Or it as big of a deal as it used to be? Do people even think about this anymore? Prior to a few weeks ago, I’d considered this issue to be a thing of the past, something our mothers or grandmothers had to consider. I don’t know if it was a lack of attention to the topic or just a lack of anything to pay attention to, but I’d always considered the Ms./Mrs./Miss debate to be a thing of the past. Everyone was Ms. unless they expressed a preference for one of the alternatives, and I assumed everyone else operated under the same rules. Now that I’m working in a school, however, I’ve suddenly become very aware of it, and I’m asking myself if the issue has been dead for so long that it has gotten restless in its grave and decided to come plague your resident feminist.
This was a big deal during the second wave of feminism, so much that there’s even a magazine for it! Until a little while ago, the only attention I paid to the word was when reading the wonderful Ms.magazine, still a shining beacon of printed feminism. I knew why it was named that way, of course. I knew it was a statement on the independence of women, a reminder of the awakening so many experienced. Ms. stands alone, purposely left ambiguous. Not like Miss, the title of one who is not married, or Mrs., the title of one who is. Unlike Mrs., it is not a feminine identifier or extension of Mr. Husband. It could be that of a married or unmarried woman, but the point is not to make a title on the basis of someone else. The complexities of the subject have been written on by many feminists far more extensively (and far better) than I can write on them. Even though I personally like the way “Miss” looks when written out, I don’t use it. I never call anyone Mrs. or Miss, not to make some feminist point, but out of pure respect. I don’t know about their lives or their preferences, and it’s common courtesy for me to default to Ms. unless I know not to. Okay, so maybe I am making some feminist point (aren’t I always?), because I like to address women on the basis of their own bodies and minds, just as I do men. But apparently some people don’t see this as a simple, respectful position.
In the last three weeks, I have been referred to as Mrs. on several occasions at the high school where I’m interning. To be clear, there are no markers indicating that I wish to be called this. I am young (23 last month), and I appear so young that students and faculty alike have mistaken me for a student despite my professional attire. I do not wear a wedding or engagement ring of any sort, and I don’t wear any identification with a title. And yet, my own supervisor routinely introduces me as Mrs. Whatever, and I have to clarify by saying something like “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ms. Whatever.” That’s one sentence too many. Teachers introduce me to students like this. Honestly, I’m perplexed.
When this become the thing to do again? Was there a big patriarchy meeting I didn’t know about where the overlords planned to make Mrs. the default? I’m reaching, but I can’t help but think maybe it’s a big ploy to get us career women married and in the kitchen! In all seriousness, this is the kind of insidious sexism that eventually builds and builds until we’ve created a whole new generation that thinks women get to be identified by men. Even if it isn’t intentional, and I’m fairly certain it’s not, it is harmful. When we address young girls as Miss, we are expecting them to grow up and get married. We are expecting it to be a temporary name to be transformed later, and we are not giving them the choice. I’m not necessarily calling for the elimination of all but Ms., but I am calling for the respect to default to it if personal preferences are not known. Some people like to be called Miss or Mrs., for reasons that are their own. This is just a feminist issue, it is one of etiquette and respect. While not everyone is a feminist, I like to think that everyone at least wants to be polite. Right?