductive justice community, and youth advocates. We have to make sure that the NAEA's message is not the only side of the story that Congress hears tomorrow. For every lobbyist that a representative gets in their office tomorrow morning, we need 100 letters from our side to counter them.

I urge you to send this letter to your Congressperson, asking them to defund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

After a decade of these ineffective programs spending $1.5 billion to misinform and endanger the sexual health of countless youth, it is time to finally bring change to Washington and America.

Via Feministing.

It's Over!

Did anyone else feel a tremendous sense of relief at around 11pm last night? It feels as though some small segment of the population has finally come around. I feel cautiously hopeful. I know Bush will probably pardon his cronies and issue a bunch of bullshit executive orders in the next two months, but after that... America stands a chance. That doesn't mean we won't blow it. We probably will. But we have a chance, for the first time in eight years. And that feels good.

Now that a Democrat is preparing to take over the White House, I feel free to worry about other things. I'm not too worried about local politics in New York - or Illinois for that matter. My rage and snarkiness have outlived their usefulness, and their welcome. It's time to start using the energy I've been wasting on defensive rants for something that's more productive. I'm not sure what that will be. But I know it's time for a change.