Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Women pathetically cling to different titles

Men are defined by their gender. Women are defined by their relationship to a man.
Photo / Thinkstock
Men are defined by their gender. Women are defined by their relationship to a man. Photo / Thinkstock

I passed through Singapore twice last month and that's why I read a few issues of The Straits Times. Readers are invited to write in to Singapore's English-language newspaper. The rules for doing so are set out in small type. Evidently, women must "indicate Miss, Ms, Mrs or Madam."

What the? Never mind that "Ms" was invented in order that the archaic "Miss" and "Mrs" may be consigned to the history books but, hey, the ladies in Singapore have another option just in case, you know, they happen to be in charge of a house of prostitution - or something.

But seriously, how can we expect men to take our titles seriously if we can't decide what's appropriate and what's not? Even if you remove "madam" from that robust smorgasbord of options from which people of the fairer gender may choose, 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?

So you want to be called "Miss" before you are married and "Mrs" after? It's the twenty-first century and you're still happy to be defined by your relationship to a man? That's nice. You've probably got your reasons. No one said they have to be good ones.
Then hey, you know, it's just the man-hating, feminist, can't-get-a-fella-types of woman who embrace the title "Ms", anyway. Those poor old politically correct thingies. Bless. Remember when they thought it was going to actually catch on? Oh dear.

I last wrote about this issue in the June 2000 piece entitled How Ms can master the modern world. Twelve long years later and I reckon if anything there are fewer women embracing the marital-status-neutral option these days. When did "Ms" suddenly become so unappealing? Please tell me it wasn't my fault.

You see, I'm still a big fan. I'm still "Ms" and undeterred by persistent traditions that make me feel out of step with the Zeitgeist. So here's a quick rundown on how women's titles were dished out before "Ms" was introduced. Despite the fact that men were called "Mr" to denote their gender, women were expected to choose either "Mrs" or "Miss" in order to denote their marital status.

Let me repeat myself. Men are defined by their gender. Women are defined by their relationship to a man. Is there something a little, um, sexist about that? Is it medieval, primitive, unenlightened and oppressive? Do you think?

So, thank goodness for "Ms", right? It's an all-encompassing title for every woman regardless of whether or not they've managed to snag a man and marry. On paper it may be perfect but it certainly lends itself to wilful misunderstanding.

This misunderstanding was never more evident than in the reader responses to The Guardian article entitled Madame, Mademoiselle: in France these are about sex, not respect in which it was announced the French prime minister instructed that "'Madame' is to replace 'Mademoiselle' as the equivalent of 'Monsieur' for men."
It seems that the term "Mademoiselle" made some women feel unsubstantial and so even unmarried French women were opting for the title "Madame" in order to achieve the desired level of gravitas - all of which nicely made a mockery of a system already mock-worthy thanks to its inherently sexist premise.

Let's address some of the reader comments. Between them they present a revealing snapshot of arbitrary and unconvincing arguments against making women's titles less demeaning.

* "As to the oh-so-correct 'Ms'. How do you pronounce it?" Well, I pronounce it so it kind of rhymes with "fizz" and I also spell it out so there is no confusion. Easy.

* "It's a pity gender politics always has to involve women wanting to be the same as men." Don't worry. Those uppity feminist chicks will come a cropper, for sure.

* "'Ms' always seemed like a cop-out to me, carrying as it does the suggestion that its user is defensive about her unmarried status." Er, no. That's actually the point: we think our marital status is irrelevant. D'oh.

* "I can't sleep worrying about it." Actually, this is funny. I quite like this guy.

Are you a "Miss" or a "Mrs"? What were your reasons for adopting these titles and how have you reconciled the deep-rooted sexism inherent within them? And, if you're a "Ms" why do you think this title still struggles to gain widespread traction?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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