The Battle For ‘Ms’: Why are we so obsessed with titles?

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?

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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.msmissmrs

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.

S.N. Lemoing talks about the problem of finding a book cover

As an indie author, I have to do a lot of things by myself, and finding a good cover is one of our worst nightmares – unless you’re skilled at graphic design. For those of us who aren’t, we have some solutions: pre-made covers which can be affordable, or attempting photomontage.

 As I write about strong female characters, I have been dealing with even more hard choices each time I have to create a cover for my novels. First, I was browsing through a lot of pre-made covers in many genres: fantasy, thriller, drama, chick-lit, etc. There are some very beautiful works, some are as worthy as covers created by huge publishing houses.

However, it’s clear they’re all in need of a feminist helping hand.

The women represented on them are all overly feminine, wearing gowns and high heels. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but not all women are like this, and these different women should be represented too.

Moreover, all the models look fragile, strike unnatural poses like holding their bare shoulder while looking away. They all seem to be in waiting, probably for Prince Charming or a bad boy who will harass them.

And this is when they’re not naked, offering themselves to the male gaze – or simply dead bodies.

It’s striking how male characters are not illustrated the same way, just as in the movies, on TV, or in any media that we know. Have you ever seen a cover or a film poster showing a man holding his shoulder with a sad patient look, longing for the girl of his dreams? We’re still waiting.

The thing is, for my first novel, I was looking for female warriors with realistic and practical outfits, but I only found two women, hypersexualized, wearing the same stuff we can see on The Hawkeye Initiative.

Then, I was looking for a determined Mexican woman who’s also a police officer, but could only find two Latina characters (yes, because there is also a lack of ethnic diversity): one who was sexy and passive, lying on a bed, and another one who was crying.

For another novel, I was looking for a confident plus size girl, but as the models on the pictures are all tall and thin, and mainly white, nothing matched. Or the few bigger women that could be found looked passive and/or hypersexualized too, which wasn’t the subject of my story at all.

Representation matters, and we need more diverse pictures and illustrations. We need women who aren’t scared, women with confident stares, women who can actually wear clothes and look powerful thanks to independent and self-assured positions. And also different body types.

We need different male models too, because as you scroll the pages, all you can see are bodybuilders, flexing muscles, and it shouldn’t be a standard either. There should be no standard.

S.N. Lemoing is the author of Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor. She was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

You can read more about Lemoing, and her book, here.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Heart of glass

The Handmaid’s Tale hit our screens in the UK on Channel 4 three weeks ago, several weeks behind the US.

Please note, there will be spoilers for the first three episodes below. Proceed with caution.

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In Gilead, women are ranked on how useful they are to society. If they’re fertile, they become a Handmaid, subjected to rape by their Commander, and expected to bear children. Written in 1985, this story is still harshly poignant. The TV show takes this story even further, bringing it into the present day, and showing just how close we are to such a world.

Last week, viewers were shocked by the harsh storylines. Ofglen, a lesbian, was considered a gender traitor, and, since she’s still fertile, was allowed to live. But she was subjected to a horror that women and girls still face today – FGM. I’ve seen complaints about the violence depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale, but let me tell you this – the violence brought against women every day is very real, and, in order to do it justice, it must be shown.

Everything about The Handmaid’s Tale is real. It may be a story, but author Margaret Atwood claims that she didn’t make anything up – everything she wrote about had happened to women at some point in history. And I can believe it.

In episode 3, we also discover the slow disintegration of society, and the removal of women’s rights. Offred describes it perfectly: “Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it”. The women lost access to their money, their jobs – their freedom. Joan – Offred’s pre-Gilead name – and her friend Moira attend a protest, where the army opens fire, killing civilians. They show Joan, Moira, and Luke, Joan’s husband, in their home, discussing what had happened. “I’ll look after you,” Luke says, and every female viewer clenches their fists. That’s not the point, Luke.

Moira explodes at Luke, calling him part of the problem. This scene shines a light on the microaggressions women have to deal with every day, dealing with men who, thinking they’re helping, are actually contributing to the problem.

The music accompanying the fallout of the protest is Heart of Glass by Blondie, the Crabtree Remix. It’s slower, darker, haunting. Every episode so far has left me reeling. My fists are tight balls throughout each episode, my jaw clenched. Tears are barely held back. Because this is reality, not some dystopian fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t just some TV show to entertain the masses on a Sunday evening. It’s so much more than that – it’s our lives.

General Election 2017: MayDUP is a nightmare nobody envisaged

This morning, I woke to find that we were facing a hung parliament. I always knew a Labour win was unlikely, but I was chuffed that we’d managed to keep the Tories from gaining a majority. Through tactical voting, constant discussion, and encouraging more young people to vote, we’d done it. And then lunchtime came.

