I studied French all through high school and part of the way into college, and I wasn’t exactly aware of the absence, though, thinking back on it, I never learned a title for a woman other than “madame” or “mademoiselle.” Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so now I’m thinking, That’s right! There isn’t a French equivalent for Ms! But, the truth of the matter probably is that I was not truly concerned with having a title that denoted something other than “married” or “not married” until I, myself, got married and kept my last name, which placed me firmly between Miss and Mrs.
For French feminists, though, the issue is the same. “Mademoiselle” denotes a woman who is under the leadership of her father, and “madame” denotes a woman who is under the leadership of her husband. Furthermore, “mademoiselle” is a jumping off point for discrimination and harassment, because it is often younger women who bear the brunt of the term, and they are perceived as naïve and incapable, similar to the term Miss in English-speaking countries.
According to this NPR article, the French are way behind the feminist curve on this one:
[Marie-Noelle Bas, president of the feminist group Watchdog] says France is way behind its neighbors. The Scandinavians no longer delineate between married and unmarried women, and the Germans have dropped “fraulein.”
The campaigners say even the Spanish have struck “senorita” from official forms. A new website lets users sign a petition and offers form letters that can be sent to companies and lawmakers to demand that the title “mademoiselle” be discarded.
In the country that is also the birthplace of feminist foremother, Simone de Beauvoir, I do find it surprising that this fight has taken so long to come to the front of French feminist consciousness. However, I believe this fight is an important one, and integral to the advancement of women in any society. As I stated earlier, it admittedly took me a while to understand the implications of being either a Miss or a Mrs. with nothing in between. However, once I caught on to the idea, and now that I consistently use “Ms.” when referring to myself, I understand why it is so incredibly important for women to have a title for themselves that has nothing to do with marital status. Marital status has nothing to do with intelligence, capabilities, skills, personality, or any other quality needed for, well, anything you do. And when we use marital status to separate the girls from the women, if you will, that can have dangerous consequences. From losing job opportunities to not being treated with respect to issues with sexual harassment and much more, the term can, and does, cause harm. Having a term that remains consistent regardless of marital status, like men do, can help draw the attention away from whether or not a woman is married to more important things, like her skill set or intellect.
In short, I fully support this move for French women, and I look forward to hearing more developments as the issue grows.
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