On keeping my last name

Romantic love is a luxury of modern times. In the “old days,” marriage was not about love, it was about property exchanges and gain for the men involved in the transaction–the father and the groom. If you happened to also fall in love with your betrothed, you were extremely lucky. In most–but admittedly not all–cases a woman had very little say in who she would marry. Marriage was an invention to legitimize children and determine inheritance. It is only in the modern age that marriage has been strictly about love. To pretend that marriage was a divine transaction given to us by some greater power based on romantic love is to revise history in the context of modern society. Even the Old Testament has stories about women being traded or married off specifically for the advancement or benefit of the male parties.

The reason a woman changed her last name in those days is because she became by law the property of her husband. She left the household of her father–whose property she was deemed previously–and switch owners to her betrothed. As such, she received the last name of her husband to testify to this ownership.

All this said, I have a lot of trouble accepting a tradition that is really handed down to us from a much darker time for womankind. I realize another thing we’ve rewritten through time is what it means to change your last name, which is why I did it the first time I got married, and that is it symbolizes the two in love becoming one–a team. I accept this as a better interpretation of the tradition. But why does it always have to be the woman who changes her name? Why can’t men step up and offer to take the woman’s name?

Oh, to ask a man to do this illicits such furious fights. Stammerings of, “But, but, but this is my identity!!” (I’ve only had one boyfriend who offered to take my name if we got married. And I’m not sure if he was joking or not.)

Bingo. And you think I want to lose my identity, the name I’ve kept for 34 years (minus the few years I had my late husband’s last name until I changed it back in 2005)? I’ve been an E longer than I’ve been an F; I am comfortable with myself as an E. I’m proud to be an E because the E’s loved me and supported me throughout all the tumultuous days of my grieving. Where were the F’s in all this struggle? They were busy fighting over who knew Mike more and who deserved what he left behind more than his wife who he only knew for a pittance of three years.

I believe that your blood family is the only family who truly loves you, even if they don’t always show it. In my husband’s death, I learned the value of family and I appreciate my own much more than I ever did. I was stupid to believe that my in-laws could possibly love me as much as the mother who bore me for nine months and the father who worked to put food in our mouths throughout my childhood. I earned my last name. I earned it through pain and tears and grieving. The Es will have my back forever, whether they like it or not, because they are stuck with me. In-laws and other people have the option to move about freely–their only connection to you is through their own child so when that’s gone, they have the ability to break the bonds of the so-called marriage family.

It’s not just the anger, though, from being rejected by my in-laws that spurs my desire to hang onto my last name. I went through a metamorphosis of sorts when my husband died. In those years that I clung to his last name as though keeping it would somehow bring him back, I struggled with a very real crisis of identity. Who was this Heidi F person? Suddenly the F name just sounded so foreign. I had to explain myself to people who had known me as Heidi E but had missed the whole short episode of marriage that I had. It seemed to come up all the time. A big bomb dropper: “Well, yeah, I got married. But he died.” Not something you want to bring up in pleasant conversation.

As the Fs went further and further away, I was alone in an island of F-dom. I had changed my name for the love of my husband, but now he was gone. The team that was F to me was no longer a team, just a single player alone, staring at the empty soccer field of life on which the team once did battle. But E; E meant something to me. It was the name I wanted to publish under. It was the name I first learned to say and spell in kindergarten. It was ME–who I was, who I am, who I’d grow into. I changed my name back and vowed to never change it again.

But why is it that men can’t seem to see the connection between the identity attached to their own name and the one attached to a woman’s? Was I supposed to grow up expecting that my last name was not permanent? That I was supposed to “lose myself” as an individual proverbially in my marriage? If you truly believe that marriage is about creating a team, and that team has to extend to the changing of last names, then why not both people make up a name they can share together? Isn’t that a better symbol of the new symbiotic entity created in the marriage? Or take each other’s last names and hyphenate as I’ve seen friends do. (Often homosexual couples will also do this to symbolize their union.)

Why do so many men in our society have such a problem with changing their last names, but they expected it unquestioningly from their spouses? How fair is that?

