EU issues guidelines on gender neutral language

// 17 March 2009

The Daily Mail may call it political correctness gone mad, but I think the EU’s decision to issue politicians with guidelines on the use of gender neutral language is a really positive step. ‘Sportsmen’ and ‘headmaster’, to quote just two examples of the language being discouraged, are not neutral terms; they assume a male default which excludes women from the positions being referred to, so perpetuating the concept of male as norm, female as other. The word ‘headmaster’ evokes a male image, and using it to refer to the head of a school displays either a conscious or subconscious bias towards the male, the kind of bias that contributes to gender discrimination.

Contrary to what anti-PC crusaders would have us believe, language is incredibly important: we use words to comprehend and construct the world around us, to mediate our interactions and relationships with others, to communicate our needs, thoughts and feelings. If language displays a bias towards one sex, this bias will inevitably filter through into our everyday lives, and must therefore be challenged. The male bias in language may be a reflection of centuries of patriarchy, but it also helps perpetuate the status quo, and we cannot simply hope that it will disappear along with sexism and inequality. Taking an active stance against it, dismantling one of the tools by which patriarchy is perpetuated, can only be a good thing, and it is no surprise that those who rail against such initiatives are generally those who have most to gain from keeping things as they are. Would male Tory MEP Struan Stevenson think this initiative was quite so ‘ludicrous’ if had he not grown up with the privilege of being surrounded by and using a language which paints the world in his own image?

As if the suggestion that MEPs avoid using male nouns as the default wasn’t enough to get the paper’s panties in a twist, the Mail is particularly angry that MEPs have been advised to stop referring to women by their marital status. Instead of Miss/Mrs, Senora/Senorita or Madame/Mademoiselle, females MEPs should be referred to by – get this – their name. Why a female MEP’s marital status is of such import in this day and age when her male counterpart can breeze by on the universally respected and neutral ‘Mr’ is anyone’s guess, but as someone who is absolutely sick of being referred to by the childish ‘Miss’ despite insisting on ‘Ms’, I give this move a big thumbs up.

Comments From You

josie // Posted 17 March 2009 at 12:22 pm

Love it! I am also a Ms and get sick and tired of being called Miss just because I don’t wear a wedding ring. In fact, I hate titles full stop and would much prefer that people used my name, so I think the EU solution is very sensible. The fact that it gets the Daily Mail’s back up is just an added bonus….

Stephanie // Posted 17 March 2009 at 1:25 pm

Interesting.

I think things are gradually changing by themselves. Growing up I said “police officer” rather than “police man” which my Dad would respond to with “Why are you speaking American?” I was 6/7 – I wasn’t aware of speaking anything other than plain old English.

I also remember being taught about “Ms.” at a similar age in school.

However, things like man-made being used whether or not a female was involved aren’t ever going to budge quite so easily without a bit of encouragement…

secretrebel // Posted 17 March 2009 at 1:32 pm

Is there a link to the guidelines that doesn’t involve going via the Daily Mail’s website?

Laura // Posted 17 March 2009 at 1:42 pm

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the guidelines themselves, secretrebel. But we do use ‘no follow’ tags when we link to sites we don’t want to promote, so if you do click on the link it won’t boost the Mail’s google rating!

Cara // Posted 17 March 2009 at 1:49 pm

I wish someone would circulate this to my workplace… if I see ‘chairMAN’, ‘MANpower’, ‘MANNING’ one more time!

Why not use Ms? Are they calling men by their first and last names? If men are Mr then that too is kinda sexist. (Just asking).

But hell, yes, why can’t people use Ms without getting all sniffy about it..?! Grrrr.

Also it’s my understanding that ‘Madame’, ‘Senora’ etc. are generally used for all women (i.e. females 18 and over), married or not – not sure how generalisable this is, but have German and Greek friends who said this.

Laura // Posted 17 March 2009 at 1:59 pm

Without seeing the guidelines it’s hard to tell, but perhaps Ms isn’t mentioned because there’s no equivalent in other languages. Actually, the Mail doesn’t mention whether Mr is encouraged, or whether all MEPs are to be refered to by name minus title. I’ll keep looking…

In France and Chile I was called Mademoiselle and Senorita (I was 22 at the time) – if I was over 40 it would more likely have been Madame/Senora, but then that’s based on the assumption that older women are/should be married, so it’s sexist whatever!

