Mademoiselle

Mademoiselle.
What do you think of when you hear this three-syllable, elegant sounding, very French mot? Do you think of a little girl, une petite fille, playing outside in her jardin? How about a teenager, une jeune adolescente, just one year short of taking her Bac? Do you think of a young, twenty-something woman, une jeune fille ou une jeune femme, sipping a café at a small restaurant on the Seine? Or, how about a widow, une veuve, mid-to-late seventies, walking aimlessly along the twisted cobbled streets of Paris? Or, perhaps, do you think of an anti-progressive sexist European society?

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:

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts… Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation “Ms” is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as “Mizz,” which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike. (Retrieved January 20, 2011 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms.)

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?)

Bisous,

Dana

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.)

4 thoughts on “Mademoiselle

  1. Hi Mary! I am applying for the program!! I am applying this year for the 2013-2014 program, because since teaching takes forever, i dont graduate til fall (student teaching). I'll just have to find something productive to do for a semester. Is that what you did? The assistantship program? I'd love to talk to you about it, if you have time. merci!

  2. You should write a post about it : ). I know you'll end up in France again someday! Are you applying to be an English assistant? If so, hang in there because they can take a long time to reply. I've heard they've changed the program a bit from a few years ago, though (at least in Caen : ) ). ~Mary Elise

  3. Mary, YES! Those exact words have definitely come out of my mouth.. "I don't like that the word 'femme' means both wife and woman! It sounds possessive and sexist!" If you don't mind I am going to write a blog post about this as well. I love that your friends' parents are so accepting!!! I hope to be back in France next year, fingers crossed (I miss it so much!)dana

  4. Have you ever noticed that most French use the word "my woman" for "my wife" while husbands are "mon mari?" I thought this kind of goes along with your observations in this post. One of my friends in Caen has an American mom and French dad. Her father always calls her mom "mon épouse" instead of "ma femme." Good Luck with your preparations for next year! – Mary Elise

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