Traditions need to be questioned. I’ve always questioned traditions because they don’t always make sense. It’s not enough for me to do something just because tradition dictates–I need to know the why, where, and how about the tradition. Sometimes it seems to me that we continue to participate in a tradition simply because “that’s the way it’s always been.” That’s not a good enough reason for me. Sometimes traditions, such as the woman changing her last name, are grounded in a negative historical context. I think we should discontinue practicing a tradition when we don’t agree with the basis on which it was founded. This is the modern era, afterall, and women are independant, capable of achieving their own places to live, their own sources of income, and chosing whom to marry. Traditions should bend to accommodate the change of times.

Whether or not to change your last name is purely up to the woman and/or the couple involved. I’m not advocating forcing my break with tradition on everyone else; some women aren’t attached to their names at all and feel totally okay about a name change. I’m just trying to justify here why I think it’s okay for women to decide not to change their name or, at the very least, why I would chose to not change my name should I ever get married again. I like myself as Heidi E. I’ve established a career under my current last name. It was the name my parents chose for me. I want to keep it. I don’t plan to have any children, so there’s no quandary here over whose last name the children get. (Though, I’ve always said that if I did have kids, they could take the father’s last name for ease of use; I don’t particularly care about passing my last name down to future generations. That’s my brother’s job anyway.)

More bad television commericals

I’m really sick of the commercial for McDonald’s where the two guys are sitting in the coffee shop reading when the one says to the other, “You know, McDonald’s is serving cappuccinos now.” And then the guys devolve into all the grunting male Neanderthal stereotypes that are supposed to make us women swoon–t-shirts, no glasses, football. General anti-intellectualism. Yep, that’s what I surely want for mate: a man who sits around watching football, belching and high-fiving his buddy after each touch down. Yay.

This commercial makes me mad because it suggests that guys who read or participate in poetry or literature are something less than a man. Personally, I’d pick a guy sitting at a coffee shop reading a book over a football-watching, beer drinking guy. I love baseball, but if I had to pick between an intellectual man writing or reading poetry and a baseball-obsessed guy, I’d go for the poet. But I’m not all that attracted to our society’s stereotype of the “manly man.” I love emotional and sensitive men who don’t feel that these qualities compromise his masculinity. Just as a woman can embrace the traditionally male qualities in herself without compromising her feminine side, a man can exude manliness and sensitivity.

I’ve never been one of those girls to date a guy who is really bad for me. I’d like to say that every man I’ve ever dated has had a sensitive side to him and that was the side I liked the best. I’m just not into all that macho crap other girls seem to be attracted to. Male chauvinism is a total turn off to me. I expect to be treated with dignity and respect and I will return the same. I don’t know how I know how to pick men, maybe I’ve just been lucky. But I’ve never allowed myself to get into a relationship with a scum bag. Nice guys complain all the time that only the bad guys get the girl, but I can never understand this statement because I’ve never had a desire to date a bad guy. I refuse to think I’m the only girl out there who seeks the sensitive male.

In the commercial, incidentally, I think the guy with the glasses is the cutest. He can keep those glasses. I just wish he’d kept the sweater on–it looked way better on him than his t-shirt. He looks like the kind of nerdy guy I’d go for. I have trouble believing, as a viewer, that his character is the typical football obsessed male. His friend, on the other hand, seems like the typical jerk every nice guy seems to have as a friend.

I don’t know. The commercial just really irritates me, much like those stupid Jared commercials I bitched about last year. I hate how the marketing capitalizes on this insipid popularized image of how society is “supposed” to be. It’s some backward view of gender roles and gender expectations that still seems to be stuck somewhere in the 1950s. This is the 21st century; surely we can invent new societal expectations for ourselves. Preferably a modern one.

In search of the Liberated Man…

It’s the year 2008. Most girls go to college. Some girls grow up to be physicists, lawyers, doctors, politicians. Some girls want careers; others want to be moms; some want both. This period in the history of western civilization has been one of the best for a woman to live in, given all of the choices she has that were, just mere decades ago, not even open to her. Equality can only get better. The march moves onward.

