Monday, October 26, 2009

A happily married Ms.

In its Sunday magazine yesterday, The New York Times published an interesting article on the genesis of the title "Ms." I had always thought the title to be a result of the second-wave feminist movement, but it seems people were advancing the idea of a title for women not contingent on marital status as long ago as 1901.

In the Nov. 10, 1901, edition of The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Mass., tucked away in an item at the bottom of Page 4, an unnamed writer put forth a modest proposal. "There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill," the writer began. "Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts."
How to avoid this potential social faux pas? The writer suggested "a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation," namely, Ms. With this "simple" and "easy to write" title, a tactfully ambiguous compromise between Miss and Mrs., "the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances." The writer even gave a pronunciation tip: "For oral use it might be rendered as 'Mizz,' which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike." Read more...

OK, that wasn't the most gender equality-centered argument, but it was 1901, so...

Despite the article in The Sunday Republican, "Ms." was rarely used as a title for decades:

It was certainly unknown, in 1961, to Sheila Michaels, a 22-year-old civil rights worker in New York City, who one day spotted it on a piece of mail that her roommate received. In fact, she initially took it as a typo, albeit a felicitous one. Fiercely independent, Michaels abhorred having her identity defined by marriage. Struck by Ms., she became a one-woman lobbying force for the title as a feminist alternative to Miss and Mrs.

This NYT article got me thinking about my personal preference for the term "Ms." Well, I prefer it as much as I prefer any title. The whole notion of Mr./Ms./Mrs./Miss seems antiquated. I can't think of the last time I referred to someone as Mr. or Mrs. unless they were friends of my parents or my friends' parents. I can't think of the last time anyone called me Mrs. unless the person was under 18 or a someone in the service industry. That kind of formality just isn't done least where I'm from. We call our bosses, our colleagues, our neighbors, even new acquaintances by their first names. There's really no reason to get too bothered about whether folks call me Mrs. MarriedName or Ms. MaidenName-MarriedName, which I prefer. And I don't get too bothered. But I do prefer "Ms."

I don't understand, in this day and age, why women need be defined by whether they are married or not. Some of us will never marrry. Many of us don't want to ever marry. Too many of us still can't get married because of our sexuality. And, for damn sure, in 2009, most women who are unmarried would scarcely call themselves "maidens." The idea of tagging a modern woman with the "Miss" tag until (presumably) she becomes a fully-actualized adult only upon marriage is both icky and idiotic.

Also, I love my husband to death. I am fully committed to being his partner for life. That said, I don't identify with Mrs. MarriedName. I am my husband's wife and a part of his family, but that is not all I am. The person that I was pre-marriage still exists. I am still a part of my extended maternal and paternal families, and these are still the families I identify most with. Their stories are my stories. This is, in part, why I chose to (inconveniently, it seems) hyphenate my last name. It is also why I find the "Mrs." label that somehow privileges my marital status strange and uncomfortable.

I welcome anyone to call me by my first name, or "Tami," my "for short" name. If last names are involved, Tami MaidenName-MarriedName works fine in our informal world. But if you must use a title, consider me a happily married "Ms."


M and M said...

I have had a whole slew of names, but keep ending up with my original name - and that's the one that is going to stick, it seems. I do have my students call me Ms. MaidenName. They sometimes ask why I don't go by Mrs. I always, assumed, like you, that it was from the second wave - so cool to know a bit more. TY, as usual. You rock, Ms. Tami!

p.s. I love my husband tons too, but I wouldn't take his name OR the diamone family ring....principles principles - we gotta have 'em!

Weasel said...

Oddly enough, when I got married this September it was my husband who insisted that I keep my last name. He did not want me to take his. (Long story short: he can't stand his family name. His father was an abusive jerk, putting it mildly.)

I think if it were up to him, my hubby would happily take my last name. Gotta love a guy like that.

octopod said...

See, this is why I'm not going to get married until I can call myself "Dr."

chickwithmonkey said...

I generally prefer Ms, but these days I'm pleased to hear Mrs. My husband took my last name when we married and dropped his maiden name entirely (no hyphens, no double last name). It's not obvious to most people, who assume the Mrs. means that I'm using a new last name, but it's satisfying to me. And my husband has gone through the whole rigamarole of changing his name legally and publically - when they call him Mr., they're reminding him that he married me.

Anonymous said...

I too didn't want to give up my identity, nor my family heritage.
My husband felt mostly ambivalent (with a touch of animosity) toward his name and took mine. Since we've only been married a month yet, I haven't had much opportunity to work on titles. I'm not sure about using Mrs., since it was my (recently deceased) mothers name... however keeping Ms. seems less like a fair compromise since I also kept my last name.
He's very happy to be Mr. ****.

An interesting side note: his family feels betrayed that he changed his name. We could ignore the tension except hubby is upset that they brought it up at our wedding. He wasn't in the mood to talk to them for a month and now they've decided we want nothing to do with their clan and have put up a wall on their side. *sigh*

Mimi said...

My husband asked me if it was a mistake when mail came to me as Ms. MarriedName. I was like, um, no? You fill out the form yourself whether you'd like Miss/Ms./Mrs. and I've never wanted Mrs. Of course, what pisses me off the most is my in-laws who will send mail that is JUST FOR ME to Mrs. HisName MarriedName. I mean really!

Anonymous said...

I dislike nothing more than having to write addresses of Christmas cards for my family and being instructed to write to a married couple as "Mr. and Mrs. Man's First Name Man's Last Name." So does the woman not have an identity at all?

I like the idea of the man and woman both changing their last names to a new, third name. Of course, the assumption will always be that it is the husband's name, but I like it. I will certainly go as "Ms." though.

chickwithmonkey said...

@Weasel - Why isn't it up to him? Or both of you? That sounds like the perfect reason for him to take your name. What's stopping him?


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