PARIS -- Forget what you learned in French class about "madame" and "mademoiselle." The French government now says women's marital status shouldn't matter, at least when it comes to this country's far-reaching bureaucracy.
A new circular from the prime minister's office Tuesday orders officials to phase out the use of "mademoiselle" on administrative documents.
Until now, a woman has been required to identify herself as a married "madame" or an unmarried "mademoiselle" on everything from tax forms to insurance claims and voting cards. France offers no neutral option like the English "Ms."
Men don't face this issue: Their only option is "monsieur," married or not.
It's all the more strange given that French young people widely shun matrimony, and more than half of French children are born to unmarried parents.
Feminist groups have been pushing for the abolition of the "mademoiselle" option for years and hailed the circular.
"Everywhere we are asked to declare our marital status. This is not imposed on men, it's not important whether they are married," said Julie Muret of the group Osez le Feminisme.
Still, proponents of the change said they were wary that the move was only aimed at vote-grabbing.
"We're not stupid, we know we are in an election campaign season. So we will be vigilant to see that it is in fact applied," she said.
Her group and a sister movement, Chiennes de garde, are lobbying candidates for the presidential elections in April and May to sign on to other pledges such as reducing the pay gap between men and women, supporting the right to abortion and birth control, and limiting sexist advertising.
They also urged private companies to follow the government's lead: even ordering groceries online in France requires a woman to identify herself as madame or mademoiselle.
The government has sought to reduce the use of the madame vs. mademoiselle tickboxes in the past, but to little avail.
This week's circular notes "the persistence of terms referring, without justification or need, to women's matrimonial situation."
It asks ministries and regional administrations to "eliminate as much as possible from their forms and letters" the term mademoiselle, maiden name and references to a spouse's last name.