During the past year, the accusations of French political figure Dominique Stauss-Kahn has put the spark and motivation back in the Feminist Movement in France. This time it relates to one of the most commonly used words in la langue française– the word Mademoiselle. For those who do not know, Mademoiselle is the word which refers to a young or unmarried woman; the English equivalent is simply Miss. However, you anglophones may be asking yourselves, “What about Ms.? Do the French have an equivalent word for Ms.?” The answer is simply non, and that is where the problem arises.
Today in the United States, Ms. is the default form of address for women, regardless of marital status. Ms. as a title appeared in The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10, 1901:
However, it’s not the same in France. In France, when a woman fills out a form, no matter if it’s a job application or a parking ticket, she is forced to choose between Madame or Mademoiselle. According to this article, France is progressively behind its surrounding EU countries– Scandinavia, Germany and Spain have eliminated the differentiation (Senorita, Fräulein, etc.) from official forms. French feminists say that the two words separate women into two categories; men are Monsieur from birth. Feminists claim that using the generic “madame” like “monsieur” will create the same rules for both genders. However, not everyone feels that way. “French women have integrated the masculine domination of French society into their very souls. It seems normal to them that the men are more important than them,” (Bas, 2011) & (Beardsley, 2011).
As a feminist and a teacher, I always, always introduce myself as Ms. Wielgus, seeing as my marital status is absolutely no one’s business. However, as a French teacher, I am forced to introduce myself as Mademoiselle Wielgus. Here in the states, I am often equally referred to as, Mam, or, Miss, when waitressing at my summer job, or when being referred to in a public place, such as a store or in the airport. In France, I was almost always addressed as Mademoiselle, on the trains, in restaurants, or in boulangeries. The lack of a Ms. equivalent in la langue française has always bothered me; I’m glad other French speakers are bringing the subject to attention as well. Though I do not like comparing one culture to the other, neither in a good, nor bad, nor better, nor worse way, I do wish that there was a Ms. equivalent in la langue française. This way women still have the right to choose, and a sacred part of the language is not destroyed.
Alors, qu’en pensez-vous? (What do you think?)
Beardsley, E. (September 29, 2011). French Feminists say ‘Non’ to ‘Mademoiselle’. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2011/09/29/140931817/french-feminists-say-non-to-mademoiselle
Wikipedia. (2011, December 31). Retrieved January 20, 2011 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms.)