Why I hate being called Miss

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.

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16 Responses to Why I hate being called Miss

  1. Miss is just another abreviation for Mistress. Mrs. also means Mistress. Neither is incomplete, but it can be helpful in social situations to know if there is a spouse. Marital status is far from inconsequential. A man should not flirt with, or be too friendly with another man’s wife and vice versa. Knowing a persons marital status helps prevent awkward situations. When someone calls you Miss they are just being polite. Its nicer than “Hey You!” In the most recent Sex in the City Movie there is a scene where the ladies get mad for not being called Miss. They assumed not using it was saying they were old. It gets confusing when people have all kinds of special needs about how they like to be addressed and what offends them. The thing about manners is that we create a uniform socially acceptable system so that we can all know when we are being offensive and when we are not. The person who called you Miss was being respectful. That is a good thing.

    • felicemifa says:

      Sorry for the delay in response – thanks for your thoughtful comment. You raise some interesting points that hadn’t occurred to me. I suppose the main reason I was frustrated was that I had already indicated that I preferred a different title. I have no problem with manners and customs that help us order our world – in fact I find them quite helpful. But I think it is much more well-mannered to recognize how a person identifies themselves and to refer to them with the same name and title that they have used. In the end, I know people don’t mean harm by it, but it certainly raised some interesting thoughts both for me and for many of your fellow comment-ers.

    • Heather says:

      So what is the male equivalent, if it’s so important for strangers to “know if there is a spouse”? Should we call all men we meet Li’l Man until we know if he’s married, at which point we can begin to refer to him as Mr.?

  2. Elissa says:

    I can totally see your being annoyed at the use of the term “Miss” instead of “Ms.” I’ve been looking at a lot of etiquette sites recently to figure out how to address wedding invitations and the general rule is if the woman is over 15 (or something like that) Ms. is used instead of Miss.

    So, yeah. I’d be a bit annoyed if someone addressed me as “Miss” in any form of correspondence, though I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm.

    In another note, I am equally annoyed when people call me “Ma’am.”

    • felicemifa says:

      The sad fact is there’s no way to keep everybody happy, including you and me. I find it interesting that all of this would be resolved if we had one consistent title for women as we have in “Mr.” and “Sir” for men. That bell can’t be unrung, but it makes for some interesting might-have-beens. But what do you care? You’re a theologienne.

  3. I agree! I understand that most people mean it respectfully, but to me it sounds condescending and prissy. In the twenty-first century marital status does not determine one’s role in public life. One day a staffer at a library in Philadelphia called me “Miss” and we were about the same age. I started to worry if my headband made me look too young and not like the serious scholar I was trying to be.

    On the other hand, The Beau’s nieces and nephews call me “Miss Sarah” since that is a southern tradition. Since they refer to all adult women that way, it seems cute.

    • felicemifa says:

      In the twenty-first century marital status does not determine one’s role in public life

      Exactly. Unfortunately our language has yet to catch up!

    • Oh goodness, that’s totally something I would have done! (Though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me, cause I’m not in Philadelphia.)

      When I’m trying to get someone’s attention, (like if they dropped something in a store) I will usually say “miss” if they are my age or younger, and “ma’am” if they appear to be older. ‘Cause obviously I don’t know a stranger’s marital status. I feel like I would weird someone my age out by calling them ma’am, and might offend someone older by calling them miss.

  4. jeanne says:

    I have an angry response each and everytime I fill out a form that gives me three choices- Miss Ms of Mrs and asks me to check one for my title – why are there three title choices for me and one for my hubsand – It infuirates me and its nice to know I have someone who agrees!!
    I can’t tell you how many kids Heard my long rant on this topic!

    • felicemifa says:

      For my own mental health I have tried to purge myself of the angry response to choosing a title, but I see where you’re coming from. At least they give us options…

      • M. Pettibone says:

        Not being angry means you accept the status quo.
        Personally I hate being called Miss. I am 60 years old! They always seem to linger on the ssssss, too. I feel it is very degrading.
        Marital status is only designated for women. We should not accept this and we should work to change it. Never do I feel so helpless as when this happens.

  5. Reblogged this on Jeez, not you again! and commented:
    I’m married and can’t abide Mrs! When I first started teaching, I asked to be addressed as Ms. I was told I was in the “backward north” and that the married women would feel they were losing ‘status’ if addressed as ‘Ms’. Status? Downtrodden status? The male staff sorted it: they calle me ‘Sir!’

  6. Gemini Gemma says:

    Interesting, personally I take offense at Ms. or Mrs.

  7. Gemma says:

    “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”

    How would is being married different from having a boyfriend, girlfriend or lover? It seems you have put great importance on marriage as making life completely different.

    I am married, and have deep intense relationships with my friends.

    I think titles are personal preference. I know many older ladies (in their seventies and eighties) who despise Ms, and choose Miss, they are proud of their status, (many have never lived with a man or had a serious relationship, and very pleased with their decision). Many think Ms means divorced.

    I personally use Mrs and sometimes Miss, and on many letters, for fun, Mr. Often I don’t have any title and just see what they come up with.

    I think everyone should use Mr, and for those of trans sex, intersex, third sex, it is very upsetting. Why should the title reflect gender never mind marital status? Why are we reinforcing gender binary.

  8. Jessica says:

    For me I don’t think there should be a personal preference regarding a woman’s title. It causes the kind of problems that have come up in this thread, like how some single women prefer ‘Miss’, some prefer ‘Ms’, some prefer ‘Mrs’, there’s too much choice, it’s just confusing and stupid. What the law should be (in my opinion) is every female up to age 18 is a Miss and then every female older than 18 should be Mrs. Simple. If enough women are offended by that then the law could start for females born after, say, 2014. I’m sure it wouldn’t be that difficult to change the law. The law really ought to be changed. This is the 21st century!

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