In a rare, antihistamine-induced lapse of judgment I made the following statement to a person I am not super close with when we were talking about The Last Name Change Debacle: “I die a little inside when one of my friends gets married and changes her name.” What followed is entirely my fault because 1) the person I said it to changed her last name when she got married, albeit she’s of another generation; 2) she doesn’t *quite* appreciate my sarcastic and hyperbolic sense of humor; and 3) I did not say exactly what I meant (it makes me sad that in this day and age it is still socially expected and many women find it easier to just go with the flow than to do something unconventional), but merely summarized it in what I thought was a witty soundbite. Fine. She, naturally, went on the defensive and retorted with, “Well, I don’t judge the personal decisions of others.” Yikes. That escalated quickly.
So there we were, silently sitting with that little nugget hanging in the air like a stale fart. Because I didn’t want to stir the pot further, I bit my tongue when my initial reaction was: “Um, your little passive-aggressive tongue lashing is a judgment of me for being judgmental, but I guess good for you. Don’t strain your arm patting yourself on the back, princess.” The antihistamines saved the day and made me so sleepy I just called it a night before doing any more damage.
When I woke up the next morning I was still pretty pissed, and that surprised me because I can sleep off just about any outrage. Clearly this woman hit a nerve. I know I’m judgmental. I don’t dispute that or deny it or even try to work on it because I think it’s helpful to be judgmental–when I find myself sitting in smug judgment of someone, I use it as an opportunity to look inward and figure out why I think/feel that. I have learned a metric fuck ton of things about myself thanks to being a judgmental bitch. So that wasn’t what bugged me.
What was bugging me, it turns out, is the use of that admonishment in general. I see it a lot in online feminist discourse–women are quick to call each other out in the comment sections of op-eds and articles for judging the choices of others. After all, feminism is about choice and they just made a different choice. No harm, no foul right? Not exactly. I find the “judgment card” generally gets trotted out when women get butthurt about their own personal choices. No matter what an article is about, many dissenting opinions are dismissed as being “judgmental” instead of being addressed for what they usually are: constructive criticism or thoughtful analysis. This defense mechanism typically halts all meaningful conversation in its tracks.
This is not the first time I’ve been accused of being judgmental where the last name thing is concerned, and I think this is because of two things. First, I think many of the women who call me judgmental in this arena are in some way uncomfortable with their decision to take their spouse’s name. I’ve had all kinds of insults lobbed at me for not taking my husband’s last name. Do you know what my response always is? Silence. Maybe a shoulder shrug if I’m feeling feisty. I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks about my choice. If you get all worked up about what someone thinks about your decision, maybe you’re not totally on board yourself and you don’t want to be confronted with that. It’s the same thing with me not wanting kids. I no longer get offended when people say stupid shit to me about how I’ll change my mind or I’ll never know what true love is. I’m at peace with my decision, and your judgment is for you to deal with (see my previous bit about using my judgments to figure out what’s really going on in my brain).
Second, I think it’s a play on female insecurities, not unlike calling a woman a bitch or a slut when you don’t like what she’s doing. Instead of engaging in intelligent discourse, you call her a name with the hope it’ll shut her up. Unfortunately in my situation: it worked and I shut up–but only because I didn’t want the conversation to devolve any further.
I need to just learn my lesson and not discuss The Last Name Change Debacle with people. It rarely ends well for me. The mere fact that I didn’t change mine seems to encourage other women to justify why they did change theirs to me (that’s not an exaggeration; I have had women give me an unprompted laundry list of “reasons” after noticing my name was not the same as my husband’s in a social setting). I don’t give a shit why you changed your name. I really don’t. The bottom line is: I do think a little bit less of you for it, but that’s okay. I’m sure you think a little bit less of me for myriad things I do. We all walk on different paths and it’s cool. You can judge me right back and we can talk about it like educated adults instead of lobbing random labels at each other, hoping the other will forfeit.