Yet, despite all the changes in gender equality, one thing remains always the same: the male ego.I came to this conclusion after an email discussion with a liberal guy friend of mine. I mention that he’s liberal because I usually give liberal men the benefit of the doubt. I mean, many of the issues the liberals support are truly feminist causes–pro-choice, equal wages, gender equality. Many liberals are also atheist or agnostic, not pinned into gender roles specified in the Bible. So, I guess, I just assume all liberal men have had the Neanderthal loved out of them by important women in their lives who have raised them to be more than the “manly man.” (As opposed to my stereotype of the Bible-thumping, country-loving, traditionalist conservative.)

Well, I learned once again what happens when one ASSumes. My liberal guy friend, in a discussion about the types of qualities we look for in a potential mate, explained to me that he wanted a “professional” woman but not someone who made more money than him. He said he had “traditional values” and that some part of him felt it was right that the man be the breadwinner of the marriage. Now, this is a guy who does not want children. So why the heck, I ask you, should it matter if the woman makes more money than he does? And, look at the duality of his request: he wants a professional woman–which he later defined as a career-minded woman who had a better job than, say, working at a pagoda in the mall–and yet, at the same time, she can’t make more money than him.

Um. Hello?

Good luck, dude, in finding that nice balance between a career-minded woman with the lower salary. I mean, heaven forbid she actually rise in rank as she works her way through the male-dominated business world and, during the course of your relationship, ends up pulling in a higher salary. Then, what? Are you going to have to elevate your skills, climb the corporate ladder yourself, to ensure you always stay one step ahead of her? How mature!

I just don’t get where these ideas come from. I mean, geesh. Is there some deep seeded need in a man to take care of a woman? Even when she doesn’t need to be taken care of? It makes me sick to my stomach to consider this entire cycle of logic. It makes me wonder how many guys out there with whom I interact on a daily basis have a Neanderthal living just beneath the surface of their skin… Do they think less of me because I have boobs and a vagina? Is that all I’m good for to them, a pretty little sex toy to be bought and shown off to impress the other Neanderthals?

I totally reject and disdain the “manly man.” It is utterly ridiculous to me, in this day and age when people are getting married much later in life and, thus after establishing themselves, for a guy to assume this age-old protector role in a relationship. Haven’t we gotten past this cave man mentality yet? If I was perfectly fine in my life–safe and all–before I got involved in the relationship, I sure don’t need a man to keep me safe in his cave while he brings the food and the money for the household. I’m independent, I can hunter-gather all on my own.

A good relationship is based on a 50/50 share of responsibilities. It’s like the yin and the yang of Zen Buddhism: you are weak where he is strong, you are strong where he is weak, and the two of you use your applied skills to battle the downs and sail the ups of life together. It shouldn’t matter who makes more money in the relationship because all the money is going to the same place. The woman should be proud if her husband makes a good living; likewise, the man should be proud if his wife is the one bringing in the higher income. It’s a team effort here, not a competition.

Any man who derives his identity and sense of self-worth from his ability to bring home the prize bacon in his household is, to me, pathetic. This is the new millennium. Men can also hold their heads high in choosing to be house husbands. I praise any man who gives up his career to raise the children, as I would any woman who would make such a choice. I, too, am a traditionalist in that I think someone should stay home to raise the kids full time, at least in their crucial first years. This society has suffered greatly from the lack of input from the father in child-rearing (which fortunately was not the case in my upbringing). Do we really want to continue the traditional role where the father remains aloof in the child-rearing process–the “Cat’s in the Cradle” mentality that turns out children who as adults yearn for a relationship with their father?

It irks me endlessly that men have no problem taking part in the process to make a baby, but then, when it comes to child rearing, they like to back off with their hands in the air, saying, “Well, you women are better at nurturing than we are.”

Bull pucky! The reason men are not innately better at nurturing is because society has supported this “manly man” image and the “manly man” image dictates that showing too much affection for a child is not manly. A man is just as capable as a woman in providing care for a child and the child will still turn out “normal.” Any suggestion otherwise is strictly environment over chemical wiring. I think society’s voice is louder than any chemical/genetic wiring as far as the gender roles are concerned.

