I recently received an email in which I was addressed as “Miss” and was shocked at how strong a negative reaction I had. I double checked the email to which they were responding: yes, I had signed with “Ms.” as I usually do. This person is not my superior, there is not a huge age difference, and besides I always refer to myself as Ms. in written communication (the reality is almost all women with whom I work are referred to as “Miss” in spoken address because both Ms. and Mrs. are harder to say). Even though my brain told me this wasn’t a big deal my gut told me I was bothered by it. So why do I hate being called Miss?
I am not a little girl
“Miss” brings to mind girls with ribbons in their hair wearing dresses at tea parties. I spent most of my “miss” years demanding clothes from the boys department and battling my mother over finding a First Communion dress. I am now more comfortable wearing dresses – but I also have some wrinkles and found two new gray hairs this week. I am not a kid. Also, it implies the use of my “maiden” name. I may be many things, but I am nobodies’ maiden.
In addition to the discovery of gray hairs, the last week also included:
- Repeatedly belting John Denver tunes down the hallway at a co-worker
- Shaking my groove thang alone in the kitchen
- Making a birthday card out of construction paper and markers
- Getting so excited about seeing a friend that I let out a huge yelp
So maybe I am a little girl.
I am not incomplete
I am single! Hear me roar! Miss implies that I am waiting for something else to happen, that there is some fundamental change that I haven’t experienced, that will flip some sort of switch in my life and move me into the land of the “Mrs”.
Hmmm…re-reading the phrase “I am not incomplete” I recognize it as the most absurd thing I have ever written (with the exception of some unfortunate teenage poetry). Of course I am incomplete, though I don’t expect marriage – or anything – to complete me this side of the veil. Of course I am waiting for something else to happen. I have spent my whole life on the lookout for the next great “Yes”, the next huge adventure, the next person to welcome into my heart. It may not have anything to do with my name or title, but there is always a part of me that is incomplete.
Names and titles should not reflect our personal lives
What is more dispassionate than one’s name? It’s on my birth certificate, my driver’s license, my insurance card. I own the domain name. I write it over and over, always the same. It’s just a name.
It’s just a name…one that I love. My first name comes from a wonderful grandmother, my middle name from my adored mother, and my last name from my father and his family. In addition to connecting me to my father’s family, my last name has the distinction of being quantifiably awesome and giving me the excuse to rock out to a certain Spanish-English hybrid Christmas song whenever I hear it.
Beneath my Christian name there are a thousand nicknames. Some of them reflect the stage of my life in which I knew a person. Some of them identify the speaker without fail. Hearing “Fuh-leeeech!” lets me know that Mary Lou is around just as surely as a spirited “Meggo!” is sure to come from my college music theory professor. Each twist on my highly nick-nameable name reflects a relationship and the way that relationship has changed me. So I suppose it is personal after all.
(And as for titles, when I finally earn the doctorate that I dream about and my father nags me about, you better believe you are all calling me Dr., which will reflect my very personal snobbery.)
My marital status is inconsequential
My state in life has nothing to do with my work or my public persona, so it shouldn’t be a factor in how I am addressed!
Does it really have nothing to do with my work? By not starting a family, I have been free to earn more degrees than one person needs, to spend years leading and promoting my favorite small opera company, and to establish myself in multiple careers. I have had the time to run eight half-marathons, read The Brothers Karamazov more than once, and learn a lot of music. I have had the emotional space to deeply love my family, friends, and the people to whom I minister and with whom I labor. Being unmarried has affected all of my relationships, and it has allowed me the solitude to mature emotionally and spiritually, preparing me for the increasingly complex relationships that develop as I get older. Perhaps most importantly, staying single through my 20s freed me to build the achievement-capital that now allows me to make good on my promise to not work so hard in my 30s.
So I guess I’m wrong about that one too. Maybe there’s no good reason for hating being called “Miss”. Maybe I am irked that I live in a time and place where being single is completely normal, but I am still inheriting the ancestral sexism that defines a woman solely on her “achievements” in marriage. Maybe it’s because I recognize that no matter how much I have accomplished there are still those who think I am a failure for not getting hitched. Maybe it’s because I watched my mother deal graciously with constantly being called by an inaccurate name and title all through my childhood and was never able to figure out why it was so hard for people to call her by her name.
Nobody means any harm by it, but there are plenty of things that are meant to be harmless that reflect the inadequacies of the world as we know it. I will do my best to be gracious, no matter what you call me, but I’m clinging to “Ms.” in my little battle against erroneous judgments and assumptions.