Feminism Friday: Ms

Ms2000JuneJulyA couple of weeks ago, I was signing up to a website and when I went to put in my name, I was offered just Mr and Ms as title options. It was only the second time I’d ever seen that on a website (or anywhere) and the first time it startled me. Because it made it so clear that there’s usually one option for men (Mr), but three for women (Miss/Mrs/Ms). Why is that necessary? So I tweeted about it, saying that the Mr/Ms option was refreshing.

A friend immediately responded saying she doesn’t want to be a Ms, she’s happy to be a Miss, thank you very much. Another friend replied saying she’d also been thinking about how having different titles for people based on their marital status is archaic. I pointed out that what’s even more archaic is that it’s not different titles for “people” just for women. A man is Mr whether he’s married or not.

But then my Feminist Gurus got involved and they disagreed with me. (Or, as I prefer to think of it, they agreed differently…)

Diane tweeted: “Tbh, not sure I agree with forcing peeps to be Ms. And always nice to have non-gender-specific options.”

Carrie said “Surely it’s about choice, not having that choice imposed on you. We want to have the option to change our name or not change our name, so why is title any different? I respect that you don’t want to call yourself Mrs, but some people do.”

And Diane said, “Saw a woman on here who’d got flowers from a hotel. They said ‘Ms’ and she was like ‘I’m a MRS!'”

Yes, of course, it is about choice. But why was that women so eager to point out that she’s married? Because we still put so much value on marriage for women. Much more than we do for men. As I discussed this on Twitter, I started to feel uneasy because I do it too. All the bloody time. I always feel good about checking the ‘Ms’ box, like I’m all ‘Take that, patriarchy!’ but I have to admit I do feel good when someone asks me if I’m married and I can say yes. I hate to even admit that, because I don’t feel better than anyone else because I’m married. But it makes me feel secure. So I get it, I do. But what I don’t get is how people are still so unquestioning of it. The man stays the same, remains a Mr, keeps his name, but the woman changes? Of course everyone is free to make that choice, I just want people to acknowledge that it is a choice.

It also bugs me that the title ‘Ms’ seems to come under the stereotypical feminists list, along with dungarees, armpit hair and bra-burning. People get really angry about it and when people get angry about women wanting something men take for granted that gets right on my proverbials.

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19 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: Ms

  1. Recently I refused to sign up to a site that only had Mr and Mrs as the options. I am not married, and I refused to pretend I am.

    It bugs me that marriage is the default option. It bugs me that my position in society is insecure because I don’t have that bit of paper. It utterly bugs me that I can’t have a civil partnership because we’re a male/female couple – I don’t want marriage, the heritage, the drama, (I’d quite like a party 😉 ) the Mr and Mrs, but I’d like our partnership recognised in law and our children to be able to inherit and so on.

    I have ranted on all this sort of stuff regularly. One of my most commented on posts, back from when it was only my friends who read my blog, is about this sort of stuff. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant conversation. 😦

    1. That’s a whole different conversation really, but linked of course. The more I think about marriage the more it bothers me because every aspect of it is patriarchal – from ‘maiden’ name to the father giving the woman away to the woman taking the man’s name. Fine if that’s what someone wants to do, but odd to me that we don’t even seem to question it all that much. (And I say that as a married woman who took her husband’s name. In my defence, I got married young…)

  2. Well said! *applauds*

    I’ve been a Ms since I was six and my mum explained the concept (along with “If someone telephones and asks for Mrs Hapgood, explain there’s no one of that name who lives here”, as she was Ms Reuter).

    It annoyed me hugely as a teenager when friends would suggest Ms was only for “grown-ups”, and I couldn’t be a Ms as I wasn’t old enough to be married. The insinuation was that Ms was only a second choice, to “disguise” whether you were “really” Miss or Mrs, rather than a title in its own right, so it didn’t apply to children.

    I use Ms because it’s my name, not to cloak my status (which is “single and looking for a man with the soul of a bearded poet”), and am still annoyed when it’s seen as only relevant in terms of how it relates to marriage. Like you say, it’s a choice in its own right.

    1. Thank you! I love that you’ve been a Ms since you were 6!

      “The insinuation was that Ms was only a second choice, to “disguise” whether you were “really” Miss or Mrs, rather than a title in its own right, so it didn’t apply to children.”

      That’s really interesting – I hadn’t even thought of it like that. But as part of the Twitter discussion it did occur to me that Master denotes a male child, while Miss denotes an unmarried female. What’s that about?

        1. Oh sweet cheeses, I never thought of that either. (Genuinely only got ‘master bedroom’ last week. I’m v slow on the uptake.) But it *hasn’t* been left in the dark ages – Harry got a letter addressed to Master H Stainton just yesterday!

  3. I’m a Ms. Always have been (since I graduated from being a child) and always will be. It’s a strong title that I am proud to be associated with. I have never been called Mrs and would never want to be. I am also a feminist and always have been. I am a woman 🙂

  4. I’ve been a Ms pretty much forever. I’m fairly sure some people perceive me a certain way because of that choice, but to me that just proves to me it’s the right one. If I’d changed to Mrs when I got married, I’d have felt I was contributing to the problem.

    Someone I know changed her name on getting hitched, but wanted to keep Ms. The bank printed all her new cards as ‘Mrs’ and, when she objected, basically said tough – their computer system didn’t allow ‘marriage’ as a change of name reason without automatically changing the title. In 2008!

  5. When people get really angry about something feminists do, I’ve come to see that as a good sign because it means we’re actually threatening the established patriarchal order of things. (Mwahahahaha.)