Around midday, Theresa May hopped into her car and went to see the Queen about forming a government. She had managed to secure a majority, albeit tiny, with the support of the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

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Indeed.

We still don’t know the extent of this deal between the Conservatives and the DUP. Theresa May, in her speech after speaking with the Queen, failed to mention it, amongst many other things. Business As Usual is her current motto, chirping “let’s get to work!” before turning on her kitten heels and scuttling back inside No. 10. One presumes she’s focusing on Brexit, what with the talks set to begin in 10 days or so, but surely she hasn’t failed to notice the outcome of her snap election? Her arrogance is what led us to the polls yesterday, and her lack of confidence in certain groups within society is what led to a hung parliament.

So who are the DUP? Should we be worried about them? Abso-fucking-lutely. They’re even more terrifying than a Tory government. They’re anti-abortion, against equal marriage, and think climate change is something a few members of Greenpeace made up one night at the pub. Despite Northern Ireland being part of the UK, they somehow manage to stop women from accessing safe, free, legal abortion, forcing them to travel to England and further afield. They clearly have no respect for women, despite their leader being female. But internalised misogyny is rife, sadly.

Difficult times lie ahead. Will this “coalition of chaos” last? Hopefully not. Can the other parties make a difference if it does? One finds it difficult to see any light at the end of this particular tunnel, but you never know. What I do know is this – whatever happens, if this Tory/DUP alliance continues, and the DUP has any power whatsoever, things will most certainly not get better.

Women’s Equality Party hails results of its first general election

The Women’s Equality Party (WE) this morning hailed the results of its first ever Westminster elections as a stunning vindication of its founding principles of collaborative politics, progressive values and the need to fundamentally reimagine the democratic process.

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“When we started the party, we said ‘voters don’t want politics as usual’,” said party co-founder and president Catherine Mayer. “We also pointed to a consensus for progressive values that traversed party boundaries yet was constantly stymied by old-style partisan politics. If this election has proved anything, it is the scale of the appetite for those values and for a new politics.”

“The outcome of this election—a hung Parliament—means any parties seeking to implement the mandate for those values will now have to follow our lead and focus on finding ways to work together.”

The Women’s Equality Party also celebrated the extraordinary achievements of its seven general election candidates, who changed the conversation and raised the game, forcing gender equality on to centre stage.

“These brilliant women, none of whom had any history of political involvement, show individually and collectively how much better politics would be if it drew on all the talent available, rather than remaining a white man’s club,” said Mayer. “During the campaign I saw Sophie Walker’s opponents complaining she was ‘too good’. I heard Harini Iyengar tipped as a future Prime Minister. Just yesterday a young Asian woman came up to tell me how thrilled she had been to vote for Nimco Ali. It was amazing, she said, to be able to vote with 100 per cent enthusiasm. All of our candidates have drawn many, many responses like this.”

WE party leader Sophie Walker led the charge nationally and in Shipley against Conservative Philip Davies, whose 10,000-vote majority had been deemed by Labour to be unassailable. WE’s ground campaign lit a fire under the Shipley contest, prompting a surge in progressive votes that came close to unseating Davies, a notorious anti-feminist.

“I entered this race because Shipley and the UK deserve so much better than Philip Davies,” said Sophie Walker. “Our campaign galvanised the progressive response to Davies—and also showed the potential of progressive alliance. We are proud to have led the way with the Green Party, who stood down their candidate to campaign alongside us.”

The campaign showed how much WE can achieve, but it also highlighted the urgent need for electoral reform—and for the Women’s Equality Party. The first-past-the-post system has been proven globally to exclude women and minorities. It also encourages progressives to fight each other. It is also a system that demands huge resources and is unnecessarily expensive, issues that become even more acute for smaller parties in a snap election. For all of these reasons, WE advocates for a fairer proportional system.

The iniquities of the electoral system are compounded by broadcasting guidelines, meant to ensure impartiality during elections, that instead skews the system further by putting more weight on past electoral performance than the current level of membership. “This is why UKIP was splattered all over the nation’s TV screens, while the Women’s Equality Party and the Greens could barely get a look-in,” says Catherine Mayer. “Print media followed broadcast’s lead on this, and in misrepresenting the election as a contest between the two biggest parties instead of what it was, a contest between competing regressive and progressive values.”

Some media coverage did acknowledge the impact of the Women’s Equality Party and the importance of the WE manifesto. “Their prospectus did make me wonder how much more women could be valued in our society if all parties had the imagination to think this differently and comprehensively,” wrote ITV economics editor Noreena Hertz. Zoe Williams in the Guardian praised the manifesto as “an extraordinary document” and the party for “doing the painstaking graft of reimagining all politics through the lens of equality”.

