Unless you are particularly qualified, a Doctor or a Professor for example, you will have to choose your title from a binary mix of Miss, Mrs, Ms or Mr. Not only is the gender specific nature of this selection restrictive for those who do not identify as male or female, but the choices for those who do identify as female are contingent upon their relation to a man.
A man will almost always be ‘Mr’ – regardless of marital status. A man’s title stands alone, as does he himself. But as a female, I must be addressed according to my relationship, or lack of, with a man. I must be identified as either single and up for grabs, or as married, a man’s possession. Have we really not moved on from the time when women were so subordinated that they could only be referred to in relation to men?
Even Ms has bad connotations – it seems evasive, a product of this social conditioning that a woman should be married, intimating that Ms is a way to cover up one’s spinsterhood. It is for Misses who are ‘too old’ to be a Miss; and here lies the ageism suffered by women regarding their relationship to men, not endured by men themselves. When a boy comes of age and crosses the threshold into adulthood, he gets to upgrade his title from Master to Mr immediately, on the principle that he is now a ‘man’. He is independent and acquires the superiority of the title ‘Mr’ on account of his age alone. On account of himself, alone. A single man in his forties is a bachelor, a word with all sorts of glamorous connotations – bachelorhood is a choice, a lifestyle, a freedom. Yet the female equivalent, spinsterhood, is reminiscent of decrepit old ladies hoarding cats or snakes or mothballs.
It is a situation in life that women do not choose, apparently, rather like being picked last in PE lessons, or in this case not being picked at all. And again this antiquated approach to relations between men and women – the latter relegated to passivity – is reinforced by the titles we must pick from – available, taken, I’d rather not say.
And for those who do not fit the gender binary, there is a wide array of titles – Ind, Misc, M, Mx, Pr – but how often do you see them in the drop-down box for your delivery address?
There are so many of these gender-neutral titles, yet so few are widely recognised. People are not giving enough attention to the significant portion of our society that does not play by the antiquated and intolerant rules of the binary system currently still in place. Our failure to progress beyond these conventions makes me wonder whether we need titles at all.
Hasn’t society moved on from the days when a title was a necessary formality? In many professions, being on first name terms is considered positive behavior and the terms Mr, Mrs, Ms etc genuinely provide little added information about a person. There is a strong case for saying that titles are indeed redundant.
In an atmosphere of greater acceptance of identities that do not conform to the patriarchal norms of a male dominated society, isn’t it about time that we rid ourselves of the titles that restrict us to gender binary roles? Moreover, the continued use of Miss and Mrs consigns those who do identify as female to the patriarchal ideal of a woman as a man’s property; whereas men get upgraded to Mr simply on account of their age. In fact, we hardly hear the distinction between Master and Mr these days – if men can drop this ageist approach to prefixing their name, why can’t women do the same without even more offensively differentiated titles? Why must women be referred to only in relation to men?
Our society has started to progress out of the patriarchal dark ages to see gender in a more enlightened, open minded and less binary way. There is much more awareness of female emancipation and transgender identification and the more we talk about and engage in this discussion the better.