You've Got a Girl's Name! Ha-ha! by Dana Williams


One of the best things my parents unwittingly did for me was to name me “Dana”. My name is as much a part of me now as my body shape, my height, or the glasses that rest on my nose. Being “Dana” has given me considerable insights into how people approach gender relations and how men in particular deal with perceived threats to their masculinity. Unfortunately, I didn’t always have such a great outlook on my label in life.

During kindergarten and first grade I was well liked (or so I thought) and didn’t even think my name was an issue. Before I started second grade, my family moved. All of a sudden boys in my new school were asking me, why did I have a “girl’s name”? I never had thought of it in those terms before, but like any boy growing up in our patriarchal society, I instantly realized that it must be bad — very bad — for a boy to have a girl’s name. It meant I was weak, confused, un-masculine, and (worst of all) homosexual. My mission for my entire grade school career was to fit in, and being labeled as a “faggot” (whatever that was...) definitely didn’t allow me to fit in.

Somehow I found small ways to resist. But, overall it was too much to bear. Sometime before entering junior high I told my parents that I hated being called “Dana”, and that kids were continually teasing me and embarrassing me over it. Being called “girly-man”, “queer”, and scores of other not-so-subtle insults had taken their toll on me. I cried (a very “girly” thing for a boy to do) when I had told them this, and my parents felt sorry for me. They asked me if I’d like to change it. My mother became sad and told me she was sorry that all this had happened and that she didn’t intend for me to be persecuted by my peers day-in-and-day-out simply because of an innocent decision of their’s.

I ended up not changing my name. I began to think of people calling me by other names, like Peter, Sam, and so forth, and it didn’t seem right. I’d lived my whole life being “Dana”, and it seemed as if I would lose part of my identity and who I was by changing it. And, in a way, it would also mean that all those teasing boys would have won.

So, I plowed on ahead. By junior high I was frequently receiving unsolicited mail from teen girl magazines, offering free issues. I remember writing a letter back to Mademoiselle (using their free business reply mail — still a favorite activity of mine), telling them that in no uncertain terms was I “Ms. Dana Williams”. How dare they make assumptions like that? It was right here in the “Baby Names” book my parents had: Dana appeared in the boy’s section, and not the girl’s! What more proof did they want? Leave me alone! I felt further harassed when a small box arrived in the mail for Ms. Williams bearing the label “Female Cleanliness Products”. Embarrassed once again, I gave the package to my mom.

Looking back, I wish I had responded to these corporate assumptions and invasions of my life with a different attitude. The same societal confusion about my gender that sent me copies of Seventeen was sending Sports Illustrated to my male classmates. So, instead of replying in anger to Mademoiselle for assuming I was female, I would now challenge them for indoctrinating girls into artificially constructed interpretations of “beauty” that scar girls in the same ways that emphasizing guns, aggression, and machismo scar boys. Women suffer from anorexia and bulimia, drown themselves in makeup, and diet themselves within inches of death for the same reason that men repeatedly get into fights, beat women, lift weights till they pull muscles, and are homophobic beyond comprehension: patriarchy tells us to be this way.

Patriarchy wants a fragmented society, where there is no equality between genders — it relies upon the unappreciated work of women in the home (and sweatshops around the world). Patriarchy wants men to self-check themselves by punishing gender deviation in other men — be they gay, non-violent, or simply advocates for women. And patriarchy wants both genders to be fundamentally ill-at-ease with each other, so that we clumsily and dangerously cater to the perceived desires of the other: women starve, paint, and surgically alter themselves for men, while men grunt, “work hard”, and act strong/macho for women.

Capitalism, too, loves this early indoctrination of kids. Think of how much money corporations have made from the cure-alls to our insecurities: hotrod cars, toupees, alcohol, porno magazines, high-heels, makeup, and diet programs. Capitalism trains us to put up with crap that we don’t like, play by the rules, salute the flag, go to war (or stay at home and hope for your husband’s safe return), and go to work everyday on time without self-respect.

Later, after America had successfully determined my sex, I found myself recipient of three positive indicators of my gender on my 18th birthday: a free can of shaving gel from Gillette, an offer to join the NRA, and my Selective Service card (actually this one came earlier — but it was due within months of my 18th birthday). It’s unsurprising that the legal transition of boy into man in our society is represented by his ability to shave, his right to own a gun, and his “duty” to shoot that gun at brown-skinned humans. The army would even take a kid named “Dana” if he’d be willing to follow orders.

Nowadays, I don’t even blink when I tell someone my name. Every so often, I get kind of a weird look, as if they hadn’t quite heard me right. I’ll patiently repeat it for them, knowing that they’ll eventually just accept it. Then again, I’ve known people whom even a year after meeting me will still think my name is “Dan”, and that I inflect some weird accent only when saying my own name. Go figure.

Growing up how I did makes me feel like I can better appreciate the continual harassment women face, especially as they grow up and want more freedom, freedom which society is unwilling to give. Of course I never faced harassment on the level of what women do daily (a man in American named “Dana” still has overwhelmingly more privilege than a woman with any name does), but somehow those experiences forced me to view things from a different perspective. I made myself ask: what is so wrong with girls? why would it be a horrible tragedy if I was one? why would it matter if I was gay? what’s the big deal?

I figured that the hostility to such ideas is the natural response of a system based upon conformity to oppression — the oppression of women, but also the self-repression of men. I think that we men are also limited and dehumanized by patriarchy and that it ruins our lives in ways similar (yet not as extreme and devastating) to how it maims women’s lives. Men who challenge gender deviation from other men are fearful of losing their cherished purpose (and position of power) in life. If men were raised in the belief that societal well-being, mutual aid, compassion, and humility (as opposed to brash individualism, winner-takes-all jingoism, and a fuck-you-I’ll-kick-your-ass-if-you-say-that-again mentality), then we likely wouldn’t have this insecure need to force others into compliance if they bring up uncomfortable truths. Truths such as not all men are solely attracted to women, there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, one is not weak if one has a uterus and gives birth, or that there is something stronger and more sustainable about cooperation than competition, etc.

Early in life is the best time for boys to begin avoiding this genderized carpeting that society does to them. We need to help them learn that just because someone’s name is such-and-such doesn’t mean anything, just because someone doesn’t like sports doesn’t mean they’re a “fag”, and just because they resist being macho doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to grow up to be men one day. The best time to teach boys about feminism is when they are youth.

Also, I’m sure that the accepting responses most women have given me from my name originally helped make me into a pro-feminist man. It’s helped me to understand why it’s important to stand with the underdogs — they deserve support and respect.

Somehow women are just able to understand that, “Hey, ‘Dana’ can be a girl’s name or a boy’s name.” These are only labels, nothing more. But, at the end of the day, who really cares? Right? It’s just who I am. It’s just a name.


Deal With It