It must be really hard to be a man. Men seem constantly ready to produce proof against other men that suggests that they are less manly. To live up to this “manly man” ideal against all your male peers and family members must be a tremendous burden. I can at least be thankful that women do not seem to carry so much of an image burden, except perhaps, when we have to deal with the “too butchy” versus “high maintenance” contradictions. In my experience, I’ve felt pressure to balance myself between being down to earth enough that I enjoy getting my hands dirty with the guys, but still having to be feminine enough to look pretty and presentable in society. Some guys call this “being a lady.”

For the most part in my life, I’ve avoided allowing myself to be defined either way. I am admittedly a tomboy, certainly a feminist, and I do like to get my hands dirty. In fact, I’m more comfortable drinking beer around the campfire than I am attending some formal event in a gown and makeup. I do don makeup once in awhile and I enjoy wearing nice clothes to work or other events, but on an every day basis I prefer to not wear makeup (and I mostly don’t because I will end up rubbing it off, even at my desk job, because I have a habit of rubbing my eyes and face when I’m thinking). I used to try to look nice to impress, but now I generally think, “This is how I am, like it or leave it, because I will not change myself to please anyone else.”

So when I come up against the male ego and all of its required goading, I just get annoyed. Why can’t the male ego adjust itself to this brave new world? What is it about the male ego that demands so much power over everything else? Why do men feel this need to protect and covet their lovers like a possession? And, lastly, why do men buckle when it is suggested by another man that something they are doing is not manly? Why can’t they just say, “Hey. I know my wife makes more money than me and I’m damned proud of her accomplishments.” Why would anything any other man says to you affect how you choose to live your life?I like a man who doesn’t need to prove himself or his sexuality because he knows who and what he is. My husband and I used to call this new creature the Liberated Man. (Maybe that’s why I assumed all liberals were not Neanderthals.)

A landmark year

On my way home from work yesterday, I was listening to a speech from Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate selection, on NPR. Politics aside, here is a woman who sounded intelligent, articulate, and interesting. Finally, the kind of ground level feminist America’s been waiting for. She worked her way from the bottom in a man’s world, starting with just trying to change her community… And she found herself ascending up the next wrung in the political ladder. (If the media has not exaggerated her story.)

I said politics aside. Before you start firing off comments and email messages containing links showing all her connections to Big Oil and whatever other unliberal agendas the internet has managed to scrounge up in the last 48 hours (including an interesting scandal I heard on NPR about how twenty-four hours before her nomination as running mate was announced, someone went through and changed all her wickipedia entries to sound more favorable), I realize she’s Republican. I have not lost sight of my ideals and I’m not going to cross to the Other Side to vote for McCain just because he has a female running mate. Trust me.

I’m just saying that the thought occurred to me yesterday that this is truly a landmark year. Come November, we’re going to see a first of somekind: Either the first African-American president or the first lady VP. Plain and simple. Have you stopped to think about the absolute awesomeness of this moment? A barrier is about to be broken, either for African-Americans or for women in an institution that has, since its inception, been a completely “white male” only club! Please do not ignore the fact that we, as a nation, may be finally growing up!

Actual ballet considerations aside, we also cannot overlook at all what has happened in this election series. I may not like Hillary Rodham Clinton all that much, I may denounce as a feminist role model, but I cannot overlook the fact that she was, at one point, a very serious presidential contender. We almost, quite possibly, could have had a female president. Now, we’ve got a female vice presidential nominee and no one is batting an eye. Welcome to politics in the world of 2008. Even though I’m pretty sure McCain took on a female VP to try to sway some of the jilted Hillary supporters to his side (since he is known as the “maverick” Republican–thanks, Michael, for the wording), I still feel overwhelmed by the urge to kiss him.

Okay, maybe not.

