France Ends Sexist Titles for Single Women
“Mademoiselle harks back to the term ‘oiselle’, which means ‘virgin’ or ‘simpleton’. The equivalent word for men of ‘Damoiseau’ – meaning squire – was abolished decades ago.” – Julie Muret, French feminist campaigner
France has announced plans to eliminate the term “mademoiselle” on all official government documents. As an alternative, the less sexist “Madame” will be used. Other countries, including the United States and England, offer “Ms.” as an option to women. In Germany and some Nordic nations, “Mrs.” is used exclusively. So what took France so long?
A victory over chauvinism
In the past, if a woman filed municipal forms in France, for any reason, she also had to declare a title, either “Mademoiselle,” for Miss or “Madame,” signifying marriage. That is until now.
Outspoken critics in France like Osez le Feminisme, “Dare for Feminism” and Les Chiennes de Garde, “The Female Guard Dogs,” have been on a mission to end some of the more blatant chauvinistic practices in that country.
The Australian Broadcast Corporation, ABC, published a story on February 24, 2012, “French women to give mademoiselle a miss” that describes the latest win in the war on sexism in that country:
“French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has ordered all regional and local governments to remove the title ‘mademoiselle’ – used for unmarried women and implying a youthful immaturity – from official documents. From now on, people filling out government forms will get just two choices: Madame or Monsieur.”
Osez le Feminisme and Les Chiennes de Garde were directly responsible for these significant changes in France. During September 2011, the two groups began a highly visible campaign to stop the practice of forcing French women to reveal their marital status on official documents. The same ABC news piece quoted a joint statement from the two groups about the issue:
“The Madame/Mademoiselle distinction…is a sign of standard sexism that endures in our society…It’s a reminder of the time when women passed, through marriage, from the authority of their fathers to the authority of their husbands.”
Some public officials previously decried the use of “Mademoiselle” however nothing had been done. Inasmuch as it took only six months to effectively end an age-old practice, the recent movement against “Mademoiselle” inequality indicates that French women’s rights advocates are a force to be reckoned with.
Prime Minister Fillon announced France will also put an end to asking for a woman’s maiden name on government paperwork. What was so significant about requiring a woman’s maiden name on documents? The UK’s Daily Mail Online reports Prime Minister Fillon as saying it was “archaic” and had “connotations of virginity.”
Additionally, instead of a maiden name, “family name” or “name of usage” will be listed on French documents going forth. Interestingly enough, “Ms.” is not going to be an option.
If France is really interested in neutralizing feminine titles as well as sexism, “Ms.” should be offered as a viable option. Now what’s taking France so long?