Kathryn // Posted 17 March 2009 at 3:02 pm

This was mentioned yesterday on the abhorrant “Loose Women”. They got all worked up about how unimportant the Mrs/Ms/Miss thing is. The dreadful mess of ignorance that is “Miss” Carol McGiffin opined that she was Miss now, would be Mrs when she married because ‘that is who she is’.

She claims that she is an independent and strong woman – by all accounts yes, she is very successfull – but absolutely failed to see the inherent and insulting sexism in the continued definition of women according to whether or not they have a man.

How can women not see how offensive and subordinating this is? It’s not like I run around making a big deal out of it, but it is a horrible archaic throwback to the days when women had not vote, no property rights, no ability to work, little recognition under law and were second class citizens.

The fact that it is accepted unquestioningly shows how stongly we accept patriarchy as the norm.

I got really upset when I saw this. I really should stop watching Loose Women.

JenniferRuth // Posted 17 March 2009 at 3:39 pm

You know, I had to fill in an online form the other day. It had a little drop down box for titles which included:

Miss

Mrs

Mr

Dr (female)

Dr (male)

WTF?

Not only no Ms available, but apparently it is also important to distinguish if you are male or female doctor.

These guidelines are spot on.

Holly Combe // Posted 17 March 2009 at 4:01 pm

That’s unbelievable, JenniferRuth! Why are some companies so fixated on women’s private business? They seem to be saying “please give us more information so we can read and frame your communications with the right stereotype in mind and deal with you accordingly. Apart from men. You just get to be men. We don’t need to know anything else. Well, unless you’re a Doctor but that’s just so we don’t get confused by the gender neutrality”!

tomhulley // Posted 17 March 2009 at 4:23 pm

For more than 30 years I have objected to the title ‘Mr’ mainly because titles are sexist. ‘Mister’ is also not a part of my given name but imposed on me.

Whenever possible I leave the title space blank but most forms do not allow this option (meaning I cannot get things I need or be a citizen!).

If offered ‘other’ then I insert a spurious title such as ‘xs’. When unable to go beyond the standard variety then I put mrs or miss or ms at random but never mr (to mess up the system or the assumptions that go with it)

It is a sure sign of the lack of democracy in the UK when people cannot choose what to be called and when women can only have men’s surnames. (Even if you choose your great-great-great grandmother’s surname as your own it still came from a bloke).

I came across a poet in the 1970s called aspen womunchild (I may have spelled it wrong, sorry). I appreciated her gesture.

No doubt the state made her put something like Mrs J. Smith on her driving licence though. Indeed women used to be called after their husbands like this: Mrs George Wilson

-scary or what?

Sabre // Posted 17 March 2009 at 4:26 pm

I would love to get rid of Miss and Mrs and just have Ms for women and Mr for men (and professional titles like Dr etc). In a lot of situations it helps to be able to distinguish male from female. One day hopefully it will not be necessary to do even that! Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were all just people instead of ‘men’ and ‘women’? *dream on*

I agree with Holly Combe, marital status has absolutely nothing to do with most things unless there’s a desire to frame the person in a stereotype.

I know a lot of women like being ‘Miss’ because it makes them feel youthful, or like ‘Mrs’ because they like being married. What I say is you don’t need a title to feel young or happily married. Marital status should not be (literally) the first thing to define a woman, unless that same standard is applied to men.

Of course for the EU there is the added issue of trying to respect cultural sensitivities, so I’m very pleased they are making the effort rather than shying away from the difficulties of changing gendered language.

KFlower // Posted 17 March 2009 at 4:59 pm

I think it does have a lot to do with your age as well – I’m a relatively young woman (25), who is married. I always put Ms. if the opportunity is given because I feel it’s better to be judged (as really that IS what is being done) neutrally, and don’t think its really anyone’s business. However, although I wear a wedding ring, I am nearly always called ‘Miss’ – so I think, as was mentioned above, it has a lot to do with assumptions about age.

Having married only recently, it has really stuck out. Especially as most of the time, the people doing it have your marital status on a screen/form in front of them.

Also – have many people encountered prejudice against Ms.? I’ve had several comments made in the vein of ‘oh stop making a fuss, you silly girl’. Grrrrrrrrrr. One was also basically saying I was ashamed of being married, and if I really loved my husband I should be Mrs!

Sam // Posted 17 March 2009 at 5:09 pm

The Daily Mail writers must get so bored – their articles are about as predictable as the overflow of people in my local Wetherspoons tonight.