It gives me chills. I don’t care what the strategic reasoning for any of it is. We have turned a new, positive chapter in our history and I am proud–really, really proud–of my country for the first time in my life (and I had no objection to Michelle Obama’s mirror statement to that). Yeah. Go figure. I’m such a skeptic, such a nitpicker; too much of a display of patriotism inevitably makes me squirm (I used to openly mock the Lee Greenwood song, “I’m Proud to be an American”).

You know why this is so great? Because regardless of who wins this election, it paves a the way for more African-Americans and women and people of minority to enter the world of politics with the belief that they can make it all the way to the top (provided they’ve got the income to support it because, let’s face it, folks, you have to have some serious dough to run for president anymore). And it should be that way, dammit, in the Land of the Free, the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Plenty. We are finally practicing what we are preaching: If you have the will, you can find a way to the top and you can make a difference.

Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away. I’m just so excited. I don’t care at this moment what anyone’s politics are… I know, I know, I should because I’m not voting for Barrack Obama because he’s black… I’m voting for him because of my own ethics and morals and values that lead me to that choice. I’m not voting for McCain because Palin’s on the ticket. And you should be happy that for me it’s still about the issues… and the best person for the job (in my humble opinion) just happens to be African-American.

I’m filled with hope that we’re coming to a time when a person’s gender or race or–God, I hope some day this comes true–sexuality plays a role in their ability to do a job. I am filled with hope that we’ve reached a time when people can begin to look beyond a person’s exterior to view the candidates by their own merit. It’s a small step, true, but it’s a step nonetheless and I will not overlook the greatness of this moment.

Now. All we need next is an openly gay Jewish man with a life partner and three adopted children to be a serious president candidate… ;)

Boobs and Wardrobe Malfunctions

As the Super Bowl Sunday approaches, the memory of about the now almost four year old incident with Janet Jackson and the “wardrobe malfunction” has once again been resurrected. WNIR’s morning squirrel cage is jokingly contemplating if Tom Petty will have a wardrobe malfunction, which, frankly, I wouldn’t mind in the least–that’s one hot, older-than-my-dad man! If a piece of strategically-placed fabric around the loin region just happened to fall off during a rendition of “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” I can’t say with any honesty that I’d close my eyes. Especially if he’s wearing that awesome Alice in Wonderland top hat he wore in the video.

As is tradition now every year around Super Bowl time, Janet Jackson’s public faux pas/error in judgment is the topic of conversation as Americans struggle to deny that they were affected by the surprise appearance of–gasp of gasps–a female breast! Oh my goodness, what a fretful thing! Hide the children’s eyes, purse my lips in disgust like an old church lady. Heaven forbid my children or my husband/boyfriend/significant other witness nakedness openly on the public network. They’ll be scarred for life!

This Puritan attitude about nudity has always been one of my big pet peeves with my fellow Americans. I think we’re the most uptight culture when it comes to nudity and sexuality and, as a woman, I find it particularly hard to stomach. Why should I be made to feel guilty about my own body parts? After all, we don’t come into this world clothed.

In this Puritanical society of ours, women are expected to behave as though they are indifferent to sex. Well, that is, the type of woman a man would want to take home to his parents and marry; women who express their sexual natures are labeled “slut” and “loose,” often times very unfairly. In trying to figure out just what a man wants in a mate, a woman is constantly stuck between the images of being the “vixen” or the “good girl.” I suppose you can have both, but your public image must always be “the good girl” while you’re the “vixen” in bed.

Yet men never have to live this double life. Men are granted the right to be sexual beings publicly and, in fact, are encouraged to do so, for if they are not outright sexual, they are labeled “gay” or “sissy.” Gay is the favorite emasculating insult among heterosexual males for some reason, even though most of the gay men I’ve ever known are just as upfront with their maleness and sexuality as any heterosexual male I know. (I won’t even go into how discriminating it is to use one minority group’s sexual orientation as a cut-down. I look forward to the day that “gay” is not used to insult a heterosexual male who fails to meet the cultural “male standard.”)

