Au Revoir, “Mademoiselle”: French Town Ditches “Sexist Title”

A French town has decided it is sexist to refer to women by their marital status and will no longer be using the word “mademoiselle” — which means unmarried woman — on official documents.

Cesson-Sevigne in Brittany stopped using “mademoiselle” on January 1 and  will henceforth refer to all women as “madame,” which is the term for married women or older women. “This is about getting rid of anything that could be seen as discriminatory or indiscreet,” the town hall of Cesson-Sevigne said in a statement. “Having two different terms to distinguish between married and non-married women is discrimination against women as there is no such differentiation for men.” 

I have defined myself on paperwork as “Ms.” forever, because I do not think my age or marital status should matter to anyone. So I was surprised recently while eating at a French restaurant with Le Boyfriend when the waiter seated us and referred to me as “madame.” I said to Le Boyfriend after the waiter left, “That was presumptuous for him to assume we are married!” Le Boyfriend replied that it was a sign of respect — first that it assumes we are a couple because I was accompanied by him, and two, because it acknowledges that I am an adult woman instead of a teenaged girl.

“But how is it respectful if he referred to me as madame because I was with you? The presumption that we are married is somehow more respectable than us not being married, or not being a couple?” I said. “Anyway, you would have been called monsieur no matter what. If I came here alone, I might have been called mademoiselle because I am young-looking or I might have been called madame if the waiter thought I’d be offended by his presumption that I am young. But either way, he’s making a choice based on what he thinks he knows about me and he doesn’t make any kind of assumption about you just because you’re a dude.”

That wasn’t the end of that conversation, though. In an email, Le Boyfriend later wrote to me, “Today mademoiselle/madame is more used to mark age than marital status. And here is something that’s on a blow your mind, some French women will correct you if you use madame wrongly by saying mademoiselle. She’s signaling the man and people around that she is indeed single and unmarried and displaying it as an honor badge. How about that for empowerment?”

Neither of those explanations sit right with me, though, because it’s still defining oneself by an outside factor. Why do we need to address women why their marital status, especially when we do not do it for men? How women are addressed shouldn’t matter whether we are married or unmarried, accompanied by a man or unaccompanied, old or young. It doesn’t mean “miss” (English) or “mademoiselle” (French) is offensive; it simply means that the neutral term is better. It’s great if unmarried women are proud about still being a “mademoiselle,” or older women are proud about being a “madame,” but just because a couple people enjoy it doesn’t mean it should stay the status quo.  

If individual women want to be addressed to by their marital status or their age, that’s fine for them. But I think we’re at a point in history where that shouldn’t matter. “Ms.” for everybody is the best way to go in English and I hope that France comes up with something more neutral soon.

In the meantime, though, I am now mockingly being referred to as “mademoiselle.” [UPI]

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