"Ms" just might be one of the most misunderstood titles known to mankind. (Sorry, make that human-kind.) I've been banging on about it for a while now.
Back in 2000 I wrote a column (cleverly entitled
How Ms can master the modern world) which explained that "once upon a time women were defined solely by their relationship with a man. If you were single, you were a Miss and if you were married, you were a Mrs. Got it?"
This piece looked to the future with some optimism: "If women didn't insist on propagating this antiquated convention, it would eventually disappear. If we all started using Ms, the other titles would slowly make their way into a long overdue retirement."
Well, that didn't happen. Sixteen years on I reckon those olde worlde titles "Miss" and "Mrs" just might be as prevalent as ever. In a 2012 follow-up column, I wrote that: ""Ms" was invented in order that the archaic "Miss" and "Mrs" may be consigned to the history books". Furthermore, it was my opinion that "it's kind of pathetic to have to decide between three different titles. Isn't it, ladies? Must we really cling onto relics from another era?"
There were 161 reader responses, many of which revealed that "Ms" is a title with image problems. Whoever did the PR for this honorific failed miserably in their task. They had only one job and that was to communicate that "Ms" is just the women's equivalent of "Mr".
But, although it's been in use for about forty years now, "Ms" doesn't sit well with everyone. Here are some of the interesting ideas and opinions that were shared on the subject.
1. It shows you're unlucky in love
One reader had "been raised with the impression that Ms tends to suggest a spinster, divorcee or widow". Another wrote: "When I think of Ms, I think ... spinster, unmarried and unhappy." One woman said, "I go by Ms, as I am divorced." In fact, "Ms" is used by all women regardless of marital or relationship status.
2. It's for lesbians
"Never liked Ms - makes me assume the woman is in a same sex relationship," said one reader. In fact, Ms may be used by all women, regardless of sexual orientation. And, yes, that includes lesbians. "I am in a Civil Union with another lady, we are both 'Ms'," said one woman.
3. It shows you don't love your husband
One woman wrote: "I am proud to be Mrs ... I love and respect my husband." Another woman said: "... if I get married again I will happily change back to Mrs as I'm not ashamed to be with my man." The implication from these and certain other responses is that "Ms" is used by women who don't love their husbands. This sinister and manipulative approach has no doubt fuelled a few sob stories: "If you truly loved me, you'd be a "Mrs" and tell the world about our union. Me? Nah, I'll just stay "Mr". Let's not get carried away."
4. It shows you kept your surname
"I always thought that Ms was used by married women who are using their unmarried name when filling in forms," wrote one reader. "I use Ms ... because I chose not to change my surname when I got married," said another. In fact, Ms may be used by all women regardless of her surname.
5. It shows you're taken
"I always thought Ms was for women who were in a relationship but not married," said one comment. Incorrect: Ms is used regardless of relationship status.
6. It's a transitional title
Some women adopted Ms temporarily prior to marriage. They were looking forward to using Mrs but felt too old for Miss so Ms came in handy. "Once ... I used Ms ... Now I am married I am a Mrs," wrote one. "I'm a proud Mrs! Pre-wedding, Miss just made me feel like an 8 year old, so I used Ms," said another. Of course, such an approach defeats the main point of Ms which is that it has no association with marital status.
"Ms" just hasn't had the broad appeal and wide acceptance its initiators might have anticipated. It was logical and it was introduced with good intentions but the mistake was that "Miss" and "Mrs" remained. These needed to be abolished so that "Ms" became the obvious option for women just as "Mr" is for men. Giving women an additional title was a tactical error. Women needed one fewer option, not one more. With three options (two of which are based on marital status), it's too easy to misinterpret its intended purpose.
So, it was with great interest that I discovered there's a new title for people to grapple with. "Mx" is a gender-neutral honorific intended to replace "Mr" and "Ms". It's been forty years since "Ms" was introduced and there's still a lot of confusion surrounding its meaning. On that basis, I can't quite see "Mx" becoming a roaring success. Mind you, it has the potential to solve the Ms/Mrs/Miss debacle at last and that would be just fabulous.