It’s a question I have to ask as part of my job, and it’s fraught with difficulty.
It’s easy for the guys. No-one will be offended by being called Mr, even if their correct title is something else.
But it’s very easy to get it very wrong for us women.
Traditionally we were Miss until we married, and then we became Mrs.
BUT – that meant that our marital status was visible for all to see. In fact, anyone we were being introduced to would know our marital status before they even heard our name! And why should that be the case for women when a man’s marital status is not something that he needs to make public unless he chooses to.
Miss developed an implied meaning of young, which in turn implied inexperienced. Mrs developed an implied meaning of old, even frumpy. Not much of a choice is it – do you want to sound like you’re inexperienced or frumpy!!
Why should we women need to make our marital status public knowledge in circumstances where it makes no difference whatsoever? Why do you need to know if I’m married or not?
So that’s why Ms was invented (or, to be strictly accurate, re-invented) – it was intended to be the equivalent of the male Mr, a title that made no reference to marital status. Simple. And a major step forward in the fight for equality. Only, it didn’t quite work out like that.
Rather than becoming a universal title for all adult women, it became something else.
Not all women wanted to use it – many women wanted to be visibly married, wanted to keep the ‘Mrs’ title, wanted to show the world that they were happy and proud to be married, or found that the title gave them some protection from unwanted advances.
Or they wanted to remain as ‘Miss’ – with its suggestion of youthfulness, or because it showed that they were single.
So Ms has never really been used the way it was intended.
It’s become a title that says, ‘I’m divorced and/or a lesbian and/or a feminist and/or a mature woman with a mind of her own who doesn’t need to be defined by her relationship (or lack of relationship) with a man’. And coupled with that, for reasons that I can’t really fathom, it’s developed a bit of a negative connotation.
I never liked having to give my marital status in situations where it was irrelevant. If a man didn’t need to, why should I have to? Buying a cooker – Miss or Mrs? Ordering cat food – Miss or Mrs? Booking flights – Miss or Mrs? What difference does it make? Why does it matter?
I’ve been using Ms as my preferred title since I left my first husband, and I used it throughout my relationship with my second husband, both before we got married and during the marriage.
And I can hear you thinking – Ah, that’ll be why he left…
That wasn’t why he left.
And there’s a new kid on the block – Mx. It’s intended for use by either men or women, and it’s simply a title with no implication of whether you’re male or female, married or single. But of course, it won’t get used like that. Already it’s mostly being used by people who are transexual.
I don’t really know why we need titles at all. Surely our name should be enough for all normal day-to-day purposes. So long as I’m a sentient human being, my gender, marital status or sexuality are irrelevant in the vast majority of situations.
What’s your preferred title?
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