Men are allowed a lot of social levity. They can belch, fart, and make disgusting noises with their armpits in public without a single raised eyebrow directed their way. If a woman does one of these things, noses wrinkle and mutters of “rude” are whispered by indignant men. I was once chastised as a camp counselor for teaching my female campers to force burps using “bug juice” (a famous camping concoction, brown in color, that doesn’t taste particularly like much of anything except sugar). I had a rule that there were no ladies around a campfire. The camp directors didn’t really care much for that one. They said, “We’re trying to teach them to be ladies.” It was a Christian camp, so I’m guessing that nice Christian ladies don’t burp. I suppose we’re just supposed to blow up under the stress of an unreleased build-up of gas.

At the same time that our society administers these rules of sexual behavior, we publicly try to create an almost Victorian attitude that sexuality is of the baser nature and it is sinful. Therefore, just the suggestion of nudity or sexuality in public causes lips to pucker. I never fully understood the whole Janet Jackson debacle and why it caused such the controversy it did. I, too, was enraged by the incident but not for the same reason as the rest of the American public; I was upset that everyone had made such a big deal about a boob.

A boob, folks, is the derogatory term for the organ a female mammal uses to feed her young. Has that been forgotten in this world of formula and baby bottles? I’m reminded of all those cases, the big stink, that went on a few years ago over the “lewd act” of women breast-feeding in public. Let me say this again: The lewd act of a woman breast-feeding in public. Breast-feeding is the most nonsexual function of a breast. I wonder if the problem is as simple as the men in our society being secretly jealous of the baby’s right to suckle openly the breast men covet so highly. The act of breast feeding is not supposed to be titillating (no pun intended); it’s a function of child-rearing. Once the process of breast feeding has begun, I’m told that it’s very difficult for a woman to break her schedule. I’ve never gone through it, so I can’t say so myself, but the way I understand it is that it’s kind of painful or frustrating to not release the milk. Not to mention the baby’s demands for food. Should women perhaps be locked up at home throughout the duration of their baby’s breast feeding needs? Should we return to the days suggested in the Bible, when women were cast away from everyone else once a month during their natural, feminine cycle? Why is everyone so uncomfortable about womanhood?

I suppose prude behavior is not restricted solely to the American culture. In my tour of the Vatican this past summer, I was appalled that the boobs and genitalia on most of the naked statues were covered by special bronze leaves, like the fig leaves that cover the same features of every artistic depiction of Adam and Eve I’ve ever seen. I want to hate religion sometimes for its suggestion that nakedness is sinful, that the very bodies with which we were endowed are something we should feel ashamed about. I’m not advocating public nudity–there’s a time and place for everything–but in our works of art that celebrate the lovely human form, can we not by-pass our prudishness and just bask in the beauty of the features that make us unique as a race and, individually, as both our genders? Can we not appreciate that the human form–both male and female–has physical attributes that rightly we find attractive and that feeling this attractiveness is not a bad thing?

I guess the major objection to the Janet Jackson debacle was the fact that kids may have seen The Boob and that they were somehow scarred or wounded by the viewing. This is the part of the whole incident that infuriates me. What is so shameful in a child seeing a boob? I’ve known about boobs since I became aware of the world around me. As a child, it’s hard not to notice this obvious difference between yourself and your mother. I was raised in an open environment in which my questions about sexuality were not stifled to be discussed on another day when I was “old enough to understand.” My mom always answered my questions with replies she thought I could handle at the moment. My sexuality was never a mystery to me. For as long as I remember, I knew I was going to grow up and develop my own boobs and that someday, too, I’d have a monthly cycle called a “period.” My mom didn’t want any surprises. As far as I can see, this early exposure to my sexuality did not corrupt me (unless you consider my emergence as a liberal feminist as one of the ill-effects of my upbringing). A society that makes taboo the discussion of sexuality and our own bodies breeds teen pregnancy and irresponsible sexual promiscuity.

I know you’re out there saying, “Yes, but there is too much nudity on television and what kind of message does this send my kids?”

