Last Wednesday was a crappy day on many fronts. Work stress, bills to pay, minor but annoying health issues, feeling overwhelmed about my to-do list growing faster than my ability to do, a deep despair over the dawning realization that I’m probably never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.
I stood dithering in my kitchen for a long time, trying to settle on what I could muster the energy to cook. My top go-to comfort food is a grilled cheese sandwich. So I decided to go easy on myself. There are only three of us in the household now, and three grilled cheeses are quickly made with little effort. I would put apple slices and strawberries on the side. Good enough.
Wouldn’t you know, I let myself get distracted when the first sandwich was in the skillet. It burned while I was washing and slicing fruit. When I took it out and saw the charred surface, my automatic first thought was, “I guess that one’s mine.”
It’s been my default setting for years. The other members of the family get the good ones of whatever thing is being distributed. I get the pancake that was put in before the griddle was hot enough and isn’t quite right, the egg with the broken yolk, you get the idea. This isn’t done with resentment, but as a programmed response, like a factory setting for moms and wives. The thing is, nobody in family would ever ask me to do this. It’s all on me, usually done with little thought.
But not this time. I had the thought. I even took one bite of the sandwich. Then I took myself in hand and lectured me, “You deserve a decent sandwich. You were making this as comfort food because you’re sad and angry about misogyny, for pity’s sake! And here you’re willing to cheat yourself because you’ve internalized messages saying you’re always the one who has to sacrifice.”
There have been times in my life when I couldn’t afford to throw out a sandwich, no matter how scorched. But at present, we have achieved a financial level where I can use two extra pieces of bread and a couple more slices of cheese without facing penury and ruin.
It might look like a tiny thing, but fighting my own thoughts about how little I’m allowed to need or want is a big step for me. I threw out the burned sandwich and made a different one for myself, perfectly toasted. It was delicious. And liberating.
This is going to be a departure from my usual “On Today’s Walk” type of post. I want to talk about an under-discussed, quiet and insidious form of discrimination that continues to happen to women, and how I’m discovering that it’s widespread.
On today’s walk, I participated in the local Women’s March. The temperature was bitter cold, so I didn’t take photos. But here are a couple of stories to illustrate some reasons we still need to march in this day and age.
An hour before I left to attend the rally and walk, our mail came. The bank where my husband and I have done business for twenty years is being sold to another bank, and in the mail was a letter about a loan we have, explaining how it will be transferred. Here’s the kicker. The loan is in both of our names, but the letter was addressed solely to my husband. My name appears nowhere in it.
I immediately called customer service to get this straightened out, because this is not my first experience with getting erased from an account. It has led to problems in the past. The customer service worker told me the reason my name isn’t on the letter is because my husband is listed as the primary owner of the loan, something that has never been explained to either of us or agreed to by either of us. In fact, I’m the one who makes sure they get their payment every month, since I handle the finances for the household.
In the politest voice and phrasing I could muster, I insisted my name should be included on all correspondence. (How hard can it be?) The young-sounding woman who was helping me wasn’t sure that could be done. She kept repeating that letters go out in the name of the primary person. I also did the broken record thing, saying I never was told that and never agreed to it, and even if it were the case, my name needs to be on all documents related to the loan. My husband and I both signed the paperwork and took on the liability. And I’m certain, if something happened to my spouse, the bank would suddenly remember me and expect me to keep paying. I courteously stood firm in my request. A manager is supposed to contact me on Tuesday.
Before I ended the call, I said, “If this ever happens to you, please speak up for yourself like I am. Don’t let yourself be erased.” I’m probably the story she’s telling at the dinner table tonight.
Over the thirty-plus years of my marriage, this sort of thing has happened to me more times than I can count. My name gets dropped from accounts, left off of correspondence. It has never happened to my husband. Not once.
A few years back, when we still used a landline phone, I contacted CenturyLink to make some changes in the account and they said I didn’t have permission. This was an account I set up when we first moved to town. I personally was the one to go to the phone company and handle everything to do with creating our account here. I put both of our names on it. But at some point in time, the company decided only one name should be on the account, and removed mine. They removed me from my own account that I set up, and then told me I had to get my husband’s permission to be added back on.
Now my bank has removed my name from correspondence about my own account.
I shared all of this in a facebook post a few hours ago. Since then, I have gotten an outpouring of comments from women saying the same kind of thing has happened to them, and is still happening. A utility company wouldn’t accept a change of address from a woman; they had her husband listed as the account holder, even though — guess what? — she was the one to set up the original account. Another friend had a credit union account in her name, added her husband to it when they got married, and a few years later was denied a car loan from them because she wasn’t listed as the primary account holder. Like with my phone account, nobody could tell her when it was changed or by whom, only that it couldn’t be changed back without her husband’s permission. A woman’s name was left off the title to her house, something she only discovered by accident after a few years, though she was on the hook for the mortgage along with her husband.
One friend direct messaged me because she didn’t want anyone else to see her comment with her name attached to it. She said her now ex-husband was able to get her name removed from their joint bank account when she was leaving an abusive marriage.
As far as I can determine, this is happening repeatedly to wives, and not to one single husband of my acquaintance. It’s the institutional erasure of women.
I want to ask the same thing of all women that I asked of my bank customer service rep. If this happens to you, please don’t accept it without discussion. Please make noise about it. Let’s raise awareness and make it uncomfortable for business and institutions that do this. And seek out better businesses as recipients of our money, if possible.
With the current brouhaha over recordings from a certain candidate, I’m flashing back to memories from my own life, as I’m sure most women are. Here’s a flash memoir.
When I was twenty, I got an office job where I was the only female in the department. Some of the guys engaged in pretty rough talk (though actually not speaking of assault — not to the Donald’s level), but fairly sexist, fairly objectifying. Either they forgot I was there, or didn’t realize I was close enough to overhear sometimes, or they didn’t care. They’d talk about the women in the front office, comparing physical attributes. They’d look out the window and “rate” women passing by on the street.
Not all of the guys, though. One of the younger ones, near my age, didn’t engage in this behavior, ever, and that was easy to notice. If he ever talked about a woman, it was just as a human. I ended up dating him. I met his mom and sister, who were big influences in his life, both of whom he treated with respect. Reader, I married him.