Ms, Miss, Mademoiselle ...
Why titles for women matter:
Alongside sketchy rationales like postponing the whole rat race
thing, a pivotal reason that I got my PhD was to avoid the Miss/Ms
conundrum. As first world a problem as is imaginable, but it plagued me:
the mouth feel of Miss was the preference, but there was something a
little pukey about using it post-25.
Carla Bruniís daughter Giulia will
never officially be known as a
mademoiselle after the French Government changed its policy.
EPA/ Thibault Camus
Doctor is simpler. There's gender neutrality. I like that it gives no
hints - subtle or implied - to my marital status, sexuality or political
affiliations. I like that, all going well, this will be the title I get
to use for the lion's share of my life. In France, mademoiselle - the
French word for Miss - has been stricken from government forms. Pretty
soon that ever so glamorous sounding salutation will no longer be a
choice on official paperwork.In a move that's delighted a host of
feminists, apparently this decision signals yet another bastion of
inequality quashed. (At least it will once the old forms are used up!)
Appalled at this decision, however, are those sticklers for
tradition. Those French who have long been vigorously defending their
language from the encroach of English advertising, English music and
English on billboards are outraged. As one French philosopher
histrionically lamented, "There are more English words on the walls of
Paris than German words under the (Nazi) Occupation". Even without blind
passion about thwarting cultural imperialism are women who simply want
to pick their own title. They want the sassiness, the sexiness but most
of all they want the choice. While framed as a gender equity issue, lost
in this debate is that this isn't an issue with feminist consensus. Like
the different feminist camps sparring over abortion, sex work and
cosmetic surgery, highlighted in the title debate is the very
complicated - and politicised - notion of choice.
At the heart of liberal feminism is individual autonomy. The choice
whether to marry, whether to do femininity, whether to have children,
whether to use a title that quite possibly fetishises availability.
In the radical feminist camp are those wanting to take the option of
selecting one's oppression out of circulation. Apparently women won't
make the "right" decision themselves: cue social engineering and option
elimination. I'm conflicted. Had I not gotten my PhD, I'd likely be
using Miss, having convinced myself that it sounds just slightly less
spinsterish than Ms. HadMademoiselle been an option, I would have chosen
it for its theatricality.
But my feminism is of the 'bigger fish to fry' ilk. I have scant
interest in wanting to rename manhole covers, to use politicised
spellings like 'womyn' and 'grrls' or to kick down 'men working
overhead' signs. That said, there is also something fantastically
symbolic about the French Government's move. A small gesture sure, but a
step towards a bureaucratic level playing field nevertheless. While I'm
not convinced that advancing the political agenda of some feminists at
the sacrifice of the choices of others is progress, the symbol of
removing lifestyle choice disclosure from paperwork is a good one. After
all, there are very few times a government needs to know what a woman
gets up to in her own bed.
(The author is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and
this article was originally published in The Conversation)