In France all women of a certain age are addressed as Madame with younger women being called Mademoiselle. Men, as here, have one simple title, Monsieur or in the UK, Mr. For men age or marital status is immaterial. Not so women. When addressing women a judgement is made as to both when deciding how to address them.
I particularly loved this paragraph from Marie’s article on the topic:
A ‘Madame’ is also of course a brothel keeper: leaving us in no doubt that ‘Mademoiselle’ refers first to a sexual state: being a virgin. When I am asked to tick my civilite I am in fact being asked to give information about my sex life – single or married, available or not. It is this aspect that the two feminist groups who campaigned for the change have been protesting about.
In fact, because of those protests France has recently changed its policy on official forms which required a tick in one or the other of the boxes before allowing women to proceed to completion. But it’s only advisory and change may take some time…
I married in 1977. Like countless other young women I had spent an age beforehand practising my new name. Yet as soon as someone addressed me by my husband’s name I froze (the day after the wedding as we were about to leave for our honeymoon).
“Good Grief”, I hissed at my husband as the waiter called out “Phone call for Mrs Dunlop“, “Your mother is here!”
Then the awful truth dawned. It was me. I felt that I had lost something very precious and once the honeymoon was over swiftly set about finding out why women changed their names. I discovered that it was not a legal requirement at all but a convention dating back to when a woman became the property of her husband on marriage. When we had no voice, no vote, no possessions of our own. I became Jane C Woods again immediately.
Most of my contemporaries thought I was mad. Women were particularly perturbed. “Don’t you love him?” was a frequent question. Preceding Tina Turner by a few years I’d reply “what’s love got to do with it?” (Just for the record, I did love him and still do, 36 years later!) When asked if I was married I’d reply ‘yes, but I didn’t make my husband give up his name on marriage.’ Some people thought I shouldn’t have married at all as if marriage is all about getting a new name…
MS Jane C Woods
The term Ms had come into prominence a few years before and I had, naturally, enthusiastically adopted it, although few people had a clue what I was talking about. Most forms in Britain now have this as an option, but not all, and I still find myself being asked Miss or Mrs? frequently!
Language reflects the society we live in and changing language can help change attitudes. Fire-fighters gives a very different message to firemen, as does headteacher to headmaster, police officer to policeman. We use these terms casually but language does matter.
What do you think?
PS Yes, that is me in the photo, with my darling man. Remember it was 1977!
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Posted on February 29th, 2012 by Jane