Tom, “xs” as an alternative title, that’s interesting. I usually just put “M” when possible, but it’s not particularly thought out, it just happens to be the first letter of most titles.

Also sometimes to mix things up I throw in a “Lord” or “Duchess”, as I don’t recognise that anyone else has more right to legitimately confer those titles on anyone than I do. But that’s more to amuse myself than as a battle I really want to fight.

But anyway, I’m interested in this. I’m not particularly attached to the “M” where a title is mandatory. Does anyone have any other ideas?

Amy2 // Posted 17 March 2009 at 6:59 pm

What I wrote on the FailOnline…

Why is gender neutrality such a huge problem? Loads talk about it like it’s disaster – when it’s patriarchal roles which are *boring*, not gender equality.

The Daily Male and its tried and failed writers get it wrong again.

Esther // Posted 17 March 2009 at 7:05 pm

I saw Mx once, as a gender neutral title. Pretty difficult to pronounce though and people already complain about that with Ms).

It is something that’s come up; I always filled out a form with Ms, but the letters I receive in response are all addressed to a Miss – it must be from a mail merge, so I guess someone just disregarded what I wrote (and hence, my feelings). But I do hate how my marital status is part of my name.

Rachel // Posted 17 March 2009 at 7:50 pm

“Indeed women used to be called after their husbands like this: Mrs George Wilson -scary or what?”

If only it was ‘used to be’ I regularly get referred to as ‘Mrs Tim Pickersgill’ (my husband’s name), and I didn’t change my surname – I’m still Rachel McDonald (not that it would make it any better if I had changed my surname)! It winds me up *so much*. In fact, I was actually surprised by this when I got married – I didn’t think people were that sexist any more! Also, the fuss that so many people made about me not changing my name was astounding. I didn’t think it would be an issue as so many women keep their pre-marital surname now, but it’s amazing the number of people who have taken issue with it, like it’s their business or something!

Anne Onne // Posted 17 March 2009 at 9:10 pm

I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, it’s definitely wrong that changing your title upon marital status is something that is assumed of women, when nothing is expected of men. I wonder, what if men want a marital status title?

On the other hand, I’d be slightly offended if someone I didn’t know chose to call me by my first name in a formal setting, because titles are a way of showing respect for an individual, and they wouldn’t do the same to a man. So I’d only think calling women by their name is an OK idea if the same is done to men. Otherwise it replaces the Miss/Ms/Mrs problem with the formal equivalent of calling them all ‘luv’.

I like Ms. because it doesn’t make my gender disappear in a world where people pretty much assume you are male anyway.

I would be supportive of a gender neutral title (it would be so very useful if you don’t know the gender of the person you are writing to, or if they are transgendered or don’t identify with any gender) such as Mx (pronounced mix?). Part of me doesn’t like to make huge changes to language, because those changes seem so alien (I mean words like zie, not something like chairperson) but I know that if we want equality, we HAVE to examine the language we use. There’s no getting around how words such as sportsman impact how we see people in that role, other than to change it.

But I can’t see what’s wrong with headmaster, if one can use headmistress to refer to a female headteacher? Obviously if one doesn’t know the gender, then headteacher would be the only acceptable term, but if someone does, then is using master/mistress still an issue?

Language is indeed important, and it would be nice to see changes. And as people have pointed out, there have already been lots of changes for the better. I grew up seeing ‘he or she’, ‘chairperson’, ‘firefighter’ ‘their’ (instead of his) etc as normal ways of writing, and I hope this will continue.

(Even if you choose your great-great-great grandmother’s surname as your own it still came from a bloke)

Tomhulley, just to make clear, you’re also saying that all men also don’t own their surnames, and that everyone’s surnames come from some bloke hundreds of years ago, right?

Just clarifying. I know what you’re saying (and well phrased it is, too), but too many people make the argument that women don’t really own their surnames because they come from a male figure, whereas men seem to have the agency to pass on their surname and the issue of the fact that theirs is also from a random bloke never comes up. The way most surnames work is problematic not merely because women get their dad’s surname, but all children, and wives, are assumed to take the husband/father’s surname. It’s no less problematic that men take their great great great (etc) grandfather’s surname than it is that women do. We’re no less related to our ancestral forefathers than men are, after all.

Women own their surnames as much as men do. And it’s not dissimilar to being named after one’s father or mother, whether a parent of the same or neighbouring gender. Where the name came from is problematic, but it’s important to recognise that many women, just like most men, actually like the name they were given upon birth. Just like a man called alexanderJones in a long line of Alexander Joneses may have issues with how names were transmitted, but not feel the need or desire to change the name that is now theirs so his sister Alexandra Jones may have issues with how names were transmitted, without feeling that the name she bears is not hers.

There are definitely problems with the way surnames have been passed down in most societies, but I don’t like how women’s surnames are framed as being uniquely problematic, something women shouldn’t feel attached to because they belonged to men, I don’t like the idea that we should only care about what happened down the male line if we’re male, or female line if we’re female, as if all other ancestors or relatives don’t matter because they’re the other gender.

I feel it’s worth pointing out that some people don’t like their names, or change them, feeling that their names belonged to some patriarch,or don’t reflect what they want to be called. They obviously have a right to change their name and be called by whatever name they want, whether they be male, female or something else.

But in an age where women are pressured to change their names, we need to also provide support so that women don’t feel pressured to conform, so that women aren’t brought up thinking men own their names, but women don’t, and support those who feel that their name is the oldest thing of theirs they own, and they’re not giving it up to fit some tradition.

polly styrene // Posted 17 March 2009 at 9:41 pm

That thing about having to say whether you are a male or female doctor is just bizarre Jennifer Ruth. If they need to know if you’re male or female, why not just ask?

But CRB check forms were even worse when I did one a couple of years back. If you were a woman and gave your title as ‘Ms’ they automatically assumed you were divorced and demanded you gave them your previous names. Que?

I wrote to them pointing out how sexist it was to treat women differently in this way, that it was perfectly possible for MEN to change their name on marriage, and they gave me the usual guff about urgently reviewing things. I’d love to know if they actually have.

Tara // Posted 18 March 2009 at 5:30 am

I just don’t understand why people fight political correctness so much. My brother vehemently defends the use of male pronouns as the default, ei “A visitor must be polite to his host”. He gets so angry at me when I say something like “A good teacher can inspire their student”. He gets so worked up when he yells at me that “they” is ONLY ever for the plural. Honestly, you’d think I was about to destroy something, instead of just trying to be gender-neutral.

Vicky // Posted 18 March 2009 at 12:04 pm

I agree with these comments politically. However, my gut reaction is that ‘Miss’ is more feminine than Ms, the latter seems to carry bad connotations.

A similar weird gut reaction I have is liking the archaic Mrs George Wilson for its ‘correctness’. I am a languages student and also read quite a bit of Jane Austen, so maybe that’s got something to do with it.

tom hulley // Posted 18 March 2009 at 12:35 pm

Lord/ Duchess Sam,

Love it!

When you use an unexpected title to order something then watch out for unsolicited advertising. This can only mean that your details have been passed on -usually by companies that swear they would never do this.

I used Reverend once (in an irreverent way) and was amazed how much junk came to Rev.T.Hulley!

Lara // Posted 18 March 2009 at 1:45 pm

According to my library card at University I was a lieutenant. Fun times.

Shazbat // Posted 18 March 2009 at 1:49 pm

Tara – why don’t you use ‘hir’? It’s singular (although just having done a copyediting course, I can assure you that ‘their’ is also grammatically correct) and gender neutral.

I’m a big fan of ‘Mx’, ‘ze’, and ‘hir’, probably because I hang out with a few very gender-aware/variant individuals. My partner was so so happy the other day because ze got a piece of mail addressed to ‘Mx **** *******’, from a friend of ours.

Personally, I like (and use) Ms. I loved it ever since I read ‘Ms Wiz’, who sounded like the best teacher ever.

Jessica Burton // Posted 18 March 2009 at 5:52 pm

Ms. does have bad connotations, and I have been a bit scared to use it until recently. The way Ms. was explained to me at school by my elderly male Latin teacher was “it’s used by women who hate men”. And I’m only 24 so it wasn’t that long ago.

Where I work at the library there is a long list of possible titles, Ms is on there and you can also leave it blank, so that’s good news.

I’m about to complete a CRB form so I’ll report back about what they say. CRBs do get bounced for every reason under the sun though.

I’m no familiar with “hir”, what does it mean/what is its etymology?

Ms. is perfectly pronounceable, and I like to use it because I think it’s respectful when you are speaking to a stranger and don’t know what title they might use.

I think I might use “Rt Hon.” on my next form!

nataliejane // Posted 18 March 2009 at 7:06 pm

polly styrene – no, they haven’t! :(

Kath // Posted 18 March 2009 at 8:04 pm

Interesting stuff. I would prefer if we used Ms for all women and Mr for all men. I’m a Dr (of chemistry) for professional purposes but always a Ms privately. If I don’t know a woman’s title in a formal situation I always use Ms. But most of the time I just use people’s names to avoid the whole Mr and Mrs thing. When addressing/talking about a couple with the same surname I use both their names in full eg ‘Bob Smith and Sheila Smith’ instead of ‘Bob and Sheila Smith’ because even though I would have preferred Sheila not to take Bob’s surname when they married it’s her name now and I don’t want to treat her like an extension of her husband. This ties in with what Anne Onne says about women owning their surnames and I agree with you Anne. The way we pass on surnames is problematic but once you are given, or take, a name it’s as much yours as anyone else’s. I get really frustrated when my friends say they may as well change their name to their husband’s because their own name “isn’t theirs it’s their father’s” because their father only got it in the same way they did and it’s as bound up with their identity as it is his.

As for gender-neutral titles, maybe in the post-patriarchy a single gender-neutral title would suffice (or we’ll just use each other’s names) but for now I wouldn’t want to add to the things that make women invisible in society.

Anne Onne – you asked what’s wrong with headmaster/headmistress. I think the main problem is when headmaster is used as the default, even when the gender of the teacher in question isn’t known. Some people would also say why do you need to define someone’s gender in their job title and I would generally use headteacher for this reason.

I’m also not a fan of zie, hir etc but I can’t think of a logical reason why not. I prob just need to get used to it. I tend to either ‘he or she/his or hers’ or ‘they/their’ and agree with Tara that people who object to that are just being silly.

Rachel // Posted 18 March 2009 at 9:48 pm

“A similar weird gut reaction I have is liking the archaic Mrs George Wilson for its ‘correctness’. I am a languages student and also read quite a bit of Jane Austen, so maybe that’s got something to do with it.”

It’s only historically ‘correct’, being defined as such at a time when women were deemed to be the property of their husband.

I find it immensely offensive, to the point that at times I almost regret getting married because now some people seem to actually think that my identity belongs to my husband.

Rhona // Posted 19 March 2009 at 12:38 am

When asked for ‘other’ in the title section of a form, I like to use ‘Arch Dictator of the Universe for Life’. ;)

I am a Ms – always have been, always will be. Not married, but the SO and I may get hitched at some point. If and when we do, I will still be me and I will still be Ms – and not just ‘in my professional life’, as some people like to patronisingly tell me.

Yes, I may have inherited my name from my father, but I was rather fond of him and unfortunately he died when I was 18, so I like maintaining that link to him.

I don’t expect SO to change his name, he doesn’t expect me to change mine, so why do other people get in such a tizz about it?!

(Indicentally – something SO and I have discussed – does anybody have any good ideas about how to specifically inform people outwith immediate friends/family (who obviously know) that neither of us will be changing our names? If anybody calls me ‘Mrs Hisfirst Hislast’ when I get married, so help me, I will punch them in the face.)

For the record, I would say ‘Ms’ is pronounced ‘Mzzz’ and most definitely not ‘Missss’, like a snake. I take great pleasure in pulling people up on that one.

Baby Peggy // Posted 19 March 2009 at 2:05 am

If girls and women want to use “Miss” or “Mrs. Husband’s lastname” they are welcome to – as someone said not long ago, feminism has led us to the banquet table but it’s up to us as to what we make of the meal (i.e. girls and women are free to make their own choices and with that, their own mistakes)

Pip // Posted 19 March 2009 at 1:39 pm

I personally think all of this should come down to a personal preference. Under no circumstance will I ever refer to myself as a sculptress, I am a sculptor and there is no reason to change it. I am in a proffession that has a legacy of wonderful and inspriring men behind me until in the 19th century when women were permitted to follow suit and become proffessionals themselves.

Rachel // Posted 19 March 2009 at 1:51 pm

Rhona – on the issue of how to tell people you’re not changing your name – I found most people asked me (well, most people said, “so, what will you new name be?!”).

What I found more difficult was addressing the issue with my husband’s family, who were all a bit put out by it, and in some cases seemed actually offended.