But the story about the Women’s Equality Party that made the biggest headlines, on the eve of election day, underscored the reason for the party’s existence. Female staff working at the party’s London headquarters in the evening received multiple abusive phone calls from a number of men, one of whom said he was coming to the office and that they should be scared. Nimco Ali, WE candidate for Hornsey & Wood Green, received a letter full of racial and Islamophobic abuse and signed “Jo Cox”, the name of the female MP brutally murdered in 2016.

“Two of the Women’s Equality Party’s core objectives are an end to violence against women and girls and equal representation. The fact that people tried to intimidate us and stop our campaign shows how urgent those objectives are,” said Catherine Mayer.

Editors’ notes

The Women’s Equality Party contested seven seats in the general election:

  • Shipley: Sophie Walker won 1040 votes = 1.9% of vote share

  • Tunbridge Wells: Celine Thomas won 702 votes = 1.3% of vote share

  • Vauxhall: Harini Iyengar won 539 votes = 1% of vote share

  • Hornsey & Wood Green: Nimco Ali won 551 votes = 0.9% of vote share

  • Stirling: Kirstein Rummery won 337 votes  = 0.7%

  • Manchester Withington: Sally Carr won 234 votes = 0.4% of vote share

  • Vale of Glamorgan: Sharon Lovell won 177 votes = 0.3% of vote share

The Women’s Equality Party was established to highlight and dismantle obstacles to gender equality in the UK: a political and economic architecture rigged against women and diversity, an education system riven with unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, a media that reinforces these stereotypes, a society that assigns little value to caregiving and therefore assumes it to be women’s business, that underpays women and invests less in women’s health and permits endemic harassment and violence against women.

The Party currently has 65,000 members and registered supporters. It aims to put equality for women at the top of the national political agenda by being an electoral force that also works with other political parties; in addition to party membership it also offers joint memberships to members of other political parties.

Press enquiries to Catherine Riley, Head of Communications (catherine.riley@womensequality.org.uk/ +447764 752 731).

Press at Women’s Equality Party

http://www.womensequality.org.uk/

General Election 2017: The future is female

In about 5 hours, the polling stations will close, and the first constituencies will start to declare. Will it be Labour? Will it be Tory? Or will the country be divided once again? The polls have been all over the place, the bookies unsure, but what I do know is this: more women are getting involved than ever before.

Back in May, I wrote about the importance of politics, of voting, and the history of women’s suffrage. I wrote about how women almost have a duty to vote, to pay respect to the women who came before them. Women under 30 are the least likely to vote, according to #SHEvotes, a statistic I can only face with utter horror. But are women less likely to vote because they’re less likely to feel represented within politics? There may be something to that. Thankfully, more and more women are getting stuck in, carving a path for young women to pursue a career in politics.

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The Telegraph

The Women’s Equality Party is, of course, in the lead, with all of their candidates being women, and Labour is second with an almost equal 40%. The Green Party and SNP follow close behind – and with Nicola Sturgeon at the helm in Scotland, I dare any woman to not be inspired.

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“Politics aside – I hope girls everywhere look at this photograph, and believe nothing should be off limits for them.” – Nicola Sturgeon, Twitter

Our current Prime Minister is a woman, yes, but she is also a Tory, and she, like Thatcher (and other British female leaders), is not interested in pushing for equality. But Sturgeon is right. While May and her Tory government may stand for everything I hate, I’m still proud to be able to say that we have had two female leaders. And with more women getting involved, who knows where politics is going? I want to see an equally split cabinet, I want to be represented in Parliament, I want issues specific to women being addressed. And I want to see women succeeding.

I almost ran in my local election last month. I would have been another woman standing for the Women’s Equality Party, but I decided against it, for multiple reasons. But having the chance, the option, the opportunity, to stand as an MP and represent the women of the country, is an opportunity I’m thrilled to have, and I will never forget the hardships women faced in order for me to have it.

We have had less than 100 years of all women being able to vote. Although I’m waiting with baited breath to hear the result of the election, I’m also interested in how many women voted this year – and how many young people. Since Brexit, more young people have been taking notice of politics, getting involved with discussions on social media. And why not – it’s our future, after all. Let’s fight for it.

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Did you vote? How are you hoping it will go? Let me know in the comments!

General Election 2017: Politics is for the young

Last month, Theresa May called for a snap general election, to be held on the 8th of June 2017.

Since the EU referendum, I’ve seen more and more young people taking an interest in politics. How refreshing to see the younger generations (myself included) getting involved and hashing out the pros and cons – and attempting to separate fact from fiction – on social media.

