“Are You a Miss or a Mrs?”

PHONE PERSON: Are you a Miss or a Mrs?
PHONE PERSON: Well, are you married?

I’ve had to deal with a lot of telephone form-filling recently, and this presumption of my identity as being intrinsically tied to my marital status becomes more and more irritating every time it happens. When opening a bank account I had to specifically request the title that would appear on my card, as there was no box to tick, no other way to choose on the form.

I’ve become picky about using the title Ms as opposed to Miss since turning about 25. Arbitrary age milestones apparently mean something to me, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that 24 was a year in which I re-evaluated my relationship to the concept of marriage. Don’t want to do it in my twenties, not sure if I want to change my name and would consider not doing it at all. If I never got married would I really have to be filling in forms about retirement or pensions using “Miss”? Really?

This is obviously a considerably more painful and frustrating experience for transgender and queer people, but even from a cisgender, heterosexual perspective it’s still unpleasant to feel like I’m being shoved into boxes that don’t fit me. I never used to understand the point of the Ms title, not seeing being unmarried as something to be ashamed of, but it’s not about whether or not I’m embarrassed to say I’m unmarried, it’s about the connotations attached to these words. Apparently, women can’t win:

Dion (1987) found that the title Ms. elicits the stereotype of a career-oriented woman with below-average interpersonal skills. This stereotype could evoke either negative or positive connotations depending on the person and the context. Carney and Hamilton’s study (1991) found that while the titles Mrs. and Mr. were neutral terms, 25 percent of all their respondents had negative connotations for Ms. and Miss. Subjects used words like “old maid” and “against society” to connote Ms. and labels like “prissy” and “immature” to describe Miss.

Career-oriented, against society and [value-loaded term for never getting married]? I will take those connotations and dazzle with my interpersonal skills rather than setting myself up for preconceptions of immaturity or being a “stuck up, goody-two-shoes, self-centered, all-knowing, hard to please biatch” (that was actually one of the less hideous definitions; so much for ‘post-feminism’).



Filed under feminist rage, heteronormativity is fun, the personal is political

3 responses to ““Are You a Miss or a Mrs?”

  1. abitha

    I’m glad I can avert this particular dilemma (at least for a few years, or forever if I don’t choose a surgical specialty) by becoming ‘Dr’ this summer! Although I guess that probably means I’ll have people assuming I’m a man half the time… Also, if I do get married, some forms have options for ‘Mr & Mrs’, ‘Dr & Mrs’ etc, but no ‘Mr & Dr’ or ‘Dr & Dr’ – like you say, can’t win!

    (PS. I think you missed off an italic close-tag after your quote, as the whole of the rest of the page is appearing in italics for me at the moment.)

    • Yes I did, fixed now!

      I still hope to avoid the dilemma by becoming a doctor someday, but am quite happy to be a Ms in the meantime. I just wish it was actually an equivalent to Mr rather than shorthand for “not married to a MAN but doesn’t want to say so.”

  2. Er, PhD Dr., not a MD. Just in case anyone reading this thinks I’m cleverer or more selfless than I actually am.

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