What’s In A Name?

by Teresa Coda, HCWC Graduate Intern

As a person both interested in women’s issues and getting married this summer, I have received more questions, opinions, and adverse reactions regarding the name-change-debate than on any other nuptial related topic.  When hearing my plans to hyphenate, friends from my conservative hometown in rural Pennsylvania are shocked.  “You’re not dropping your name in favor of his?!  Don’t you love him?!”  Friends from Harvard are equally shocked.  “You’re hyphenating?!  Well!  Is HE hyphenating?!”

I reacted to the onslaught of opinions by doing some research on name changing practices in heterosexual unions and marriages in the United States. (Unfortunately, there is very little research available on the name-change-debate when considering lesbian and gay couples.  For that reason – and the fact that I need to keep this short – I’m limiting this post to a discussion of name changing in heterosexual couples).

Continue reading “What’s In A Name?”


On language, education and change

By bxk
When running workshops on gender, I often bring up the phrase “language is limited and limiting” as a way of reminding myself and the folks present that words can only go so far in making change happen. I’ve been trying to interrogate my own reliance on a social justice rhetoric (and what “counts” as that), especially after reading this blogpost last year. Here’s a spoken word poem where I think through some of this stuff. It’s still a work in progress, but since it’s meant to be performed, try reading it aloud to yourself. 

We each received a notice in late January:
In an effort to promote the safety and inclusivity of our community,
all words related to diversity education have been banned.
We believe that language of resistance presents an affront to the values of our society.
You have been given a tally. These limits are designed with your personal well being in mind.

And then, beside my name:
Current tally: 23.

It’s been an adjustment. There was a rumor
going around last May, but this is for real.
I’ve found audio trackers everywhere from
my bathroom faucet to the handlebars of my bike.
They’ve got phone lines tapped and
search alerts on Facebook and Google.
If you say any word on their list,
anything to do with social justice (22)
at all, its traced, and your tally drops.
The list of banned words is only getting longer.
Most scholars’ names, important book titles
and identity terms went first.
Then associated verbs and nouns.

It’s hard to know what words you really need to say.
At 62, “problematic” (21) still seems important,
but at 21, not so much. The other day,
my friend pointed out that I was taking up
three seats at the library. She didn’t need to say
“asserting masculinity” (20) for me to realize
my arm extended on the back of her chair,
like the quotes in the feministing (19) article
on misogyny (18) I happened to be reading
when she raised her eyebrows.

On Tuesdays, a group of us get together
to organize. (17) We’re closer to each other now.
I don’t think we knew what we meant by “safe space”
(16) when we were actually able to say it.
I can hear the jargon unraveling from around our sentences,
the spiral of rubber grips unsticking from bicycle handlebars.
Words still gummy, a friend stumbles when asking:

“If we’re complicit (15) in the syst- (14)”

“If our lives don’t match up…
with the values we talk about,
what’s the use of words anyway?”

I understand her more than I ever have.

A few months ago, the loss felt massive.
Some folks on the Internet even tried to rename “privilege”.
(13) They replaced it with something completely random: giraffe.
(12) The trackers caught on, of course, and
National Geographic had to cancel their African safari special.
“Recognizing your giraffe (11) is difficult”?
I can’t say that with a straight face.
Tried it in a Gender 101 (10) workshop,
gave up after the first shot.
I cut the whole vocabulary section altogether.
People don’t need to know how to name things, really,
just gives us an intelligent sounding word
to cover up our bullshit. (9) Come on,
privilege, (7) giraffe, (6) bullshit, (5)
what’s the difference, really?
Riding my bike up Mass Ave, I try whispering a word,
testing how much it makes me ache to lose another.

Queer (4)

I forget how much that word used to mean to me.

Turning down Sacramento St, I grip my handlebars and
pedal hard towards home, leaving my most precious ones to the wind.

Honesty, (2)
Compassion, (1)
Change. (0)
The only sting is cold air on chapped lips.

bxk is an artist whose work puzzles through experiences of gender, race, faith, and queerness; the politics of language; and the complexities of making change happen through art. They are one half of the performance poetry duo About That Elephant. You can find more of their poetry work at and upcoming performances at facebook.com/AboutThatElephant


Gender and Mental Health

By Ella, Women’s Center Intern

As an HCWC intern, I spend much of my time trying to create events to educate others, so it’s always a wonderful surprise when I find myself learning just as much as everyone else in the room. This is exactly what happened during “Healthy Identities: The Intersections of Gender and Mental Health”, a conversation led by Professor Mary Ruggie from the Kennedy School.

Professor Ruggie began the conversation by showing us an image familiar to many of us in the room: a bar graph comparing depression and alcoholism rates by gender. According to this study, men are half as likely to be depressed as women yet almost three times as likely to suffer from alcoholism. This information comes from a government run survey conducted on over 40,000 people. At a first glance, it appeared as though a person’s gender heavily influences what types of mental health disorders ze is susceptible to.

But then Professor Ruggie showed us the depression question on the survey, and asked if we noticed anything. Participants had been asked to check off statements that they felt applied to them, and if they checked of five or more they were considered to be depressed. But we were immediately struck by the gendered nature of these statements. For example, one of them contained the word “pregnant,” which I would imagine makes it very unlikely that a male-identified person would check off that box. Notions of gender were already built into the test itself.


We then looked at the alcoholism questions. According to this test, alcoholism is defined as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion on over five of the past thirty days. But there’s an immediate problem with this definition—men and women process alcohol differently. Five shots to a woman is a lot more alcohol than five shots to a man. So of course it appears as though men have greater alcoholism levels than women.

At a first glance, the survey seemed to confirm our gendered notions of mental health, when in reality the results were skewed by pre-existing gender stereotypes built into the survey itself. Depression and alcoholism are actually highly correlated, and Professor Ruggie suggested that perhaps alcoholism is a socially acceptable way for a man to express depression and visa versa.

As a (sort of) stats major, this event reminded me of how important it is to question where numbers come from. Politicized and gendered assertions can easily pose under the guise of science and objectivity, so it is essential to continue to question our assumptions and keep our minds open and alert.