THE BLOG
02/23/2012 10:45 am ET | Updated Apr 24, 2012

Follow the French: Say Adieu to "Miss"

Mon Dieu! The French government officially bid adieu to the term "Mademoiselle." Yay!

According to the New York Times, Prime Minister Francois Fillon ordered the honorific -- akin to "damsel" and the equivalent of "miss" -- banished from official forms and registries. French feminist groups are hoping the term will be dropped in the private sector, too, and fall out of favor with the French people.

In Germany, it used to be that "Fraulein" (the equivalent of "Miss" in the U.S.) was used for any woman who was unmarried, regardless of age. "Frau" (Mrs.) was reserved for married women only. Therefore, a woman who was 80 and unmarried would still be referred to as Fraulein, which was viewed by many as insensitive and condescending.

Not that long ago, though, Germany adopted a new standard for how women are to be addressed: All women, regardless of age or marital status are now referred to as Frau. It's not a written law, per se, but it has become part of the collective consciousness of the German people, and the standard.

Why can't the United States figure this out?

This isn't a new question. As a society, we started questioning the use of Mrs. and Miss to address women in the 1960s when Gloria Steinem adopted Ms. for her magazine and promoted the concept of Ms. as a title for women. It was then that the whole discussion heated up and started to really percolate. Ms. became an acceptable salutation for all women, but the question I am raising here is this: Why do we continue to use three?

Not really knowing the current status of the debate, I was eager to get a handle on how things had progressed since the 1960s. I googled "Ms. vs. Mrs." and a few things came up (including an abundance of information on Mississippi and Multiple Sclerosis). One search result was a short interview with Alma Graham, who, in 1972, had the distinction of being the first lexicographer to put Ms. into a dictionary, and who offered a concise explanation of how Ms. came to be.

Next, I read an article that was part of Time magazine's 2009 "The State of the American Woman" special report, by a writer who starts by letting the reader know how unsure she is about whether she's a Mrs. or a Ms., and ends it by declaring that it's okay not to care.

And there's not been too much written about it since, at least according to Google.

Have we just collectively given up the cause? Do we, like the Time magazine writer, no longer really care? Is it okay to just let every woman choose for herself? What if she has chosen, but others continue to refer to her by a different and unwanted title? Has the roar of women turned into a whimper? What is the message we are giving to younger women?

You might point out, correctly, that there are so many more pressing issues our country must confront, including the continuing war against women, salary inequities across most sectors, violence against women and children . . . and the fact that both major political parties use women as political pawns, especially when debating the future of our own reproductive health and rights. For sure, these issues should be our priority.

However, isn't it time to say adieu to Miss and Mrs.? Do we really still need to define women by our marital status?

What do yo think?

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