Gregory S. sent in a video that highlights the way that social institutions, including the legal system, are often based on assumptions about gender that make it difficult for men and women who break gender norms. Five years ago, a couple in Nebraska got married and the husband chose to take the wife’s name. He wasn’t trying to make a feminist statement; he just didn’t want her son from a previous relationship to be the only member of the family to have a different last name, and the simplest solution was for the husband to change his instead.

This doesn’t appear to be a difficult change. They weren’t blending their last names to invent a new one; they weren’t even hyphenating both their names. This is exactly the type of change that the legal system allows when women get married and decide to take their husband’s name. But five years after their marriage, the state suddenly seems incapable of dealing with a reversal of the usual gender pattern in name changing.

[Ugh. You’ll have to watch it at KETV or YouTube because they’ve disabled the YouTube embedding. Sorry!]

What strikes me is that officials are pretty openly stating that the problem here is his gender. They admit that women who change their names after marriage are given an exception to the normal name-changing procedures. They don’t appear to dispute that this couple got married. Instead, they seem to be arguing that as a man, he doesn’t qualify for the spousal name-change loophole, and thus allowing him to take his wife’s name using that method was a “mistake.”

Yet it is a “mistake” only because he is a man. The system is set up to facilitate conforming to gender norms: there is (an apparently unofficial) loophole to make it easy for women, and only women, to assume their husbands’ names. That exception to procedure is now being denied, retroactively, to a couple whose use of it defies gender norms. And the fact that five years ago some government official apparently applied the name-change loophole in a gender-neutral manner and allowed Josh to change his name is seen as an incomprehensible error.