Having convinced myself that I’d pretty well exhausted both my own opinions on and Malaysiakini readers’ patience with this topic in my previous column, I’ve received some highly thought-provoking comments from mostly pseudonymous but far from pseudonymousey people, and thus feel encouraged to continue the conversation.
Starting with the glaringly-obvious observation that I carelessly overlooked last week that by far the majority of pseudonyms are used not by writers, movie stars, politicians philosophers or Malaysiakini subscribers, but by women, or more specifically wives.
Because, at least in most if not all of of the countries in that part of the world I know best, the West, by far the majority of brides forsake the family names they inherited from their fathers for those of their husbands.
Admittedly there is a small and apparently growing minority who keep the names they’ve been given at birth and grown-up with; some without any change at all, and others by adding their husbands’ names to their own, as in the case, for example, of Hilary Rodham Clinton.
But amazingly to me, in this allegedly enlightened era of egalitarianism in general and sexual equality in particular, most women are still prepared to put up with the patriarchal practice of being ‘given’ in marriage by one man into the care, or, if you prefer, the custody of another, and assuming a pseudonym in the process.
A practice that is patently reminiscent of the days little more than a century ago when a woman was presumed to be the property of her husband, was denied rights ranging from a proper education to participation in elections, and had few if any legal protections against marital mistreatment or outright abuse.
Unsure of why so many intelligent and in most other ways independent women are still wedded to the tradition of changing their truedonyms to pseudonyms in marriage when the practice is so reminiscent of the bad old days, I conducted my customary survey of one, and asked my wife why she did it.
Nothing to do with subordinating herself to my patriarchal authority, I was both happy and, in light of her ferociously independent personality, far from surprised to learn.
On the contrary, as she explained. Any fears she had of appearing to embrace enslavement either to me or to the Western marital tradition were, she said, vastly outweighed by the fact that the adoption of my clearly occidental family name as a pseudonym would finally free her of the burden of having two oriental truedonyms that, in her native Malaysia, had identified or rather bidentified her as a mixture of two races, and thus confusingly a member of either both or neither.
It also liberated her from mis-identification as an adherent of a racially-decreed religion. Or, as it transpired, of any religion at all, as when she turned-up at the appropriate office to renew her Malaysian identity card (IC), she drew attention to her new matsalleh-style pseudonym, complained that her religion had been wrongly specified on her old card, and thus under ‘Religion’ on her new one she was given the denomination she requested: ‘none’.
And of course when we decided to come live in Australia, her having the same family name as me was of considerable help in convincing immigration that we were legitimately married, and thus hastened her achievement of permanent residency and eventual citizenship here.
But why most other women adopt pseudonymous family names that make them appear mere appendages of, if not total dependents on their husbands, be it out of custom or tradition or whatever, I’m not sure.
Certainly it doesn’t appear to be for the purpose of deception, as so many pseudonyms used in politics and government are.
A point I made many years ago, as some longer-term readers of Malaysiakini may recall, by writing that under the rotten Umno/BN regime, the term ‘by-election’ was actually a pseudonym for the truedonym ‘buy-election’.
And in fact the name of the Umno party itself was actually pseudonymous given that its practices of stupidity, cupidity and nepotism revealed that in reality it should be known by such truedonyms as Dumno, Scumno or Chumno.
I’ve also frequently mentioned that when many if not most countries that claim to be democratic are using this term pseudonymously, considering that they are in fact truedonymously domocratic, like, for example, Vladimir ‘Ras’ Putin’s opposition-crushin’ Russian Federation and Jinnie the Pooh’s people-repressing Party’s Republic of Chaina; or dermocratic in that they’re ruled by people of a particular skin-colour, like black-supremacist Zimbabwe, Malay-privileging Malaysia and far too many white-majority countries in Europe and the rest of the West; or dumbocracies/dimocracies where millions of citizens are stupid enough to vote for a president like Donald Trump, or else to enable his election to office by not bothering to vote for a more acceptable opponent.
As for my own country, Australia, while it’s supposedly or pseudonymously democratic, it’s not only so white-majority-ruled as to be truedonymously dermocratic, but also, at least under the nation’s currently-ruling pseudonymously right-wing but truedonymously wrong-wing conservative coalition, doughmocratic, in that corporate and personal greed are routinely given precedence over ethical, environmental and social need.
But that’s more than enough from me about the eternal struggle between pseudonymity and truedonymity in Australia and the rest of the world, as Malaysia’s first new government following six decades of official lies, larceny and contempt for the rule of law strives to restore genuine democracy to the nation and its citizens.
So the shared concern and quest now for all honest, upstanding Malaysians, and of course foreign friends of Malaysia, to hold Pakatan Harapan true to the promise of its name, and to keep it from ever descending into some pseudo-BN-style Pakatan Horrorpan.