Monday, 1 June 2015

Miss or Mrs?

I'm beginning to wonder whether I chose the wrong title! I'm officially a 'Miss', meaning that this title is the one I invariably use for myself. I regard it as a reasonable default title for a single lady, if she doesn't want to be regarded as locked into a marriage, or in some way still in thrall to a past marriage. I am in fact perfectly entitled to style myself 'Mrs', having been married from 1983 until my eventual divorce in 1996. But I don't want to signal that I was once married and - fairly obviously - made a mess of it. I don't want to carry that baggage around. I want to make it clear and unambiguous that I am as free as any never-been-wed woman, and that (at least in theory) I am 'available' and legally competent to consider fresh offers of matrimony. The fact that I would refuse such offers point blank is not the issue. I just don't want the 'married' label, and the things it might imply.

And yet more often than not I am addressed as 'Mrs Melford'. Nobody ever calls me 'Miss Melford' unless I've managed to introduce myself as that before any conversation begins.

Now why is that, I wonder? Is 'Mrs' the socially appropriate title to employ when addressing a stranger who happens to be an older woman? It's certainly likely to be the correct title in many instances. And if not, it is surely still a respectful title to use, implying that at least one man, once upon a time, loved and cherished the lady in question above all others, and bestowed upon her his best worldly goods, yea, even unto half his kingdom. It might also imply the high-value status of motherhood. Whereas addressing an older woman as 'Miss' suggests that circumstances - or lack of attractiveness, or a quirky nature - prevented even one man from fancying her sufficiently to pop the question - and so, as a title, it's a potential put-down. I know there are very many excellent real-world reasons to stay single and be independent of men - I have my own, after all - but I'm talking here about what a man should do when he meets a woman of whom he knows nothing, and whose background and motivations are unguessable. What does he safely call her? If aiming for inoffensive politeness, 'Mrs' is definitely the best option.

I can see that a woman with experience of married life might be considered 'a more rounded person' or 'someone who has learned a few home truths' and 'knows what it's really all about'. At any rate, the man who called me 'Mrs Melford' this afternoon was clearly very comfortable with the lady before him, recognised her as a Married Adult, and was most helpful about recommending to her good restaurants and great things to see in the Stonehaven area (I've now reached Aberdeenshire). But would he have been so affable with 'Miss Melford'? I suspect that he would have worked from a different set of assumptions, and might possibly have written her off as a feisty but eccentric old spinster. Being a 'Miss' is exciting and sexy when young, but sad (and even alienating) when older.

Despite what I've just said, I do prefer 'Miss' and will assert that title if I need to, because it signifies that I am mistress of my own affairs, and not merely the compliant female half of a conventional twosome. 'Miss' says there is no husband in the offing who can speak for me; who may indeed be easier to deal with. They must all deal with me, and me alone, and not 'the man of the house'. I can insist on being listened to. Being a 'Miss' therefore gives me more personal power and control than being a 'Mrs' would, even though I might also be thought prickly and exacting, and best handled with some wariness.

3 comments:

  1. Perhaps the French have got it right. I quote from Wikipedia - The term Mademoiselle is a French familiar title, abbreviated Mlle, traditionally given to an unmarried woman. The equivalent in English is 'Miss'. However, the courtesy title 'Madame' is accorded women where their marital status is unknown.

    However, whilst "Bonjour madame" is fine, "Good day missus" sounds rather rude. A shame, really.

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  2. I was told that addressing a woman as "Mrs." is a sign of respect, regardless of marital status.

    I prefer Ms.in a business setting with my maiden name (Ms. Broule), and Mrs. in a social setting husband's family name Mrs. Jones).

    In everyday dealings with merchants and service people, I don't use a prefix, and simply give my name as Alice Broule-Jones.

    So far so good. (40 years into it)

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  3. The French tend not to use mademoiselle for women as they get older but as Angie says madame does sound better. A general greeting when entering somewhere like a friendly restaurant is to say "Madams, Monsieur' even if younger folk are present...

    Perhaps you need to wear a tee shirt saying" Free, single, unavailable, call me Miss!", That should do it.

    Sorry about our rotten weather this year...

    ReplyDelete

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Lucy Melford