One Little Word

Good news from France!  While there’s no official French equivalent of Ms., all 2012 tax forms will identify every French female as Madame instead of having to choose between Madame (indicating the woman is married) and Mademoiselle (indicating the woman is unmarried).  While I wish that a French translation of Ms. (indicating neither that the woman is married nor single) existed, I think that this new tax procedure is a step in the right direction.  I’ve always gone by Ms. because I believe language is powerful, and the line between work and personal life is an important one.

I heard about this procedural change on NPR, and one of the most poignant parts of the story was when the leader of this French movement said that mademoiselle is just a word, but it’s important to fight words and images of inequality because they contribute to creating the climate in which we live.  I couldn’t agree more–language is powerful stuff.  Our expressions, slang, and words are representations and reinforcers of what we value and how we perceive the world.  If men have essentially one title (and one last name) their entire lives, and women alter their titles (and sometimes their last names) based on their relationships to men, what does that say about gender roles in that society?