Monday, 22 April 2013

Ms vs Miss

‘Ooh, Ms is it?' says my pal, as if this term is in some way fancy, or an unusual one for women in their late twenties to be using.

‘Well… yeah,’ we chorus, somewhat bemused - then our paths diverge somewhat.

‘I mean, I'm not twelve,’ I scoff, whilst my sister is exclaiming ‘why the hell should I be defined by my relationship status?  My boyfriend isn't.’

On balance hers is probably the more persuasive argument, although I think mine is valid. I associate the ‘Miss’ moniker with youth, lack of life experience… innocence, I guess. That or the confirmed spinsterhood of unmarried ladies before 1950, when being single supposedly meant there was something wrong with you.  I am not a kid anymore, and as it happens I’m not single (although there are occasional FIFA filled afternoons where a halcyon pre-war existence of cats, gin and cardigans starts to look pretty good), so ‘Miss’ feels like it has nothing to do with me. 

To be honest it never crossed my mind that some of my friends might not feel the same – I made the apparently baseless assumption that everyone in my peer group was probably Ms (or Dr) by the time they finished university.*

This has not shattered my worldview, but it did make me think - not least because of the looks we got for thinking this was important.  I mean, I know it isn't going to solve world hunger, but symbolically I think the difference between Ms and Miss says a lot.

One of the main arguments in favour of Ms is gender equality – that it is a female equivalent of Mr that does not reveal anything about our relationship status.  Miss, meanwhile, automatically tells people of your unmarried status, which is irrelevant in most situations and is not the same for men.  There again, maybe you are looking for a relationship and want to be able to confirm your availability by casually waving your post in front of them (a red bill for Miss George? Ding dong), rather than flirting, or whatever it is people do at Da Club nowadays. 

I actually think that as far as titles are concerned, if you want proper gender equality then men and women ought to have the same one.  Except that would render all of them - Ms, Miss, Mrs and Mr - obsolete, so really no title at all is the more elegant solution. 

Elegant, but wildly impractical – that solution can’t be implemented overnight.  If we suddenly stopped using titles, electronic databases the world over would collapse.  You have to fill in the ‘title’ box in this job application / bank form / tax form, says the (newly anthropomorphised) system.  If you don’t, I will be forced to give you a red error message saying ‘information provided is incomplete.’  Also I will die of malnutrition, for the contents of the title box – all that tasty information on your gender and relationship status - is what sustains me. 

All of which means that at some point, you’re going to be asked which one you are and sorted into a marketing category that involves gin (Miss), washing up liquid (Mrs) or lesbian ham (Ms)  whether you like it or not. 

Unless you're a man, of course.** 

*Yes, much of my peer group completed further education – in case the title of the blog and content of previous articles hadn’t given away the fact I am white and middle class. 

** As we all know, in marketing terms a 'Mr' is into football, boobs and probably curry.