Married Or Single?

Something I’ve wondered about for a long time: why do we make a distinction between married women and single women in speech and writing?  That is, why do we use the separating terms “Miss” and “Mrs.”?  It doesn’t seem to have any real benefit to either the men or the women.  Especially since we don’t make the same distinction for men.  I can’t think of one reason why we need to know if a woman is married or single that doesn’t also apply to men.

Perhaps many thousands of years ago, there was a good reason women had to be distinguished by their marital status, but if there was, that distinction has been lost.  The separation is present in other languages, though, not just English.  For example, two languages I’m familiar with are German and Spanish.  In German, a single woman is a Fräulein, and a married woman a  Fräu.  In Spanish, a single woman is a Señorita, and a married woman a Señora.   I’m sure that other languages make the same separation, and it’s probably a world-wide convention which has been around for a long time.  But it’s a convention that has lost its usefulness and is outmoded and superfluous.  In today’s politically correct society, it’s even a bit sexist, and a little anti-feminist.

Men aren’t differentiated in the same way, why should women be characterized by their marital status?  The only separation of men into two different groups I’m familiar with is the old concept of addressing a boy under the age of 12 as “Master,” rather than “Mister.”  But that distinction is gone anyway, and it never was used much in the second-half of the 20th century, and especially not in the 21st.  That distinction was based on age, not marital status, and served to note a boy as compared to a man.  If we’re going to denote men by “Mr.,” let’s denote women by “Ms.” without regard to marital status.  (The plural of Ms. is apparently Mss.)  Yeah, I know Ms stands for “manuscript,” but that’s a duplication we’ll have to get used to.  It can also stand for “Master of Science,” “military science,” the state of Mississippi, and “multiple sclerosis.”  The salutation Ms is very good in one particular situation, ie, when you’re writing a letter to a woman and you don’t know her marital status.  Ms covers both situations.  For example, when I’ve written query letters to agents about my novels, I usually don’t know if the agent is married or single.  That is true for male agents as well as female.  But what difference does it make?  If it isn’t important to know if a male agent is married or single, why should it be important for a female?  Why should a literary agent–or anyone for that matter–be known for her/his marital status?

I’ve already started using “Ms.” in writing, though using it in speech may take a while longer to get used to and I think that’s a problem for many. For example, the First Lady of the United States is still known as “Mrs. Obama.”  But we should get rid of the pretense.  How do you feel about it?

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