Posie Rider // Posted 19 March 2009 at 10:20 pm

The Adam’s Apple theory prevails. But we have to remember that the entire system of language is constructed from a position that denies the body. The male normative construct forgets expression, insinuation and so, factors that can change an entire meaning.

I am the first feminist to demand a new gender neutral language. However we have to embrace theorirsts such as Iris Young and Julia Kristerva who recognise the valuable contribution women or ‘female forms of knowledge’ can make to language regardless of its current state.

Lally // Posted 22 March 2009 at 12:50 am

Anna Onne: (sorry I don’t know how to italicise!)

“Even if you choose your great-great-great grandmother’s surname as your own it still came from a bloke)

Tomhulley, just to make clear, you’re also saying that all men also don’t own their surnames, and that everyone’s surnames come from some bloke hundreds of years ago, right? […] too many people make the argument that women don’t really own their surnames because they come from a male figure, whereas men seem to have the agency to pass on their surname and the issue of the fact that theirs is also from a random bloke never comes up […] We’re no less related to our ancestral forefathers than men are, after all.”

This is a really interesting argument, and I have to admit, I have never thought of it like this.

The point tomhulley is making, though, is that the line the name comes from is a male line. Women have no heritage of their own. Our foremothers become nameless wives, mothers and daughters. This is why I object to keeping a man’s name, be it my father’s, great-great grandfather’s, or my husband’s.

Yes, we are just as related to those individual males as our menfolk are. But we, as women, are regarded as nothing culturally by the society that names those men, and keeps those names alive from father to son.

Falco // Posted 23 March 2009 at 3:12 pm

Gender neutral language, (gnl), is a fairly recent innovation and if enough people want it, then language will gradually evolve until it becomes the norm. However, top down attempts to force people to use gnl are both counter productive and an unwarranted interference in expression.

Regarding the surname debate, I rather like a variant on the Icelandic model that some friends of the family use. They have a son and a daughter with the son’s name being “Son Father’sSon” and the daughter’s being “Daughter Mother’sDaughter”. Having a family of four where each person has a different surname plays merry hell at customs though.

Sabre // Posted 23 March 2009 at 5:26 pm

Re. tom hulley and others’ comments

My boyfriend and I had the name conversation and he made the classic claim ‘you’re name only comes from your dad anyway so you’d still have a man’s name’. As if his dad’s name was somehow more important than mine. I made him realise that there is nothing sacred about men passing names to men other than reverence society places on this tradition. He’d never thought about it before apparently.

Our name may come from male ancestors but they are still our ancestors so I don’t resent it. That’s the past anyway and we can’t do anything about it except make change happen now and in the future.

@ Lally, women do have a heritage, it’s just far more subtle; our mitrochondrial DNA!

Alex T // Posted 23 March 2009 at 6:18 pm

Couple of things:

‘Ms’ has no full stop as it’s not an abbreviation (unlike Mister, for example, which is written Mr.)

Anne Onne: The problem with headmaster/mistress is that there’s no such job! The job title is simply head teacher. That person is the Head Teacher – if other teachers were ever referred to as masters or mistresses (maybe in some very very posh public schools, I dunno) then it would be a different issue, but since the job involves being the chief teacher (not master or mistress) then it’s that of a headteacher! Plus, of course, why on earth should anyone’s gender come into their job title? That would make it ridiculously easy to pay women less than men – imagine separate pay scales for policemen and policewomen! It’s just nonsense!

Lindsey // Posted 31 March 2009 at 3:25 pm

Last night I got in from work and found a little white package on the table labelled “Miss Sheehan” – confused I picked it up and found it was my cat’s worming medicine! Why is my cat labelled a Miss?! Does the vet think she’ll marry one day?

Matt // Posted 19 April 2009 at 12:12 am

I often hear a woman chairing a meeting addressed as “Madam Chairman” or “Madam Chair” while a female Mayor is “Madam Mayor”. I’ve often wondered why “Ms Mayor” in not used and why “Madam Mayor”, “Madam Speaker” etc are considered the correct forms when their male equivalent in these contexts is Mr.

One factor in the way women are often expected to take their husbands’ names can be seen in the aristocracy, when a Lord’s wife had the title of Lady, yet a Lady’s husband doesn’t have a title – it is the same if a woman is made a Dame – if she is married then her husband gets no title – Judi Dench’s husband was still plain Michael Williams after his wife became a Dame.

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