Voices: How you address a Christmas card can cause great offence to women

·3-min read
Christmas cards, as with all correspondence, should be addressed to both people in a marriage  (iStock)
Christmas cards, as with all correspondence, should be addressed to both people in a marriage (iStock)

As another Christmas card drops through the letterbox, I should feel joy and warmth that family and friends are thinking of me at this time of year. Instead, as the latest festive greeting lands on my mat, I feel irritated. Looking at the envelope it is addressed to my husband and I using our titles – Mr and Mrs – along with my husband’s first name and our surname. It infuriates me.

I know I should be grateful that someone has taken the trouble to send me a card, but all I want to do is chuck it in the bin in defiance against this sexist, outdated practice of cancelling out women and making us feel that we do not matter.

Long ago, it might have been acceptable to consider the man as the more important in a marriage. Not anymore. I am married, but my husband does not speak on my behalf. I am a person in my own right, with a name of my own that deserves to be on all correspondence addressed to us both.

When I decided, rather reluctantly, to take my husband’s surname, at the time I had no idea of the consequences of this. Perhaps I was naive to assume that I would retain my own identity and that others would still acknowledge me as an individual.

There are, I believe, two types of people who address post to a married couple acknowledging only the man’s name – those who have done this for years and don’t think about the offence it may now cause in more modern times; and those who continue to do it deliberately because they believe that the man is more important.

Most people, I assume fall into the former category of unintentionally causing offence, and simply haven’t ever bothered to consider that it is now old-fashioned and sexist. However, I recently came across an example of the latter – those who do it deliberately – following an appointment with a solicitor, which I had arranged. During the meeting, the solicitor directed all questions to my husband despite the matter affecting us both. Afterwards, he sent a document in the post addressed using my husband’s initial, asking him to approve it. This was despite the appointment being made by me, and the matter affecting us both.

I was fuming. How dare a professional working for a supposedly reputable business fail to acknowledge me in this way. His correspondence and behaviour indicated to me that he believed my husband was more important. In his eyes, I didn’t matter at all; my husband could speak on my behalf and make the all-important decisions.

Addressing post in this way might seem minor to many – an antiquated but harmless tradition. However, to me it represents the entrenched sexist culture still present today. For every letter or card sent by someone failing to realise the offence it may cause, there will be others, like the solicitor, who do it because they truly still believe that men are more important. By allowing it to continue, particularly when it comes to businesses, we are giving a green light to sexism.

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We need to take action to stop this outdated practice and make it unacceptable. But how to do this? I have considered sending back all correspondence inappropriately addressed with “not known at this address” blazoned across the envelope. However, I would never want to cause offence myself to well-meaning friends or relatives sending festive greetings. I thought about sending my own Christmas cards to couples using the woman’s name instead, but concluded that this was too passive aggressive, and not really tackling the problem.

So, instead, I am using my position as a journalist and hoping that the message might reach a few people and encourage them to think twice.

As for the solicitor? I phoned the office to request someone else deal with my work. With hindsight, maybe I would never have taken my husband’s name when we married. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

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