    I just want to make clear though for any readers not obsessively following our Twitter conversations (?) that I wasn’t defending the woman who was all “I’m not a Ms!”, just using her as an illustrative e.g. I do think freedom of choice is v important, but like you it makes me sad when people just assume the default, or see marriage as superior.

    And I admire you for admitting your own feelings about that, because we all internalise some of this crap. About 3 years ago my doctor asked me if I preferred Miss or Ms, and even though I’d ID-ed as a feminist since I was about 14 (Harriet’s like, “What were you waiting for?!”) I was embarrassed to be seen as too radical, thought Ms = humourless, etc. Now I know that those messages are just anti-woman propaganda and I far prefer being a Ms as I get older. It feels more grown up.

    1. Yes! I agree!

      Ha, yes, sorry. First draft had loads more of the convo/context, but it was getting a bit too waffly, so I pared it back.

      Thank you. Yes, I sometimes think that too – if I say “Ms” it changes someone’s perception of me and god knows I want people to like me (although I’m getting over it) so it’s easier just to go with the non-controversial option. But I keep thinking about the Ellen Page quote (coming up soon!) about how we know we live in a patriarchy when “feminist” has a negative connotation. Same for “woman” (versus “lady”) and “Ms” I think.

  6. Thinking about this a little more, I wanted to clarify what I was saying when we had this discussion, and to add a bit to the comments.

    Let’s face it, we live in a patriarchy, and no matter how free we think our choices are, or the reasons we think we make them for, they’re constrained by that patriarchy. So we might think we are changing our last names when we get married because, for example, we like our husband’s name better, but the fact is it doesn’t matter – it looks to the patriarchy as if you’re abiding by patriarchal norms, so you get “Mrs” laden on to that as well. That’s why they have to interrogate you about your marital status, to make sure you’re fitting in to the boxes the patriarchy has designated for women.

    But we need to fight back against this shit. When they ask your marital status, ask them why they need to know. When they call you by a name (or a title) that isn’t yours, tell them, don’t sit back sweetly and passively. If they change your title on your bank account without your consent, close that account and write a letter of complaint. Because FUCK the patriarchy.

    🙂

    x

  7. I think this is an interesting debate – I grew up in the US but have lived in the UK since I was 18. In the US, in my experience, ‘Ms’ was definitely the default for women although titles as a whole (i.e. with addresses, on bank cards!) were much less used. I’d be interested if other Americans had a different experience, but ‘Ms’ was always in my experience as a 90’s child entirely marriage-neutral and was generally always used in any business context. When I moved to England, it was immediately clear that that was not the case here – as with a previous commenter as a young person ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Miss’ became incorrect. I was quite young when I got married and was automatically switched to ‘Mrs’ in many things – and found that this actually became important in business dealings. Letting agents, for example, would deal with me in a way that they had not in the few months leading up to my marriage when they seemed to automatically treat a young couple which included one postgraduate student and one working on just above minimum wage with suspicion. The title and references to ‘my husband and I’ made all the difference, a distinction which I felt was inherently wrong even then. I have been married for nearly 6 years and have always used ‘Mrs’ but this conversation does remind me that this is not a very feminist stance. If ‘Ms’ did not carry such negative and ‘deceptive’ connotations in the UK, I would use it instead – but I know that this sort of argument perpetuates the problem…

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Amelia. Isn’t it ridiculous that women are taken more seriously once they’re married? In 2013! And, yes, that argument *does* perpetuate the problem, but I also know how hard it is to step out of the norm. It’s something I’m trying to do now – along with worrying less about what people think of me – but it’s taken me a long time.

  8. I’m late to this post but I just wanted to add my 2 cents. I was under the illusion that all women thought about the Mrs/ Ms/ Miss issue frequently (as I do) but a recent experience showed me that this is not the case.

    As part of my job I work selling tickets for events in our box office. It’s over the phone and we have to take all the relevant details including name & address. I take the surname first, then the first name and if it’s a man I don’t have to ask any more but if it’s a woman I say “Miss, Ms or Mrs?” 99% of the time people just say one and there’s no debate but last week one woman paused dramatically and wasn’t sure which to pick. She laughed at herself and I said “I hate asking, we don’t have to ask the men what their title is” She was flabbergasted; she said “You know, that has never occurred to me at all!” I was shocked that it had never even crossed her mind.

    It got me thinking, am I super sensitive about these things, I feel like I’m being militant or something, other people don’t even give this a second thought. Maybe part of it is being gay and the over arching feeling of not conforming to patriarchal ‘norms’ or having to make a point of railing against them. I do also feel that here the negative connotations of Ms are still very strong. I thought it was accepted that only women who’ve been divorced/ widowed used it therefore it’s still tied to your relationship (or lack thereof) to a man! Maybe I picked that up wrong. I use it quite a lot myself but sometimes I use Miss, I’m not sure why when I hate that word.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a female equivalent of Mr, I just can’t think for the life of me what it would be though. The current choices are so deeply ingrained I’m not sure they could be shifted now.

    1. Thank you! It’s funny, it’s like that Matrix thing I tweeted this morning – once you see these things you notice them everywhere, but so much of it is so ingrained that we don’t even notice. I only noticed the connotations of ‘maiden name’ and ‘master bedroom’ recently and now I can’t believe it never occurred to me before.

      But Ms IS the female equivalent of Mr and it has negative (and incorrect – I’ve heard people say it’s for divorcees and also that it’s for lesbians) connotations because of the patriarchy. I think they can be shifted, but we’re going to have to get comfortable with being (or appearing) at least a bit militant 😉

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