Vive la France! But not "la Mademoiselle!"

French feminists tackle the distinction between "Madame" and "Mademoiselle."

By Rebecca Traister
April 24, 2006 3:34PM (UTC)
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A French feminist group called les Chiennes de Garde (literally, "the female guard dogs") has published a petition lobbying the French government to do away with the distinction between "Madame" and "Mademoiselle," the two appellations used to address French women. The former, of course, is akin to "Mrs." and indicates that a woman is married. The latter is "Miss" and means she's single.

According to Les Chiennes de Garde, it's unjust that women are forced to identify themselves according to their marital status, while men are identified only by gender. In the petition, they write that the distinction means that "a woman has to give an indication about her availability, in particular her sexual availability. A letter box is not meant to be a dating agency."


The group is not calling for a new word that would correspond to "Ms." Instead, they have suggested that the government do away with "Mademoiselle" on legal documents, and adopt "Madame" for all women, regardless of marital status or age.

It remains to be seen whether the Academie Française, notoriously prickly guardians of the language, will be willing to institute this change. As a BBC piece on the topic pointed out, the Academie still insists that a female cabinet minister be referred to by the masculine "Madame Le Ministre." "Perhaps," the BBC goes on to suggest, "this issue will have to wait until France has a Madame le President?"

Hey, it looks like that particular wait may not be a long one.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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