When Sydney-siderGrant Phillipsannounced on Facebook that he’d changed his name to his wife’s after they got married he wasn’t expecting to be turned into an international news headline.
Phillips had thought he was just making a fairly innocuous status update to let his friends know that it was still him, but it prompted a flurry of media attention across the globe, from Ireland to the United States.
Mr and Mrs Phillips on their wedding day. Photo: @storiesbyAsh
And an avalanche of abuse by strangers wishing his violent death.
“Go kill yourself”,wrote one man to Phillips.
Another man was more specific about his hopes for his death. “I hope you and your whore die in a car crash so that your genes don’t continue”.
Others wished infertility on him and his wife. “I hope your wife can’t have kids, that’ll be god’s way of punishing you”.
Phillips and his wife had not planned to make a political statement with their name change decision.
“My wife has no male cousins and is the last in her family’s lineage with the name of Phillips, so it would die out after her”,said Phillips via email. “I was completely taken by surprise that in 2017 this was something that was making noise”.
People like to pretend that the decision to change your name after marriage is a purelypersonal choice — no morecontroversial than, say, the decision to get married in Summer or Spring or in a church or a garden.
But this is only the case if couples make the conventional “choice” and the woman changes her name.
Even if women make the “free” and “personal” choice not to take their husband’s name after marriage, research tells us that this decision affects the couple’s perceived status, withpeople assuming that the man is weak and the woman is a ball-breaker.
If, like Grant Phillips and his wife, couples subvert the convention even further with the man taking the woman’s name, well then they better bunker down for the brutal backlash.
Why would these men — and yes all the abusive messages sent to Phillips were written by men — take time out of their day, and waste the keystrokes and the blood vessels abusing someone they don’t know for doing something that doesn’t affect them?
Because to men who cling to the ideals of toxic masculinity, Phillips decision is a direct attack on their identity as a man. It represents nothing less than an existential threat to the men who have built their identity and self-worth on their relative dominance over women.
Names hold power and when Phillips took his wife’s name he was relinquishing a slice of traditional male power.
Why else would the men ask questions like:”Do you get your period too mate?” and conclude: “Even your Facebook is feminine”.
Men who have been inculcated into a culture of toxic masculinityneed to regularly top up their King Dick Metre, which can only be fuelled by the disempowerment of someone else. And that someone else is very often a woman.
Their feelings of strength only come when someone else is in a position of weakness. They can only feel valid when they are able to invalidate someone else. They only feel like they have won when someone else has lost.
That domination can take many forms, from domestic violence, financial abuse, sexual harassment, the gender pay gap, and yes, the insistence that wives must take their husband’s names.
The good news is that there is a growing number of men who, like Phillips, have rejected the rules of toxic masculinity. They realise that strength isn’t defined by or dependent on dominating others. And they know that taking your wife’s surname can be a form of self-assertion rather than weakness.
If nothing else, the backlash that Phillips experienced in response to his decision is a sign that toxic masculinity is under attack. After all, if our current idea of masculinity is so fragile that it is threatened by what someone else choose to call themselves, then hopefully it won’t be long before the whole thing crumbles under its own toxic mass.
Kasey Edwards is the author ofGuilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind.