A friend who is not yet 40 years old recently told me that she thought that “Ms” and “Miss” were the same thing and I realized that the reason people haven’t addressed me properly in years is because there is a general ignorance about the purpose and use of the title, “Ms.”
“Ms.” was constructed at a time when many employers were using the titles Miss and Mrs. to discriminate against women based on their marital status. Ms was created as a neutral form of address, equivalent to “Mr.” that considered the marital status of a woman unimportant in the context of business. It was very handy general use because it wasn’t necessary to find out a woman’s marital status to address her properly.
Unfortunately, most men didn’t much like it, and many considered it to be a politically weighted term, eliciting all sorts of opinions about gender politics. It started to be used by young women as a form of identifying themselves as feminist, and many married women rejected it in favor of Mrs., although they misused it.
“Mrs.”, short for Missus is a term of identification that links a woman to her husband. Any married woman who wants to be addressed as “Mrs.” must also be addressed by her husband’s, and not her own, first name. Thus, Mrs. Ralph Young. For a woman to use her first name with the title “Mrs.” should suggest that she is divorced from her husband, and therefore cannot be addressed by his first name, so must use her own first name. Since she would have legally changed her last name at the time of the marriage, she retains her last name. Thus, Mrs. Ethel Young indicates a divorced woman.
I personally don’t mind if someone feels that it is important to them to address me as a married woman using the term “Mrs.” but if they want to do so, they need to use my husband’s last name, rather than my legal last name, which I did not change when I married. So I am Ms. Karen Meizner, but Mrs. Russell Bowman. The problem is that almost no one I do business with knows my husband’s last name (nor do they need to), but they are so determined to recognized my marital status, they insist on calling me “Mrs. Meizner.” UGGGHHHHH. That’s my mother, and always will be. Or my cousin’s wife, who seems like a lovely woman deserving of her own name. I love my husband, and I love being married, but don’t think that unmarried women are somehow less important, or less deserving of respect. Consequently, if someone intends to use “Mrs.” as a sign of respect, they are actually disrespecting both married and unmarried women.
Why do you suppose that it’s so important to so many people to recognize marital status when they address a woman, though they are perfectly comfortable addressing men with Mr., and therefore not having to recognize if they are married or not? Do you suppose it’s because men find it important for women NOT to know if they are married? Why do you think that might be? #MeToo?