Friday, March 07, 2008

We're Sorry, There Is No Ms. Edema Here

Have I mentioned the little postal system at Amabel's school? It is really cute. Everyone has an address, and there are mail carriers, and letters are always going to and fro. Anyway, you are all getting a lesson on etiquette today because the way these letters are being addressed is driving me c-razy. And the whole point is to teach how to address a letter! Well, not to be too hard on the system, everything really is well done except for the titles.

I personally, have almost no use for the title "Ms." To me it is superfluous (Miss or Mrs. should serve) and whether I was taught something really strange in the Southern Baptist school I attended when learning elementary grammar, or whether it is actually true, I think of "Ms." as a small result (among many) of the feminist movement. But that sounds like the type of arbitrarily dogmatic opinion that I often hold without realizing it is, in fact, arbitrarily dogmatic until a rational person points it out. Nope, I just looked it up. It is pretty much from the feminism movement- originated in the US and was popularized in the 70s. So in 1984 when I was learning it, it must have been fairly new and not so widely accepted as it is now.

So call me old fashioned, but "Ms." annoys the heck out of me. I have kind of come around with older unmarried women. Not divorced women. Divorced women are Mrs. whatever their first name is, instead of Mrs. whatever their husband's first name is. For example, I am Mrs. George Edema. I will not divorce, but let's say it's an alternate universe, I would be Mrs. Abby Edema. If George died and we were still married, I would still be Mrs. George Edema. This is a terrible alternate universe! Anyway, the rules are pretty clear. I see no need for Ms. in there anywhere. Before I married, I was Miss Abby Hawkins. Now I did marry at twenty-two. So I can allow for a thirty-two year old woman not wanting to still be Miss as she has been since birth. I am pretty sure the "proper" cutoff is thirty. But I suppose it could be applied to any unmarried career woman.

Anyway, I keep fishing these letters out of Amabel's backpack addressed to "Ms. Amabel Edema." Ugh! She's six years old! I asked her if she had not been taught about "Miss." And she said they are not supposed to use the word Miss, but have been told to use Ms. instead. I say she "said" this because six year olds cannot always be trusted to understand exactly what they have been taught. I told her when she writes to her friends she needs to use "Miss" when addressing letters and to always call herself "Miss" in the return address. This new instruction was very distressing to her. Well, she's my child, so being distressed is not so unusual, but anyway, there seems to be some confusion. There are a lot of unmarried teachers at her school and so I can understand that as career women, they choose to be called Ms. If they were married and wanting to be called Ms., I have to say that I would find that odd and well, to be perfectly honest, annoying. But I would comply. What I will not comply with, is children being called "Ms." That is beyond annoying; it is simply incorrect.

I have read a lot about this today online and I will say that aside from my personal feelings, there seem to be some pretty general cultural assumptions about this issue. I read lots of places where people said that Ms. indicates divorce or left wing feminism to them. And people who want to defend Ms. tend to say that it is all purpose or "safe" (basically, "let's not offend anyone" types). So there you have it, I am anti-Ms. (and it would seem I am not alone) particularly when applied to anyone younger than thirty. What do y'all think?


Fittsy said...

You know I agree on this, but I think it's so culturally unknown to call people Mrs. Husband's Name that I always feel a little odd addressing things that way. But I think it's lovely so I do it anyway.

And I *really* struggled with the Ms. thing at Christmas. There are a few single, over 35 women that I send Xmas cards to, and I never can decide how to address them. To me Miss denotes young and never married. In your reading, did anyone say that there was an age over which Miss is improper?

Really, if Gloria Steinem has a magazine called Ms., I think I can feel safe never using the term!


jennifer h said...

I know it may go against your southern etiquette training, but why not drop the title for children and for single women who have never married?

I like the training, so I understand wanting to teach it to children. But it seems to me it is unnecessary for school notes.

I don't like Ms., but I have used it when applying for jobs to a woman's name where no reference to her title has been given. In this situation it seems more professional to use some title than none at all.

annie said...

I think that Miss is wonderful for any age girl/unmarried lady. But I know that I'm old fashioned. What about little boys, do they put Mr. or Master on their mail?

It is nice that they get a lot of letters at school.

elizabeth campbell said...