Votes for women

Every time there’s an election, I bang on about how women fought, suffered, and died for our right to vote. But it’s still incredibly important that we remember what they went through, just so we could have our voices heard. Do you know how these women were treated? We’ve all heard snippets of history, but the full story is much more horrific. Named the Cat and Mouse Act, the government treated them like playthings, and treated them horrendously.

Another thing that is less known is that there were two groups – Suffragists and Suffragettes. Put simply, the Suffragists (led by Millicent Fawcett) wanted to campaign for the vote peacefully, while the Suffragettes (led by Emmeline Pankhurst) were open to more militant ways. Both groups were made up of middle class women, and the movement also campaigned for other rights, such as “the right to divorce a husband, the right to education, and the right to have a job such as a doctor” – all things we take for granted now, although true equality has not yet been achieved. In 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst formed a third group for working class women, rejecting the violence of the Suffragettes, and, in 1918, female householders over the age of 30 got the vote – but women over 21 got the vote in 1928.

We have had less than 100 years of women voting, and already, so many (too many) women have forgotten the fight, the struggle, for them to have a vote they do not use.

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In England, we have had two female prime ministers. Although I wouldn’t call Thatcher or May feminist heroines, they are still women among a sea of men. Politics is still a male-dominated area, driven by white, rich men, with old families and plenty of influence. But more women are getting involved – the Women’s Equality Party is one fine example. Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party is a strong, admirable woman. The Green Party has more female politicians. If women are not in power, the women of the country will not benefit. Representation is vital to securing the rights of women, the rights of our daughters and granddaughters.

How to vote

First of all, you have to make sure you’re registered to vote. It only takes a few minutes, and you have until the 22nd of May to register for the general election in June. Once you’re registered, you should receive a confirmation letter, and you will probably receive a polling card in the post, but you don’t need these to vote. You simply have to turn up.

At the polling station

Your local polling station will probably be in a community centre or church in your area – there are always polling stations dotted around, to make it easier for people to vote. Once there, a table of people will ask for your address and name, and they’ll cross you off the list. You’ll be handed a slip of paper, and be directed to one of the booths. You put a cross next to the person/party you wish to vote for, fold the slip, and pop it in a box kept close by. And that’s it!

But who do I vote for?

It’s difficult to know who you should vote for, particularly at a time where the country is so divided. You can join this discussion group on Facebook, where like-minded people gather to discuss the best tactics in order to reach the desired outcome – no more Tories.

The easiest way to decide on a party is to think about what’s important to you. This quiz and others like it can help, but I’d also recommend getting your value straight in your head before attempting to choose a party. Here’s what I care about, in a nutshell:

  • Women’s rights and equality, including, but not limited to, access to abortion, free contraception, justice for victims of rape and sexual assault… simply, equality in all things
  • Free, decent healthcare for all
  • Free education for all
  • Marriage and civil partnership equality – for opposite sex couples as well as same sex
  • National living wage for all
  • Decent, honest sex education
  • Closing the pay gap and destroying the glass ceiling
  • Benefits for those in need
  • Affordable housing
  • Controls to be put on landlords and big corporations
  • Right to free speech and media
  • Lower the unemployment rate
  • Remaining in the EU, or having another referendum, if possible, or at least striking a good deal for all involved

I suppose you could say I’m fairly liberal. My values align very well with the Women’s Equality Party, of which I’m a member, and the Green Party, for whom I voted in the last general election.

Tactical voting

This year, I’ll be voting tactically. As I mentioned before, I’m of the “anyone but the Tories” mindset, and Labour is the only party that currently has a chance of pushing them out. (Our “first past the post” electoral system is warped and unfair, but that’s a discussion for another day.) If you’re simply worried about the impact of the Tories on your future, your country, voting Labour is a good way to go.

And remember – we vote for the party, not the person, so if you’re not a fan of Corbyn (and I have to admit, I’m not his biggest fan), but you like Labour’s policies, and would prefer them to the Tories, vote for them. Prime ministers are bound to their cabinet and the rest of Parliament, they are not (contrary to popular belief) mere tyrants, one person ruling over the nation. Our government is made up of a mixture of people and departments, it’s complex, and, for the most part, works. Put your faith in the system, if you can, and use your vote to help make a difference.

Your vote counts – I promise

Another blogger shared a post about her experience with politics, and how she came a bit late to the party. Take a look at this:

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If every single person who did not vote, chose to vote for one party or another, their votes would make a difference. It’s easy to get disheartened, but it’s our duty and our right to have a say in the running of our country, and voting is one of the best ways to have your voice heard. Mobilise those around you, if you can, to take the time to vote on June the 8th. I can’t predict the outcome, but the more people who vote, the more voices there are to take into account. And, for that, I have hope.