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Is Ms. a Feminist Term?



Hello,

Thank you for such an informative site about our Catholic Faith and culture.

I once addressed a single traditional Catholic woman as Miss and she corrected me by saying Ms. I thought the re-introduction of the title Ms. was a feminist thing so I was surprised when she said that. Do you have any information about this?

Thank you and God bless you,

     R.W.
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Dr. Horvat responds:

Dear R.W.,

You are correct about the feminist origins of the title Ms. It was introduced as a new honorific in the early 1960s in the name of Feminism. One person who lays claim to the founding of the title, Sheila Michaels admits that she "was looking for a title for a woman who did not 'belong' to a man."

ms magazine preview issue 1972


The first issue of MS, founded by feminist Gloria Steinem

It was, however, Michaels' friend, activist Gloria Steinem, who popularized the term by making it the title for her new magazine MS, a very liberal and radically feminist magazine that promoted women's liberation from the home place, abortion rights, equal rights in the workplace, etc.

Regarding the name chosen for the magazine, Steinem stated, "We settled on Ms because it was symbolic." The aim was to do away with Miss or Mrs., by providing a feminist alternative that "neutralized a women's marital status." Using Ms. said “I’m a feminist.”

I remember when the term first appeared, and I was certain the ugly sounding 'Mzz' – like the noise of a pesky insect – would never take off to replace the respectable and traditional Mrs. and Miss.

But it did. And so much so that 50-plus years later, even many traditionalist or conservative young women use the term simply because they think it has always existed.

But it has not. In the past, the titles of "Miss" and "Mrs." played an important function in social relations. It allowed men to identify who was married or not, and treat them accordingly. Since it is the man who pursues a spouse, and not vice-versa, to know the marital status of a young woman was a means to avoid uncomfortable social situations.

feminism ms


Ms became a symbol in the '60s for the Feminist Revolution, below, Steinem at a women's protest in the streets

gloria steinem feminist revolution
If a proper young lady were a "Miss," it was also a sign for a proper young man to exercise care about entering into conversation with her without a formal introduction. I have written on this topic of introductions and their lamentable decline to the almost nonexistent here.

The title "Mrs." clearly identified a woman as married, which called upon men to treat her with a certain reserve and special respect because of her status, and demanded from her a like reserve shown toward other men. The title indicated the high respect shown to the married state and discouraged flirtations and familiarities that could lead to affairs and, consequently, to divorce.

Sadly, these good customs have fallen to the wayside like bad seed. But, in fact, they are good seed, and we should strive to plant and nurture them to return to the customs of our Catholic past.

Today, when so many woman are unwed mothers, divorced and remarried, living in concubinage with men, and so on, the argument is put forward that "you can't go wrong with Ms.' This bad excuse encourages us to accept as normal situations that in the past, based on the morals of Christian Civilization, were simply unacceptable in Catholic milieus.

Other languages

It is interesting to note that in no other language, to my knowledge, did a term equivalent to Ms. find citizenship. Only in the English-speaking countries of the United States and England did there suddenly rise the "urgent" need to invent a "socially neutral female address."

no to ms
Even the very liberal and au courant France has maintained its elegant Madame for a married woman and Mademoiselle for a unmarried young woman, without introducing a new term.

This fact alone is enough to make me firmly eschew the term Ms. When we add the fact its birth on feminist soil, I take a strong stand against it.

Here are some of the still-accepted addresses for women in other countries:
  • German: Fraulein (Miss); Frau (Mrs.)
  • Italian: Signorina (Miss); Signora (Mrs.)
  • Spanish: Señorita (Miss); Señora (Mrs.)
  • Portuguese: Senhorita (Miss); Senhora or Dona (Mrs.)
  • Dutch: Mejuffrouw (Miss); Mevrouw (Mrs.)
  • Filipino: Binibini (Miss); Ginang (Mrs.)
  • Vietnamese: quý cô (Miss); (Mrs.)
I hope counter-revolutionary ladies and gentlemen will continue to use the traditional "Miss" and "Mrs." as titles of respect, and teach their children to follow the same good custom. I have already addressed in another article the egalitarian trend to drop the use of titles and address everyone – adults, youth and children – on a first name basis.

Posted July 6, 2021

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