Au Revoir ‘Mademoiselle’

Feb 23, 2012 7:26pm

nc french forms jef 120223 main Au Revoir Mademoiselle

Farewell to lovesick maidens and damsels in distress. Farewell to discrimination and sexism — well, at least on French forms.

French Prime Minister François Fillon ordered Tuesday that the term “mademoiselle” be removed from all official forms and registries after months of campaigning by two feminist organizations, Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be feminist) and Les Chiennes de Garde (The Watchdogs).

The decision marks a great victory for French feminists who say the use of “mademoiselle” is demeaning to women, insisting that their marital status need not be known every time they sign a form. Men in France are referred to as “monsieur” regardless of marital status.

“Have you ever wondered why we do not call a single man ‘Mondamoiseau’ or ‘young virgin?’ Not surprisingly, this type of distinction is reserved for women,” the campaign wrote on their joint website. “This campaign was intended to end this inequality, but also to inform women of their rights.” 

According to the New York Times, Fillon wrote that the use of “mademoiselle” made reference “without justification nor necessity” to a woman’s “matrimonial situation,” whereas “monsieur” has long signified simply “sir.”

Women must indicate their marital status on almost every form in France, by choosing “madame” or “mademoiselle”  –  including when opening a bank account, paying taxes, shopping online, and even ordering groceries.

“Everywhere we are asked to declare our marital status. This is not imposed on men, it’s not important whether they are married,” Julie Muret of  Osez le Féminisme told the Huffington Post.

With this battle won, the feminist groups are now encouraging private organizations to also remove “mademoiselle” from their forms.

Feminist groups fought a similar battle in the United States and won, said Kathy Spillar, the Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine.

“Women want to be known for who they are, not for their marital status,” Spillar said. “They should be recognized as their own person, not just the property of a man, whether that’s her father or her husband.”

While the term “miss,” which is comparable to the French “mademoiselle,” was never officially banned from U.S. documents, “Ms.” was added, giving women the choice whether or not to indicate their marital status.

Spillar said the founders of Ms. Magazine — including noted feminist Gloria Steinem — decided to take the name “Ms.” because “it was a very poignant statement about this movement…It really says it all in two little letters.”

In regards to France’s decision to take “mademoiselle” off of official documents, Spillar says it’s a significant step for feminists worldwide.

“Some may say it’s petty but words matter. How you address people matters,” Spillar said. “French society will see how much it matters when you are no longer having to use terms that are really, quite frankly, antiquated.”

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