Titles. For some reason, Brits think they’re incredibly important – especially when it comes to women. But why are we so obsessed with determining whether a woman is married or not?
The above picture outlines the conversation I had this afternoon with a customer service agent while attempting to renew my car insurance. He was going through my details before generating a quote, and decided that ‘Ms’ is the wrong title for a married woman. He was convinced that ‘Ms’ is only for divorced women, and that’s “just the way of things over here”. I want to challenge this misconception, and ask: what’s so wrong with using ‘Ms’?
“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with “Miss” and “Mrs.”, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status.
– Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2. From Wikipedia.
Simply, I use ‘Ms’ because I do not want my marital status to be known or inferred by my title. My marital status is irrelevant to most things, and I will disclose whether or not I am married to the appropriate channels, but I will continue to use ‘Ms’ for all correspondence, and everything that requires a title.
I’m not entirely sure what’s so difficult to understand about this. Boys are known as ‘Master’ when they’re boys, but by the time they reach early teens, they become ‘Mr’ until they die. Girls are known as ‘Miss’ until they get married, whereupon it’s expected that they will become ‘Mrs’ (and take their husband’s surname, but that’s a whole nother argument). Why does a man have his title changed when he reaches apparent maturity, but a woman’s title is only changed when she marries (or divorces)?
Let me be clear: Women are more than their relationship to men. As a professional in her mid-twenties, ‘Miss’ seems rather young and immature, whereas ‘Ms’ feels more appropriate. Some people do like to use ‘Mrs’ once they marry, and that’s fine too, but, to me, using ‘Ms’ means I am more than my relationship status. I’m simply an adult woman.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor is this a new, modern feminist issue. Many women have shared their own ridiculous stories – one explained that their bank wouldn’t let them use ‘Ms’ until they saw their divorce papers, for fuck sake. A couple of members of my own family abused and disowned me because I complained about being referred to as ‘Mrs Husband’s First Name, Husband’s Surname’. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s unreal.
Last year, I was speaking to our utilities company, and mentioned that they couldn’t schedule a call back on that particular date, as I was getting married. I had been using the title ‘Mx’, which is a newer, gender-neutral term. Once the call was finished and I received some confirmation emails, I realised that the customer service agent had changed my title to ‘Miss’, because I was, at the time, unmarried, and they deemed that title to be the correct one. Are these people fucking insane? In what world is it okay to impose your own ideas and beliefs on others (paying customers, too!), and amend their details without asking them? Hell, I wasn’t even informed that my title was being changed, let alone asked.
This absolutely shouldn’t be an issue. If I’m speaking to a company, or anyone really, and I give my title as ‘Ms’, they should damn well accept it, and say no more on the subject. I certainly don’t expect to be argued with on the subject of my own damn title. My question is this: why do you care so much? Let me choose my own title, and be done with it. Until we afford women the same respect as men – and yes, even in little, seemingly insignificant things like this – we will never achieve equality.