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Dear Political Candidates: This Is The Real Problem With Changing Women’s Surnames

These letters are causing outrage, and for good reason!
Image: Supplied

“What year is it?”

This is the question many frustrated women around Australia may be asking after receiving letters from political parties that have changed their surnames to that of their male housemates, partners, or even sons.

In fact, you could be forgiven for mistaking 2016 for the ’50s over the past couple of days, as women have bombarded the Internet with their stories (and photos) of the letter gaffe.

But it wasn’t just Liberal Party candidates making the error, BuzzFeed News reached out to the public via Twitter and found that Greens and Labor Party candidates were doing it too.

To which we feel like this:

This mistake really is extraordinary – in an attempt to reach out to voters, and perhaps even try to humanise themselves, these politicians have achieved the complete opposite. And voters have not been taking it lightly. 

Michaela Smith, a 23-year-old woman in the Barton electorate, is currently living with her fiancé. However when she gets married, she has no intention of changing her name.

“My personal identity and autonomy is incredibly important to me and that starts with the most basic way of how I identify myself to other people – my name.”

So when she received a letter from Liberal candidate Nicholas Varvaris MP that was addressed to “Mr and Ms Filby”, she wasn’t impressed.

“At first, I was confused, but then I was really angry,” says Michaela. “The assumption that because I live with a man I must be married to him, is firstly, archaic. To then take that assumption further and assume that I will change my name is just offensive.

“We live in a society where nuclear families are no longer the norm, and to me, having my name changed to my partner’s – when I have never, ever used his name as my own – is an indication of a blatant disregard for me, as my own person.”

She went on to describe how receiving the letter has cemented her view that the Liberal party are ‘outdated’, and ‘incapable’ of representing her interests.

Dr Liz Guiffre, who is a journalist and lecturer at UTS, has written a fiery opinion piece for the ABC expressing similar concerns, saying: “Before I even opened the envelope it was made abundantly clear to me how little my vote, and more importantly, my identity means to you.

So how have politicians responded?

The Australian Electoral Commission has denied involvement  – which makes sense, given that these are not the surnames that actually appear on the electoral role. 

The Liberal Party also released a statement in response to questions from The World Today about whether they were aware of the errors. It said: 

“Human error inadvertently meant some people living at the same address were grouped together.

“This was unintentional. No discourtesy was intended and we apologise.”

Former NSW Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell has also responded to BuzzFeed News on Twitter that this ‘happens all the time’:

Which is not exactly reassuring. After all, these are people who want to run our country.

The letters have seemingly robbed women of their identities with the blanket assumption that the man is the head of the household, and while the parties may not have thought about the consequences of what could just be a lazy programming error, many women have certainly thought about it – and it will affect their vote.

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