Who are you calling "Ms."?

By Margot Mifflin

By Salon Staff
July 31, 2000 11:59PM (UTC)
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The Ms. title is a perfectly reasonable compromise, and society ought to accept it as the standard term of polite address for a woman. I am gratified to find that it is much older than the "second wave" of 20th-century feminism which has gotten so much flak over the past three decades -- can we now finally lay that militant stereotype to rest, please, and get on with the real work of improving the status of women?


And oh yes, I also read Ms. Magazine, and I don't find it "eye-crossingly boring" in the slightest. It's free of commercial advertisements, which cuts out the biggest part of the boredom right then and there. It's also free of a lot of the vague, annoying "post-feminist" bullshit that's currently floating about in the media, and which is boring this Ms. to tears.

-- Sabina C. Becker

One of the loveliest things about living in the South is that "Ms." is in fact the default title for women, albeit by accident. Any woman over the age of 30 -- married or unmarried -- to children, tradesmen and acquaintances, is "Miz Carter," "Miz Johnson," or if you know them a bit better, "Miz Barbara" or "Miz Dorothy." Divorcees, widows, spinsters and wives grow gracefully into this title that elides over the question of marital status, just as Margot Mifflin wishes.


-- J. Wells

I became a Mrs. on my marriage a couple of years ago, not because I am not a feminist, but because I am. My thinking went something like this: I am an American woman of Western European descent. I have no last name. Oh, I had my father's father's father's name. But it's not like that's somehow mine.

So I might as well take my husband's surname. He finds it flattering, and the family name that matters to me is one of my grandmother's which I bear as a middle name. I'll be Mrs. Whoever and it's not like it matters. To me and the people who count I am my first name and my middle name and the rest is just stupid patriarchal baggage.


Incidentally, I work in an office where I've had to be emphatic about my "Mrs." -- and that's because I want to emphasize the space between me as a person and my surname. My coworkers can't cope. The idea that I am willing to describe myself publicly as a married woman disturbs them. But for me, it's inherently an act of protest. Until society gives me the names of my mothers, I will be known as the property of men. Pretending to be the property of my husband is no less a lie than pretending to be the property of my father.

-- Sara Gillies


I'd like to submit a simple reason I think the courtesy title "Ms." is not in wider usage: It's just plain hard to pronounce.

Although I like the term and its neutrality about marriage status, I find that whenever I try to say it, it's invariably misheard as "Miss" or "Mrs." anyway.

The sound of "Ms." is just too tough to make without drawing out the "z" sound in "Ms." so long that it sounds unnatural. "Mister" just rolls off the tongue, while "Ms." overstays it's welcome in the mouth.


Maybe it's time to coin another term.

-- C.R. Chambers

I am a young married woman in my 20s who has, for now, retained her given surname. I embrace the term "Ms." for all the reasons Ms. Mifflin notes, and use it to address other women with whom I am not familiar, but I still respond when others refer to me as "Mrs.," even when they attach the title to my husband's last name. Further, I do not correct them or ask to be called "Ms."


Why? Because, like many young feminists, I have learned to choose my battles. In my mind, being called "Miss," "Ms." or "Mrs." does not equate my identity with my marital status, regardless of others' misguided assumptions; I am much more concerned with equal pay for equal work than with something so trivial as a misapplied title of courtesy. I must admit, however, that this muddle over forms of address does help me and my husband identify telemarketers, who often call and ask for "Mrs. Holm." That's my mother's name, and she doesn't live with us.

-- Amanda Holm

Salon Staff

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