Friday, 15 July 2011

That's Not My Name

Adult women who self-identify as ‘Miss’ baffle and frustrate me in equal measures. Of all the tick-box options on forms, there is no more insulting suggestion than ‘Miss’ – and no equivalent belittling option for men.

When signing up for Crabtree & Evelyn’s points card recently, I was confronted with only three options: ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. “But I’m none of those,” I told the shop assistant. She looked at me like I was mad, and immediately looked at my left hand – presumably to check there was no ring there. Except, hmm, I wear an engagement ring, so I can’t be the bitter spinster she’d presumed. To cut the story short, I ended up ticking ‘Mr’ – and today I received a mail-out from Crabtree & Evelyn in which I was thankfully addressed with no title at all: surely the most agreeable result to the tedious title dilemma.

The problem with ‘Miss’ as I see it is that it immediately identifies that woman as unmarried, unwanted, undesirable, and failing to fulfil her role in society: as a man’s wife and as a child’s mother. Which is such a load of balls. It’s been a long time since unmarried men were referred to as ‘Master’, only to become ‘Mr’ after marriage to an agreeable woman. So why should women still be classified and identified by this tag that clearly marks out who is, and who is not, fulfilling their societal role?

In 2006, in an attempt to circumnavigate this problem, I spent £20 buying a square foot of an ancestral estate in Scotland in order to legally obtain the right to be ‘Lady’ instead of the problematic ‘Miss’ or ‘Ms’. The paperwork promptly arrived, I framed my certificate of title and filed my land deeds carefully… and then felt too shy to act on my preposterous new title. (Although there have been a few occasions I’ve used it and been both pleasantly surprised, and disgustingly appalled, in equal measures by the sudden change in tone it creates in the other half of whatever exchange I’m having.)

So, aborting my attempt to be a ‘Lady’, I reverted to ‘Ms’ and continued to froth at the mouth when patriarchal bastards insisted on calling me by the wrong title. To such a degree that I have been known to:

a) Return an electricity bill unpaid as it was incorrectly addressed to ‘Miss’.

b) Change banks as, after four years of my business, they wilfully refused to correct my title to ‘Ms’, despite me NEVER having ticked any ‘Miss’ box.

c) Write a letter to my landlord (who, before I moved in, informed all the utilities companies that I was ‘Miss’, presumably because I was unmarried) explaining that he had my name wrong.

d) Repeatedly attempt to explain to my confused father that his 33-year-old daughter is not a ‘Miss’ – nor will she be a ‘Mrs’ after her wedding.

In 2011, why do we even need titles? It is an extremely archaic form of address that is surely redundant in the contemporary world. After all, if we no longer address our colleagues, teachers, and acquaintances as ‘Mr Name’ or ‘Mrs His-Name’, why do we need these cumbersome introductions? It strikes me as nothing more than a hangover from an old-fashioned, patriarchal system of control. And it’s time it went.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that Master and Mister were ever used to distinguish married from unmarried men, I think it was just an age thing. Whether married or not, men have always got to keep their own names, which don't change upon marriage as a marker of a change of ownership. Mademoiselle and Madame are used in that way in France now, no woman over the age of 30 would be adressed as "Mademoiselle",and even older teenagers get called Madame in shops and by younger (exquisitely polite Parisian) children. In Germany, Fräulein has disaperared completely, and all women are addressed as Frau, regardless of marital status.