Let’s put this in perspective: It was a boob. A harmless, two-second exposure that I regretfully missed as I watched the Super Bowl on a television across the bar at an Old Chicago restaurant in Colorado. We are not talking here of two people going at it with skin-on-skin, close-up action. A boob is about as harmless as seeing butt cheeks. For some reason, butt cheeks are socially acceptable, as long as they are a man’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candid two-second shot of a woman below the waist on regular television channels, even for something as “harmless” as a butt.

Yes, it was a shameless publicity act, undoubtedly planned by Ms. Jackson to shock. It seems to have worked, for here we are, four years later, still talking about it. So you have to hand it to her for understanding fully the prudishness of the American audience whom she must have known could not handle the shock of a boob. Perhaps she’s a media genius. Her boob spot has hoisted her dwindling music career and kept her as a talking point, at the very least, once a year for perhaps the next ten years. I wonder if this is an incident of pop culture I’ll have to relate fondly to my nieces and nephews someday. To miss it might be like missing out on a major event, like when the Challenger blew up or the day of that Ohio earthquake in January 1986 (a few weeks after).

“Where were you when the boob was exposed?” my young, impressionable nieces and nephews will ask.

“Yes,” I will tell them. “I was alive when the world saw Janet Jackson’s boob.”

I’ll have to change my story to impress them and say that I actually saw it. Who wants to admit to missing out on an incident that caused so much controversy? I did, however, get glimpses of The Boob in internet news rooms later. I wasn’t impressed.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…?

This is the time of year when you become inundated with commercials, backed by a popular Christmas carol (it’s particularly ironic when it’s a religious one), suggesting that the only way to your [insert: significant other/spouse/child/friend/cousin/dog]’s heart is through the wise purchase of a specific product. As if your unconditional love is actually conditionally attributed to the types — and price, especially if it’s expensive — of your material gift.

In a particularly irritating ad running locally, a jewelry company tries to convince you that expensive jewelry will earn you the “husband of the year” award not only with your wife, but also all her jealous and gold-digging friends. The plot of this Christmas gift-giving unfolds as you listen in on the conversations between a wife and her female friend and a husband and his male friend. This commercial hits all the stereotypical comments about male and female relations:

1. Men are clueless when Christmas shopping and especially inept when it comes to their wives (who are supposed to be the person on the planet to whom they are closest!).

2. Women love diamonds or expensive jewelry so you must get some for her so that she can be the envy of all her friends.

3. A man’s worth as a husband is based on his financial status and ability to decorate his woman in sparkly jewelry.

4. Women talk a lot and gossip and it’s annoying.

In the first bit of dialog, we hear a man talking to another man, the sound of bowling balls crashing in the background to let you know that these men are talking amidst their man’s night out together because obviously bowling is a man’s activity (forget that I bowled every Sunday for an entire year with my best friend when she lived in Cleveland and played on a bowling league… and it was our girl’s night out activity). I can almost hear Tim Allen grunting in the background as the guy in the commercial brags about how he presented his gift to his wife and she was “speechless.”

“Laura? Speechless?” remarks the man in exaggerated disbelief.

Both men chuckle. Yes, Laura was speechless. A woman, speechless, of all things. Remarkable. Ha, ha, we get it. Because, you know, all women yack endlessly and must be tuned out when they do so.

The second bit of dialog takes Laura’s perspective as she — yes, of course — yacks to her friend. Because, hell, that’s what women do, you know. They get in groups and talk to their female friends about their relationships. It’s just like Sex and the City. We enjoy long conversations in which we emasculate our men and giggle about it.

“I was speechless,” seconds Laura, confirming her own inability to talk when usually words just flow from her flapping, yacking mouth.

Both dialogs go on to explain that husband Brian was told to shop at this particular jewelry store by his father who — ha, ha — was told by his mother where he should shop for his wife’s gift. Because all women want the same thing, of course, and the mother-in-law knows best. I have to hold myself back here because I could see my own gold digging mother-in-law making such a request for jewelry, but for herself and not me. (She did once ask us for money, but I digress.)