I don't like Ms. but I do feel it is insulting for unmarried women past their thirties...kinda like saying they are second-class citizens b/c they did not have the good fortune to be married like we did and will thus be relegated to the kiddie table until they grow up. I don't know if there's any basis to this b/c I haven't asked my unmarried friends about this. But I do feel like it's waving a big red flag that says "Old Maid!" when they're older.

Matt Churnock said...

Dear Abby,
First, would you not say that something that annoys the 'hell' out of you is a good thing? I, personally, am looking for things that can get the 'hell' out of me.

Second, as I haven't a dog in the fight of Miss or Ms I will use whatever is deemed appropriate by the general masses or your blog (what ever comes first), but my question is regarding the Mrs. Husband Name phenomenon. Say you are filling out a card and it asks for you name (it could be the pew pad that is passed on Sunday), how do you fill out that name line? I have come to the conclusion that the Husband's name goes first and the wife's second. This indicates a leadership position. In my case it would be Matt & Alice Churnock. Now there are some close to me that say that as a aspect of chivalry to place the woman's name first and the man's second. In that case it would be Alice & Matt Churnock. I don't like this second option and haven't used it, but I was wondering what direction is correct.

Your truly,
distracted in dixie

Abby said...

i am not always so formal. y'all just look at your Christmas cards for evidence of that! i think i am upset because it is that they are being taught. if you know the rules and bend them every now and then, that's your choice. but you should know the rules. rebekah, i am with you on the feeling that some things are odd. that's why i too, just do the "normal" way instead of the "proper" way a lot of times- unless i'm writing to someone i know will appreciate it :)

jennifer, i agree, the title is unnecessary, but as they are putting one, I want to make sure it is the correct one. i wouldn't have minded so much if there was no title at all. and what you said about in a business context is evidently the whole reason the title was invented in the 50s. it wasn't much used until the 70s though (from what I read).

and annie, i love "master august edema." only marne and rebekah ever address things that way to our house. but i love it!

matt, you are right that you are mr. and mrs. matt churnock. if you want to put ali's name, you are ali and matt churnock, according to one source, because your first name is never separated from your last. interesting huh? however, other places say you are matt and ali churnock. incidentally, there are lots of places in "chivalry" where the man goes first. a man always goes in front of a lady up or down a flight of stairs in case there is a loose step, according to one source; or as I heard it, in case she were to stumble. (although, if you were going up, you would fall downward so he should be behind you... hmmmm). a man walks ahead of a lady in a dark theater if there is no usher, into rain from inside to open the umbrella, through a revolving door in order to push it for the lady, and into a crowd or other situation such as these where there could be "trouble." a man should get in the car first if the lady would otherwise have to "scoot" (as in a cab or limo on a busy street where the man cannot walk around).

i love this stuff!

the skocelai said...

okay, so i am sure this comment may never be read since i am a little behind the times... however, i LOVE the use of the "miss" and "master" titles and still use them liberally when adressing letters to youngsters. i do think that "miss" should also be applied to any unmarried maiden regardless of her age. as for the "ms." for a divorced woman... as a divorced woman, i did not care to link myself at all with my unfaithful former husband. the marriage had been dissolved both legally and in the eyes of God and I personally find it in poor taste to address any divorced woman as a "mrs." because she is no longer any man's wife, whether she wants to be or not. for women who are no longer either a "miss" or a "mrs", i think "ms." is very appropriate, but not at all appropriate for a yound girl learning about proper addressing etiquette. i agree with you, Amabel is a "miss" not a "ms."

hope you are doing well!

Olive said...

Well, speaking as a "single career woman" I don't much care for (but as a lady would never correct) Ms. Brittnie Homstad. I prefer Miss Brittnie Homstad. But, I can understand that Ms sometimes, in our strange-post-modern-post-o cest la vie.

All the kids I babysit (and babysat) call me Miss Brittnie, and I quite like that, so I'm for sticking with that unless I'm 75 and still single and fell ridiculous being called Miss at that point.

Abby said...

sarah, really good to know. i see what you're saying. but you still had the same last name, right? so you would've been ms. sarah m? doesn't the last name connect you more than the title? hope i don't sound rude or obstinate. i just wanted to clarify. i hope to never be able to know first hand, and since you have unfortunately had to know, i will take your word for it- again, if you ever see my reply. and fortunately, you don't have to deal with either connection now!

olive, your real name comes out! and for some reason, it sounds kind of familiar. why would that be?

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