What’s the French for Ms?

One of the outcomes of feminism in the Anglo-Saxon world has been the emergence of “Ms”, applicable to both married and single women. In fact, the form was first suggested in a local newspaper in Springfield, MA in 1901 but was ignored for decades until reinvented by Gloria Steinem (it’s usually claimed) in the Sixties. The usage reflects the reluctance of some women to have their identity in any way made dependent on their juridical attachment to a man, as is implied by the traditional use of “Mrs”, while “Miss” has often been regarded as a badge of social incompleteness.

Au revoir Mademoiselle

In France for years there’s been a similar discussion over forms of address for women. There are many feminists (and maybe not only) who were irritated by the requirement on official forms to tick a box marked Mademoiselle. Says Julie Muret, spokesperson of the association Osez le féminisme, “This is an intrusion into private life which isn’t inflicted on men.” Well, as Ms Muret is well aware, as of last month, Prime Minister François Fillon announced a ban on the word Mademoiselle, and the removal of nom de jeune fille (maiden name) from all administrative documents as it’s seen as “archaic” with “connotations of virginity”. But don’t expect to see nom d’usage (family name) next time you’re at the prefecture. Changes won’t occur until current stocks of official forms “run out”.

Danish law has imposed a comparable solution so everyone’s Fru; in Quebec, we’re told, Mademoiselle is now considered an insult and in the French of la Belle Province there’s now the word Madelle available which can be used by any woman, whatever her status.

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