|Women’s titles tend to be rather more variable and politicised than men’s (they have it easy, just the one-size-fits-all “Mr”). When I was younger, I grew up in a very conservative and insular community, where you were either “Miss” or “Mrs”. “Ms” was believed to be for divorced women (I’ve never heard this explanation anywhere else, so it was presumably a misconception in only the area I was raised). Also, it was Very, Very Important to maintain the distinction.
In common parlance, “Ms” is a title that women can use if they do not wish to be defined by, or reveal, their marital status.
One of the school art teachers used “Ms” and we all thought she was a freak. Indeed, “Mzzzz” sounds a bit like a fly, and we were clueless kids learning our social skills and expectations within a backwards and overtly religious setting.
Then I moved to a major, and very liberal, city. “Ms” became a more attractive and less offensive title. It sounded more adult than “Miss” (see the example of the French, below), and meant I wasn’t pigeonholed due to my relationship status (most people outside of isolated and traditional communities don’t think this is a big deal anyway these days, but for me it did mean something).
I don’t like being referred to as “Miss”, and if/when I marry, I won’t use “Mrs”. It just seems really outdated. In France, many unmarried women use “Mme” (the French equivalent of “Mrs”) instead of “Mlle” (like “Miss”), because “Madame” is for ladies, and “Mademoiselle” is for little girls. Great idea. We should define ourselves how we like and not let outdated notions of status make the decision for us.
Many people in public-facing roles think it’s appropriate to refer to me as “Miss”. It isn’t. I don’t like “Miss” for many reasons: it’s over-familiar (much like the ubiquitous “love”, “sweetheart” and “darling” – bleeeuuuurgh), plays on my youthful appearance (this is a massive curse – more on this in another post), and triggers my “stereotype / gender roles” button.
I began updating my title from “Miss” to “Ms” with various utility companies, institutions, professional bodies, etc, about 5 years ago. Although it’s something that is important to me, it still feels quite strange, because it makes no difference legally, and not everyone understands why I choose to do this. The more I get challenged on it, the more comfortable I am explaining it, though.
So please, please, please, stop referring to me by a title that makes me feel 8-years-old. I am a grown-up now, and so are you.
Ms. Science Lady