Because I have a gender neutral first name (Belle is a pseudonym, remember), I try to use Miss whenever possible to avoid the occasional embarrassing “Mr.” malfunction. Utilizing the prefix just makes doing business easier when many of my meetings are with people whom I’ve never met before. I’ve become very comfortable thinking of myself as a Miss, so when a piece of mail arrived earlier this week bearing Ms. instead, I was a it taken aback.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with difference between the two terms, the Miss vs. Ms. debate is actually quite fascinating.
During the middle part of the 20th Century, while fighting for professional and personal equality, many women decided that they no longer wanted their titles determined by their marital status. After all, why did women need two prefixes (Miss and Mrs.) when men only needed one (Mr.)? And wasn’t dividing women into two classes–the Misses and the Mrs.–just reinforcing the notion that marriage was the defining action of a woman’s life?
So, they came up with the prefix Ms. to describe all women regardless of marital status. They hoped, I presume, that someday, there would be no more Mrs. or Miss just the status neutral Ms., but that certainly hasn’t come to pass.
But while I understand the historical context and the cultural implications, all I could think about when I saw “Ms.” on my letter, instead of Miss, was, “Oh my God, am I a Ms.? Am I…old?”
My foresisters spent decades fighting for gender equality, and all I think when I look at one of the fruits of their legacy is whether being switched from a Miss to a Ms. means that I’ve tumbled head first down the slippery slope to the nursing home. It appears that in my mind, a Miss is a young, fun, vibrant person who does as she pleases, while a Ms. is a woman whose better, younger days are behind her. I wonder what Gloria Steinem would have to say about that?
Maybe it’s a minor feminist success that I don’t see being called “Miss” as a commentary on my marital status, so much as I do a statement about my advancing years. Or maybe I feel this way because while I worry very little about being unmarried, I am deeply insecure about growing old. Not aging, in terms of physical attractiveness, but instead, the persistent fear that I haven’t accomplished enough in my twenties and that I’ll look up one day and be on the verge of retirement with fewer accomplishments than I would like.
I suppose, I should see the prefix on my utility bill for the unimportant paperwork change that it is, but I don’t. For me, being referred to as Ms. is like the first time someone calls you Ma’am. You still think of yourself as being a young, vibrant Miss, but clearly the world sees you somewhat differently.
So how do you feel about the Miss/Mrs./Ms. debate? Do you think there’s a chronological component to the prefix choice or is it still all about marital status for you? And does it say something more profound about gender equity if the marital stigma can be removed from Ms. and replaced by another emotion, even if that emotion is fear of aging? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
Also, how do you single ladies like to be referred to, do you prefer Miss or Ms.? And why? Or does it even matter?