Just call me Ms. Anderson.

Let's Get a Serious

Eliza started Kindergarten this week and we talked about the difference between Madame and Mademoiselle. This conversation brought me back 18 years to my elementary school days. I remember being seriously confused about the whole Mrs./Miss thing. Why were some teachers Mrs. and some teachers Miss? Why did Mrs. look shorter but sound longer than Miss? Why did girls have two options while boys only had one? It was all very confusing. I didn’t like it.

And I still don’t.

As a grown-up, I don’t like it because I think it is ridiculous that women’s professional names must be marked with their marital status while men’s names do not. I don’t like it when mail comes to the house addressed “Mr. & Mrs. Jacob Anderson”.  This is 2011. My identity did not completely disappear into my husband’s after we said “I do”.

So I use Ms., which is used as a default title in the U.S. that does not denote marital status. It’s short for “Mistress”, which was formal in the 17th century but did not find revival in the U.S. until the 1900s. (It wasn’t used on official government documents in the U.S. until the 1970s.)

Even though I use Ms., I still get people nosing into my private life. In my experience, people don’t usually see the use of “Ms.” as a feminist act. People instead assume I’m widowed or divorced. I see it rather as marking the “prefer not to answer” box. The point is: even if I try to use the marriage-neutral term, people use it to try to figure out what my story is.

Why is this a problem? Partially because it distracts the other party from thinking of me as strictly a professional. Thier mind wanders to my private life, whereas men have the privilege of keeping it all business in they eye of the beholder if they so wish. In addition, “Miss” and “Mrs.” are often applied to a woman by unknowing parties based on age. An elder “Miss” may be judged (What’s wrong with her, anyway? Why isn’t she married yet? Is she a lesbian or something?). 

And if you’re thinking even the consideration of the whole Miss/Mrs./Ms. thing is stupid and just another P.C. debate, that’s fine. I’m just putting this up for your consideration. Because I believe the use of these titles contributes to male privilege and thus perpetuates our existing power structure. It gives men the privilege of anonymity, of not having to think about their gender and its relation to “belonging” to someone.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit: after Jake & I got married it was thrilling to be able to write Mrs. Anderson. Because “Mrs.” meant that I was married to Jake and that was (and is) pretty darn exciting. Also, it removed some of the judgement from form-taker’s faces when I was young and visibly pregnant. I don’t think that makes me at all hypocritical. (It mostly just makes me 18 at the time I got married. I wasn’t thinking about it all that much yet.)

So don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be married. I just don’t think it is everyone’s business.

On a similar note: I would have kept my maiden name if I had married anyone but Jake. His family is REALLY proud of being Andersons. It’s a big deal to become an Anderson. The Kiekels were not so attached. But I mostly find it nonsensical that my culture traces linage through patrilineality, as parentage is easier to trace through matrilineality.

What title do you use? Have you ever been uncomfortable with the use of these titles? Why or why not?

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

*This LGS post is just Megan’s and is not a collaboration between Megan & Jake.

Find more LGS posts here.