Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't Call Me Mrs Redux

It's getting worse.

Two days in a row now: yesterday the cold-call charity, today the podiatrist.

Is there anyone out there in either the public or private sector who has had direct experience of how and why the formerly commonly used 'Ms' has been actively ditched by businesses and organisations in reversion to 'Mrs' as the default term to refer to any adult woman, since any adult woman is, presumably, married and using her husband's name, and if she isn't then she ought to be, what a disgrace, disgusting feminists etc etc splork? Can you tell me how and why? Who is behind it? I suspect John Howard myself, but perhaps this is a global backlash.

Gordon Brown didn't help the other day when he referred in his resignation speech to husband-and-fatherhood as the 'most important job in the land'. Oh well, there goes 51% of the population. And those of us who are independent and/or childless presumably are no longer to be valued even for our work. Sad.

In the meantime, to whatever individuals might stray into the Venn diagram overlap between my blog-readers and people who ring me up to ask me for money and/or who work at the reception desk of various personal-maintenance professionals, utility providers and so on, here are the options in order of preference:

1) Kerryn
2) Ms Goldsworthy
3) Dr Goldsworthy

'Mrs Goldsworthy' is my mother, sadly now no longer with us. Or my grandmother, also no longer with us, though less sadly. If you really cannot live without addressing any adult woman as 'Mrs', I believe (as I've said in that earlier linked post) that even as a divorcee of long standing I am still technically able to be legitimately addressed as Mrs Insert Surname of Child Husband Here.

But I wouldn't do that if I were you. I really, really wouldn't.


Deborah said...

Exactly so, on all counts. Down to thinking that whoever is calling must be looking for my mother when I am called, "Mrs [family name]", and I am tempted to give them her phone number.

Anna Winter said...

I got my bank account when I was 12, and it took me until my late twenties to actually get around to asking them to stop calling me Miss, while I was in there anyway getting a loan.

The guy asked me why I wanted to do that, and when I replied with "I'm not 12 anymore, and I'm not a Miss", his response was, "I dunno, I always thought changing to Ms was an admission of failure."


Lord Sedgwick said...

"Gordon Brown didn't help the other day when he referred in his resignation speech to husband-and-fatherhood as the 'most important job in the land'."

Ah yes, 'family', the last refuge of the retiring, defeated or disgraced politician.

"Daddy, what did you do during the war that was my upbringing?"

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh Anna, that's a shocking story. I need a drink after that story. Is the sun over the yard-arm yet?

Lord Sedgwick said...

I'll see your story Anna and raise you.

Before my wife became my wife (a woman of impeccable taste) she has a Myer store credit account (or some such - can't remember the fine detail given it was 40 years ago as of last Sunday) the debit of said account was not only unilaterally added to my account, but as a consequence I was over my (i.e. hers plus mine) credit limit and had to pay the overdrawn amount immediately.

Lord Sedgwick said...


"the debit of said account was not only unilaterally added to my account," when she advised Mr Myer of her change of name.

Lord Sedgwick said...

And the sun has left the yard-arm in its wake down these here parts. (And taking a leaf out of Mr Myer's ledger, I'm having one for me - and one for her in absentia.)

Peter said...

When I was recently married in the '60s, my wife went to a local GP in Melbourne. The bill was made out in my name, but since I didn't have medical insurance and she did, she asked for it to be changed to her name. They refused, implying she was trying to fiddle my treatment onto her account. I had never seen said GP.

And, don't get me started on female public servants getting married in those days!

Ampersand Duck said...

I use that title-muddling as a fairly accurate gauge for phone responses. If someone rings and asks for me as Mrs (Best Beloved's surname), I say 'no', and hang up. If they ask for Mrs Florance, I say 'no' and hang up. As you say, that's my mother. If they as for 'Miss', I'll correct them and then hang up. I know it's rude to hang up, but it's the only power I seem to have as a phoned individual, and I'll reserve my right as a feminist to use it.

If I've hung up on anyone important, I apologise. I'm sure you'll ring back.

(WV= PROWN, which I like to think of as a Proud Pawn)

ThirdCat said...

You should come and live here and everyone will call you madam. It doesn't feel so awesome, but it sort of makes you feel a bit less worse about the Mrs.

Lord Sedgwick said...

"And, don't get me started on female public servants getting married in those days!"

Before the Myer issue that very matter raised its ugly hydra head.

Herself was employed as a librarian by the Melbourne City Council, upon her marriage she had to resign and then reapply for her job. Then came the issue of superannuation for married women when she joined the Education Dept.

Our wise number one and only daughter has chosen not to bother with all those marriage hurdles.

Anthony said...

