I recently read Jess Phillips’ book Everywoman. She is the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley, previously worked at Women’s Aid, and is a proud and outspoken feminist.
Something she said about gendered titles really rang true, maybe more than anything else in the whole book. When discussing the traditions and conventions of parliamentary committees, Jess talks about how she chooses to use the title “Ms” as opposed to “Madam” when addressing a female speaker or chair.
Reading this planted the seed of a topic that I’ve considered throughout my life: how the first thing you see when you look at a woman’s name defines her by her spouse (or lack of). For as long as I can remember, my mum has always used Ms instead of Mrs as her title, and until a few years ago I had never really questioned why. She has been married for well over 20 years, but has consistently made a conscious effort to withhold this piece of information. It is completely irrelevant to almost all aspects of society, nobody really needs to know.
From day one, unless you’re living in the past or were born into aristocracy, a boy is known as Mister. This does not change when he weds. A woman does not need a separate address to tell the world she has said “I do”. Whether that change in status is deemed a positive or negative one by spectators, depending on the scenario, it remains pointless discrimination. Personally, I tend to go by “Ms”.
If my male counterpart does not have to automatically declare his marital status with a title, then why should I?
It is unlikely that you’ve ever sat with both a male and female driving license in front of you, even less likely that you would have spotted the subtle difference with between names. On the license card of someone identifying as female, the title is there with your first names. However, for a male, there is nothing. This is done automatically and unless you looked hard and had reason to suspect it, you would never know that the DVLA expends this completely unnecessary extra printing cost. If it was simply a method of identifying the owner as male or female, “Mr” would be on all the pieces of plastic owned by those who identify as male. Why should someone looking at my driving license need to know whether I am married, if not to potentially define a woman by her life choices?
This is obviously a completely personal choice, but it should not matter either way. Nobody should feel defined by whether they are married or not, and it is up to that person as to whether they disclose this to the world. I respect everyone and their decision when it comes to how they choose to be addressed; just do not belittle me by insisting the fact that I am an unmarried woman means more than it would if I were an unmarried man.
Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.
Words by Katie Meadows
Image credit: The Big Lunch (Jess Phillips, centre, with son Tom Phillips, left, and actress Barbara Windsor, right)