Sunday, April 29, 2012

Miss, Mrs or Ms?

A few days ago, I saw a post that asked if any women still use Ms anymore.

Yes, it was asked by a man. But in all fairness, he was sincerely asking how women prefer to be addressed. Do they prefer Miss, Mrs or Ms? He said he totally understood the appeal of Ms as like Mr, it doesn't give away a relationship status.

In the pre women's lib days, it was customary to refer to a single woman as Miss and to a married woman as Mrs - even if she were widowed or ... gasp .... divorced! Miss was also commonly used in British society to address women considered to be of an upper class. In some cultures or circumstances, Miss is still used as a sign of respect for any older women regardless of their marital status. This is most commonly seen in areas of the American South - such as the fictional Miss Ellie on the long running TV show Dallas.

Though there are still those - both men and women - who prefer the old terminology, the enlightened among us prefer to let each woman decide how they personally wish to be addressed

For many women it isn't as simple as whether they are married or single. There are so many types of relationships that it can be hard to define a term that feels appropriate. I am not even talking about the notion of whether or not to hyphenate or use the partner's last name upon marriage or to keep a partners name in the event of a divorce. That is a whole different discussion.

For a lot of women, it is a recognition of their independent status to use Ms. They aren't defined by their relationship or lack thereof.

Men have always been referred to as Mr and that tells us squat about what their relationship status is! So, why should women be forced to identify their status through their title?

The terms Miss and Mrs are both derived from the word Mistress - not exactly a flattering term now a days! Many think the term Ms is a product of the women's lib movement but in reality it has been around for much longer.

"There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts... Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation "Ms" is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as "Mizz," which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs alike." - The Republican, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Believe it or not, that commentary was published on November 10, 1901!

Whether or not this was truly the first time the term Ms was proposed is still debated but given the social restraint of the time, it is both refreshing and encouraging to see how enlightened the writer was!

And yes, despite our enlightenment, there are still most definitely some women who wear the term Miss as a screaming headline that they are free and looking for a Mr who will change the Miss to Mrs. In the olden days, a single woman past her early 20's was considered a spinster. Thankfully, that term is pretty much antiquated! Women marry at almost any age now - from late teens to well into their senior years. In most cultures, it is no longer a badge of shame to be single - either by circumstance or choice.

Many businesses, medical and government offices recognize that women are free to be identified in a variety of ways. Most information forms that we fill out give us the option of Miss, Mrs or Ms.

I can't speak to the terms used in non English speaking countries but am truly thankful that I have the option and freedom to call myself Ms.

Personally, I've used Ms since my teens and I am now 54.

For me, it just never felt appropriate to be called Miss. I always felt that Miss sounded to prissy for me and eluded to a more gentile side of the female. I never liked to wear dresses, pink or lace. I haven't worn a dress in 25 years. There is no pink or lace in my wardrobe. I don't even own heels! I've nothing against those who do dress in more traditional female attire - it just isn't my personal style. I'm certainly not the classic tom boy either. I just don't dress or act the part of what many would consider as a "Miss" . I am an independent female who prefers to be addressed as Ms.

In our increasingly impersonal yet technology connected world, the current trend is for clerks, receptionists etc to attempt more personalized service and address people by either a first name or a title and last name. If the first name is unknown or difficult to pronounce, people tend to only look at the gender and age (if shown) before addressing a woman.

Though well meaning, it is greatly erroneous to assume that any woman over a certain age - for instance 35 - is married and therefore addressed as a Mrs. I find it insulting to be called Mrs by clerks, receptionists etc - especially since I am not married.

What's wrong with just saying "May I help you?" or "Thank you for shopping here."? Why do people feel the need to add a title to the regular spiel and risk using the wrong title which may offend a customer/client? If they were truly interested, then they should ask how we wish to be addressed!

Of course there are also those who, no matter what, will stick to the old traditions. Many years ago, I helped a woman write a business letter. She was only a few years older than me, but also single. In the draft, I referred to her as Ms rather than Miss - she was deeply offended!

So, to each their own.

For the most part, I would strongly suggest that unless you know specifically what a woman prefers, Ms is the safest way to go.

It is also a hell of a lot better than being called Ma'am!! Now THAT I find to be insulting! I'm not completely sure WHY I find Ma'am or even madam so insulting, but I think that on some level I see that as being reserved for someone older than me. Even if it is done out of respect by someone younger than me - and in most cases it is - it still makes me squirm.

Yeah, I guess I am old enough to be called ma'am by those younger but I really don't like it.

Frankly, I'd rather be called "hey you" than Ma'am, Mrs or Miss. I'll take Ms any day!


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