Yes, &Duck, I use the kerfuffle over names and titles to simply dodge the cold callers. Our phonebook entry appears under my partner's surname, and she is rightly called 'Ms'. So the conversation goes along the lines of 'Is that Mr Beloved-Surname' No. 'Oh, is there a Mrs Beloved-Surname' at that address' No. They then can't think of any other combinations to try, so either hang up - or else just indicate they don't really care who they're talking to, but am I interested in attending a free seminar on how I can minimise my tax etc.

To be fair to old Gordon Brown, he said that being a father and a husband was the most important job 'that I could do'.

R.H. said...

He was talking as a man for goodness sake, women can speak for themselves. Some mothers rate their employment as the most important thing, that's why they pay for childminding ten hours a day. It's done from acquisitivness, not necessity. Why not raise your kids properly; live within your means?
If every couple had only the bloke working real estate prices would never have shot through the roof because no one at all could afford it. Capitalism knows your limit, and charges accordingly.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

RH, considering some of the things you have said to and about me, here and elsewhere, I am astonished that you've got the front to turn up yet again on -- do I need to spell this out again? -- my personal blog, not some public forum where all have the right to speak, and put in your two cents. You are not welcome here. Any further comments from you will be deleted.

seepi said...

When I worked at Defence Department (late 90s), I was told I was not of a high enough level to be a Ms, and had to be a Miss. (I was about 25.)

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

I'm curious as to why you rank Ms ahead of Dr. Perhaps its just my thesis envy but I would have thought having them recognise your academic achievement would be highly desirable. At the very least it shows they've done some research.

Chris Grealy said...

I didn't realise that Ms/Mrs was becoming an issue again. I type a lot of letters, and in the absence of a known preference, it is always Ms. If the gender is unknown, I fall back on the Dear Sir/Madam. I don't like it much, but I've never gotten a complaint about it.

Perhaps only two clients in three years have insisted on Mrs. One was elderly, the other in her 30's. Of course, that gets entered into the database for future reference.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Seepi, that is insane. what on earth could they have been thinking? What did they think 'Ms' means, or is for?

FS: I use 'Dr' (1) in any academic context, (2) in other selected professional contexts, (3) strategically, as when I am trying to get plane seats or half-decent restaurant tables (effective in both cases: tragic but true), (4) when some clown asks me 'Miss or Mrs?' or (5) when I am trying to intimidate someone who is giving me the willies.

And it is very useful in all of those contexts. But my understanding is that it's considered naff to use it, as a PhD, outside of one's academic context -- a gesture of self-importance that, paradoxically enough, makes one look vulnerable. I've also found that it can lead to potentially dire misunderstandings: see tracheotomy, coathanger etc in the comments on the linked post at Pavlov's Cat.

Also (and this won't affect you), blokes hate it and will punish any woman who calls herself Dr, all the way from being a neglectful or misleading accountant/doctor/lawyer to doing a sloppy job on the gutters. They will not necessarily be conscious that they're doing this. Again, I speak from experience.

_owl_ said...

I work on an Army base, and I find myself being called "ma'am" several times every day. A small thing, but I hate it. I'm only in my twenties, not some ageing dowager; I'm not married; and I'm *not* your commanding officer, mate!

David Irving (no relation) said...

PC, my late mother occasionally amused herself by monstering people with her PhD, then, when asked some medical question, would point out she was a real doctor, not a MBBS.

Anonymous said...

I ended up with Dr on my bank accounts because when I asked the then State bank (at Melbourne University Branch, whats more) to change my title to Ms they said I'd have to bring in a copy of my marriage certificate. After attempting to explain to the teller, then the manager, that this was not how it worked (and instead of moving my account - perhaps what I should have done) I brought in my doctoral certificate instead, and they changed it to Dr without a murmur...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

when I asked the then State bank (at Melbourne University Branch, whats more) to change my title to Ms they said I'd have to bring in a copy of my marriage certificate



Deborah said...

I'm channeling you, PC. Those are exactly the occasions when I use my 'Dr' too. But even at university, I ask my students to call me 'Deborah'. It's a great leveller, and it helps them to stop treating me as an authority, and start thinking for themselves. I know I'm doing well when they start calling me 'Deb'.

And when I am on a plane, I know that I can be relied on to help sort out any urgent cases of existential angst.

cristy said...

In much of Asia they call you 'Sir' regarless of gender. I always find it amusing.

Like &Duck I also use the Mrs 'partner's surname' as a cue to say 'no' and hang up. In contrast he always says 'yes' when asked if he is Mr 'my last name'. This also amuses me.

Karra said...

I am a public servant who deals with the public and of all the enrolements that I process I could count the amount of women young or old who tick the 'ms' box as their preferred title. One day I asked a young lady if she had ever thought of using 'ms' instead of 'miss' to which she asked "what does ms mean exactly? Not sure if I have a point exactly but it was my year nine English teacher who pointed out to our class that only women have to refer to their marital status just by merely introducing themselves and why should this be? An important lesson for me. Thanks Ms Radford.