Anyway, the irking suggestion here is that husband Brian does not know his wife enough to buy her a suitable gift. Diamond or no diamond, Brian should know what his wife wants for Christmas without the help of his mom. Man, when I used to Christmas shop for Mike, there was no end to the number of things I ran into that I thought, “Wow, that’s perfect!” The more you know someone, the easier they are to shop for. Geesh, I’ve dated guys I’ve known less well and I still knew what to buy them for Christmas or their birthday. You kind of get to know someone the more time you spend with them. This bit of dialog perpetuates the myth that men and women are totally incapable of understanding and knowing each other even when they’re living with each other.

The best, most romantic present I ever got from my husband was a Swiss Army pocket knife. Seriously. I wanted a Swiss Army knife so badly because they come in handy in just about any situation. Back in those pre-911 days, I could still carry one in my purse without getting frisked at the airport, so it was ideal. In addition to the standard knife, mine had folding scissors, a can opener, a screw driver (this has been oh-so handy), tooth pick, and tweezers. Yes, tweezers! My husband knew this to be the perfect gift for our first Christmas we spent together because he knew me. Much cheaper than some piece of jewelry I’m likely to lose.

Okay, I’m not saying it’s bad if you enjoy the glitz of expensive jewelry. Personally, I’d rather just continue to buy my costume jewelry because when I lose an earring, as I’m wont to do, I don’t feel as though I’ve just thrown away some perfectly good money. The last expensive piece of jewelry I owned was a pair of opal earrings in gold mountings that my grandma H gave me for Christmas one year. She had taken my great grandmother’s necklace and had all the opals mounted in earrings for her daughters and older granddaughters. I had them for several years, but lost them sometime in early 2000. I must have left them in when I went to bed or something because I haven’t a clue where they went. Because they also meant as an heirloom, I felt especially bad that I lost them. I guess I just shouldn’t wear expensive jewelry — just keep it in my jewelry box like my engagement ring so that it never gets lost.

These commercials also suggest the process of buying someone a nice gift is tedious. I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas shopping. I can barely contain my glee when I’ve managed to find what I think is the perfect gift for someone I care about. I look forward to my friends and family opening their gifts more than I look forward to receiving gifts myself. That’s the true spirit of Christmas. “It’s better to give than to receive” makes more sense as an adult than it does when you’re a selfish child. Maybe with all my philanthropic donations to charity have helped cultivate an appreciation of the positivity you get back when you selflessly give without the expectation of return.

I’m afraid these commercials tell men all women want jewelry. I know that the objective of the ad is to target men into buying expensive jewelry from the particular jeweler… but, still, couldn’t they do it in a less patronizing way? I think it’s insulting to suggest, as these commercials do, that men are stupid and oblivious to their wives’ desires; and it’s equally as insulting to insert any other 1950’s stereotype about women. Some of us would find skis or a bike seat a more suitable — not to mention useful — gift than jewelry.

When I was married, I always tried to break these stereotypes because they’re just dumb. When I found myself stuck in a gaggle of women complaining about their husbands, I would just smile and say, “You know, my husband’s great to live with.” Of course, that caused a bunch of smirks and comments about “the honeymoon stage.” Still, you have to ask yourself when we’re going to get beyond these ideas of how we think we should act around everyone else in regards to our marriages/relationships. If you’re expecting your partner to be unresponsive and completely inept at understanding you, then when you’re in an unsatisfactory relationship, you’ll just think it’s par for the course. Instead of looking for the person who fulfills your needs as you would like, you’ll settle for a sub par person who only partially meets them. This may eventually lead to a divorce when you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person who is not attentive to you. It takes the communication, trust, commitment, and selfless love and sharing of both people in the marriage to make it work.

This may be a simplistic way of looking at a larger social problem. I just get tired of commercials — and television shows, too — that perpetuate antiquated stereotypical ideas about relationships. I think feeding into the stereotype without trying to change it is half the problem. Couldn’t we suggest instead a loving relationship? Here would be my commercial:

Laura: Oh my God, Brian! It’s just what I didn’t know I wanted!
Brian: But I knew because you’re my wife, my best friend, the one person on the planet I know best. I didn’t even need to ask my mom what I should get you.

Okay, you can see why I don’t write marketing copy…