Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Ms, thank you very much

On Sage’s first day of school this year, her new teacher told the children that she had gotten married over the summer.  So now she is “Mrs. B--” instead of “Miss R--.”  “But, I’m still the same person as I was last year,” she said, for those who knew her last year.  “I just have a new name.” 

This calls to mind the classic Little Rascals episode, where the gang is worried about what “Mrs. Wilson” will be like, not knowing that she is the lovely—and newly married—teacher they knew before.  

It also calls to mind a recurring pet peeve of mind:  Why are teachers today still going by “Mrs.”?!

I was surprised by this fact when Sage started kindergarten three years ago.  Not only was the teacher “Mrs. H--” and the principal “Mrs. C--,” but I was referred to as “Mrs.” too.

Sorry, but I am NOT a Mrs. (married though I may be).

Haven’t the schools caught on yet?  “Ms.” has been in common usage for more than 20 years now.  And it’s certainly the proper form of address in the business world.  No one at the office uses “Mrs.” on paper or in person.  And if they did, they’d likely be corrected.

I have to admit, though, I actually feel a little conflicted saying this.  I mean, there have been, and still are, many lovely Mrs’s in my life— strong, self-respecting women all of them.  And I know no one means any harm when they use that title.  After all, it’s JUST a title, just three little letters.  (Like, get over it already, Jennifer!)

Yet, it’s a relic that really should be phased out.  A woman’s marital status is no more relevant than a man’s.  By calling out a woman as married in this way, something else is implied.  It tells the world she’s not “available” anymore.  She belongs to someone.  And belonging to someone, of course, means you’re not your own person.

One might argue that wearing a wedding ring sends the same message, and what’s wrong with that anyway?  In fact, it can be useful for others to know you’re not single.  (You have to turn down less date offers that way!)

But it’s not the same.  Men wear rings too, but they don’t change the title in front of their names.  In a professional setting, it just makes no sense for women to be denoted as single or married.  Women are supposed to be equal with men, remember?

Come to think of it, we don’t hear a whole lot about women’s rights anymore, at least not in the mainstream media.  I’m guessing most people think feminism is passe. Because, clearly, women can do whatever they want nowadays. (Right?)

In fact, the majority of Americans DO believe in equality of the genders, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation.  So, maybe they also think this is a non-issue.  Maybe they think there’s nothing left to argue over, so why are those strident chicks on the fringe (ahem) yammering on about reproductive rights, and equal pay for equal work, and Ms. vs. Mrs.?

Well, I don’t really know if most people are thinking that at all.  But I do know that America seems to be in a back-sliding, back-lashing period of regression at the moment.  All those “real housewife” reality shows are just appalling to me.  (OK, so I’ve never watched the shows myself.  It’s the mere idea—all those materialistic, cat-fighting divas.  Now, a show about REAL women raising a family and managing a home would be another story.)  And these new 60’s era TV shows (thanks to Mad Men, I’m sure) appear to glamorize retrograde women-are-here-to-serve men fantasy roles.  (Stewardesses are sexy!  Playboy bunnies are super cool!)

Even worse, there is a faction of the public that seems to believe the subordination of women is appropriate in real life.  Michelle Bachmann and her followers (the REAL fringe, I’m sure) are just fine with the submissive-wife role. “But the Lord says, be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands,” she said in 2006.


Actually, this kind of crazy talk shouldn’t be taken too lightly. As Riane Eisler says,  “The subordination of women is foundational to systems of control -- in the family, religion, politics and economics.”

In other words, it is in our homes, in our parent-child and male-female relations, that we first learn what is “normal” and appropriate.

Eisler also writes, in The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that will Change your Life (p. 106) that:
 “This is why many of the most repressive modern regimes—from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union to Khomeini’s Iran and the Taliban of Afghanistan—have sprung up where family and gender relations based on domination and submission are firmly in place.” 
There you go. Advocating for gender equality is a great step for furthering a culture of peace.

Fortunately, most people aren’t as nutty as Bachmann and her ilk. There is a growing awareness about how bad the objectification of women has gotten in American pop culture. I was heartened to see a piece in the Chicago Tribune recently about a new documentary on this issue. The film, Miss Representation, shows how the “media is educating yet another generation that a woman’s primary value lay in her youth, beauty and sexuality—and not in her capacity as a leader, making it difficult for women to obtain leadership positions and for girls to reach their full potential.”

Yeah, we've come a long way, baby, but we ain't there yet.