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

"Also (and this won't affect you), blokes hate it and will punish any woman who calls herself Dr". It's this sort of comment that always reminds me of what a gulf there is between me and the majority of men.

There is a lot of sexist behaviour I have to work hard not to fall into, and I'm not always sure how much I succeed. But I can assure you that the only danger I woman would experience in dealing with me from flashing her PhD around is the increased chance of me becoming annoyingly smitten. Part of my brain just collapses with disbelief at the idea that lots of men would punish a woman for it, although I realise you're right.

BTW, my business has had to use the database of students at a certain university recently, and one of the partners thought it an interesting study to sort by title. In 2006 most of the women were "Ms", but it fell drastically over the next two years, until there were more Misses in 2008. This seems too fast to be cultural change, so we pondered if there was some shifting of the default setting. So far we haven't got an answer.

naomi said...

I love it when someone calls me miss or missy because I can sharply retort, that's doctor to you. Usually when I am at work I do without a title at all, but it comes in handy for grant applications.

Being on do not call register and having had a silent number until recently has spared me this shit. However, my two cents' is that I decided to be a Ms when I was a girl and it was considered a radical statement. I enjoyed it in the 1990s when it was customary to address a woman you didn't know as Ms.

I am perplexed and a bit worried that seems to be no longer the right thing to do and the apparent resurgence of Mrs.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

If the use of 'Ms' was being understood/spun by men as 'an admission of failure' then much is explained.

Also, I blame the regime that spent its eleven years in power undermining, underfunding, defunding and white-anting every* organised women's association, group, centre, shelter or official position in the country. That and the horrible news that 'Ms' is being interpreted/spun by men-in-the-street as 'an admission of failure' -- can't blame Gens Y and Jones for avoiding it if that's how it's being spun. On reflection, perhaps we didn't explain the point of Ms clearly enough at the time. Yay Ms Radford, but there should have been much, much more of that.

I'm regularly shocked by the women, some of them quite young, who say 'I'm proud of being married.' They don't mean 'I'm proud of my husband', which one could understand and indeed cheer, but 'I'm proud of having bagged a man and got him to marry me.' See 'need a drink', above.

*with the possible exception of the CWA

Tatyana Larina said...

I found this comment from FS regarding university databases really interesting:

'In 2006 most of the women were "Ms", but it fell drastically over the next two years, until there were more Misses in 2008. This seems too fast to be cultural change, so we pondered if there was some shifting of the default setting. So far we haven't got an answer.'

I wonder if there might have been an increase in enrolments of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds, or overseas students, pointing to a greater cultural diversity in universities. Many languages don't have the option of using this (quite wonderful form) of Ms, and ticking 'Miss' might just be a knee-jerk reaction for students who were brought up on a different linguistic and cultural diet.

I recently travelled to Europe [country not specified] where I was regularly called 'madam', just because I was with my children. I couldn't wait to get back to Melbourne.

I'm musing too if it is possible that younger women no longer feel the urge to insist on the integrity of the hard-won Ms form when they are very young, and if they see marriage as some groovy thing to do (if they decide to do it), so that ticking 'Mrs' on a form is perceived as an opportunity of being 'retro' or 'vintage', somehow.

I too am sensing some cultural shift (and I have a young daughter), a certain conservatism that would have been unacceptable when I was an undergraduate student, and wonder if it may also be an expression of increased collective confidence among young women, fragile though it is in real social terms.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's just hope Gordon brings up his two boys to believe in equality between the sexes as he clearly does - his policies and his cabinet reflected his support of women, something you can't say about his successor.

fxh said...

I seem to recall this discussion here before? deja vu all over again

When I first went for a house loan years ago - i got rejected by the same bank manager twice. First rejection was accompanied by a lecture on long hair on men - mine was mid back long. Second knockback was accompanied by a lecture on the sort of woman who wouldn't change her name on marriage. (marriage being a pre condition for loan and the reason we got hitched)

Last month a clever post grad 30+ woman I sometimes work with informed me I'd have to change her name on some document when she comes back from her honeymoon. I was relaxed and blurted out something like I thought she was stirring hahaha.

She wasn't and her subsequent coolness means I'll have to do some bridge building next meeting.

It's a funny old world.

Moose Parmigiana said...

I booked a flight on SAS (Scandinavian airlines) in Norway recently and found that the only title options translated as Mr and Mrs. When I asked a Norwegian colleague about forms of address in Norway, I was told that all adult women are addressed as Mrs. Apparently Norwegian women decided several decades ago that only having one form of address gives them more equality with men - as no one ever asks a man if he's married.