French feminists are really on fire these days. Coming off the whirlwind of visibility they generated following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal and investigation, French feminists are taking on a new issue: the title “Mademoiselle.”
The goal: ban the word from state and corporate paperwork.
Why? French feminist organizations, which have launched full-blown campaigns against the term, argue that it is “sexist and condescending.” Origins of the word range from “silly girl” to implications about a woman’s virginity, and most officially whether or not a woman is married. And although similar English terms are more closely associated with martial status in America, in France “Mademoiselle” is associated with a woman’s age, thus making it a term actually preferred by many women.
Surprisingly there is currently no French equivalent to the term “Ms.”
Feminists in France are taking to the streets to create awareness about the movement in a similar way that American feminists pushed for the acceptance of the term “Ms.” in the 1970s. It took years for the effort to be seen as important even by many feminists, but it eventually became one of the most poignant symbols of the women’s liberation movement. Fair pay acts, widened educational opportunities, abortion access and greater legal protection for women quickly followed.
There are those who criticize feminists for making something like this a priority. Terms like “Mrs.” “Ms.” and “Mr.” are such a regular part of every day life that they almost become invisible and it is hard to see where the impact takes place. However I would argue that it is this pervasiveness and the actual simplicity of the issue itself that makes it so vitally important for women.
Something as closely related to a person’s identity as their name has significant, even if indirect consequences on an entire society. Requiring a woman to choose between two terms forces her to be instantly recognized by others by her relationship to a man instead of a whole and complete individual in her own right.
Bravo to French feminists for taking this issue on and I send you all the well wishes in the world. And a friendly reminder to my American feminist peers: always insist on being referred to as “Ms.” Be bold, go as far as to correct those who use it. By doing so you are taking an important stand about how women should be viewed and treated.
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.