Why hasn't Feminism destroyed old forms of addressing a lady?

A man is called “Mr.” (Mister) all his life. Well, often young males are simply called by their names by parents / social superiors :slight_smile:
I was duly surprised when I went to Florida when I was eight and was sent down to the desk to ask about an extra cot, and the fellow at the desk (concierge?) called me “Sir.”

Anywhoo, an unmarried woman is called “Ms.” (Miss) A married woman is “Mrs.” (Misses).
My family called my granfmother “Mum” for “Madam” and a polite clerk will call a lady of any age “Ma’am.”
Why has Feminism not succeeded in ridding the world of this silly custom? Or at least America? It’s just another unneccesary social institution that gets in the way of reasonable discussion and especially when writing letters.

Comments on other cultures’ and languages’ handling of married-vs.-not-married titles of both sexes are welcome.

Actually, an unmarried woman is called Miss (spelled out and pronounced) while a married woman is called Mrs. (spelled with the abbreviation, though pronounced “missus”).

Ms. (spelled as shown, but pronounced “miz”) was intended to be the female equivalent to Mr. (and we’ll ignore the rather archaic and fairly rare use of “Master” for a boy).

However, many women prefer to not use Ms. The reasons can vary widely. Some prefer the received etiquitte and consider tampering with it a barbarous act. Some simply prefer to continue the recognized separation between married and unmarried women. There is somewhat of a backlash among some women against the perceived nature of the Feminist Movement, leading them to reject any proposals seeming to emanate from Feminist organizations or publications. I remember some initial objections that the pronunciation of the word Ms. was inappropriate as it called up visions of groups perceived to be backwards or uneducated (such as Walt Kelly’s Miz Beaver or some of the characters in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner), although I do not know how strong a feeling that is after nearly 30 years of seeing Ms. used in public.

When my kids started school, I was surprised to discover that the women in our district are all addressed as Mrs. or Miss. There is a strong yupscale contingent in our school district and I had thought that Ms. would have been the norm. I acually did ask why the older forms were in use, but was told that that was simply how it was done. No one seemed to have a reason for it.

Like tomndebb said, a lot of women just don’t like Ms. Another reason is that many dislike the ambiguity that Ms. necessitates. Frankly, I prefer Miss, since I have no reason for not wanting anyone to be in question about my marital status.

er…that “not” shouldn’t be there.

This summary is not quite right (at least where I live, which is Ireland). Ms is not an abbreviation for Miss, but a distinct title. Miss has no abbreviation.

Rules for writing

Any woman, married or unmarried, can be addressed as “Ms Jones” (or whatever her surname is). If you are addressing a woman whose marital status you don’t know, you have no choice but to call her Ms Jones. Even if you did know her marital status, you would probably call address her as Ms Jones unless you also knew that she preferred Miss Jones or Mrs Jones, in which case you would use her preference.

Rules for speech

Again, any woman can be addressed as Ms Jones. You can use the alternative of Miss Jones or Mrs Jones if that is her preference.

However if you don’t know her name you can be a bit stuck. You do not call her “Ms” on its own. If she is a young woman you can get away with “Miss” on its own. For an older woman “Mrs” on its own is sometimes considered excessivly informal, to the point of being disrepectful. Otherwise the only choice is “Madam”, which is sometimes excessively formal and respectful.

The AP Stylebook states that when a courtesy title (Mr., Miss, Ms. or Mrs.) is used, it is the person’s choice of the title, not the newspaper’s.

Therefore a woman could choose to call herself
Ms. Susan Smith
Mrs. Susan Smith
Mrs. John Smith
or simply Susan Smith.

I know the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others, have their own style, but I don’t have the reference material for it.

Back when I was covering local government, the first woman member of the city council ended all discussion by asking to be referred to in the same way as the men. According to her wishes, she was referred to as “Councilman” and by her last name only.

I would say that the feminist movment is seen as radical left and people don’t want to associate with radical anything. (I not saying that they didn’t help womens issues but they have taken it to such an extreme that they lost a lot of people.)

Also IIRC Ms. was invented in the 60’s - but whatever the case may be it was invented a great deal later then Miss and Mrs. So what was the convention of calling a female of unknown martial status?

Actually after replying to what I though was a tangent I think I hit on the answer to the OP - sometimes I even amaze myself :wink:

I prefer Webster’s, it’s right on:
“used instead of Miss or Mrs. (as when the marital status of a woman is unknown or irrelevant)”&
Inflected Form:plural Mss. or Mses. *mi-z*z\
Etymology:probably blend of Miss and Mrs

Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are all abbreviations of Mistress and have evolved into the current forms and meanings over the years.
Ms. has been used at least since the turn of the last century, and is not something invented in the 60’s.

OK even if it was invented at the turn of the last century am I to assume Mistress was used before it for unknown martial status?

I just go with “Comrade.” That way I don’t have to worry about marital status, radical feminism, etiquette, or even gender!

kind of have communist overtones though.

There wasn’t one.

Or you could be punk rock and use “Yr.” for men and “Yrs.” for women.


Actually, a married woman can only be called Mrs. if she uses her husbands name. I’m married, but I can’t be called Mrs. Mylastname ,since Mylastname is not the same as Husbandslastname

This is poppycock, of course. Millions of married women use the form Mrs. Jane Doe. The “rule” that only Mrs. John Doe is “correct” has long been discarded by majority usage.

Do most women really object to Ms? I much prefer it, myself, and always use it unless I know the person involved objects. I haven’t met many who object, either, and those who do are usually older. And for use by itself, I find that “ma’am” works quite nicely, though I think only Americans use it that way. (I don’t know that for sure, though.)

It’s not that I object to anyone knowing my marital status–I just don’t see why it’s so defining for me but not for my husband. If men had a similar distinction in their titles, it would make more sense.

Actually, where I work a lot of the women start their names with “Dr.”

“Ms.” is convenient because you don’t need to know the woman’s marital status, which is why I think it caught on in the business world. However, if someone expresses a preference for Miss or Mrs then, going forward, you use that.

Between hyphens, middle names, and names of foreign origin the whole question of how to address someone can become a minefield. Basically, you do your best, if someone corrects you smile, apologize if appropriate, and remember their preferences going forward.

These days, in the business world, the rule is to, as much as possible, refer to people as they wish to be referred to. If that means picking up a phone and asking, that’s what you do, whether it’s to ask about the Ms/Miss/Mrs question, how to pronounce or spell a name, and even which gender the person is if you can’t tell from the name.

I’m not talking about that old, usually ignored rule. I’m talking about last names. I can’t be Mrs Doreen Mylastname.I could have been Mrs Doreen Hislastname, but I’m not.