French feminists: Guillotine ‘sexist’ word ‘mademoiselle’

Laura Donovan Contributor
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The French language could become even more complicated if two of the country’s feminist organizations, Les Chiennes de Garde and Osez le Feminisme, get their way. The groups, translated to “Watch Bitches/Guard Dogs” and “Dare to be Feminist,” have started a campaign to ax the description “mademoiselle” — the English equivalent of “miss” — in favor of “madame” — the French version of “Mrs.” — so both married and unmarried women can have the same title.

As points out, French males go by “monsieur,” which means “mister,” all their lives whether they’re bachelors or tied down, whereas “mademoiselle” separates single and hitched women.

Saying there is a “condescending connotation,” Julie Muret of Osez le Feminisme told French publication Le Monde that such a distinction is telling of inequality among the sexes.

“But it is very symbolic of inequalities,” Muret said, adding that addressing oneself by “mademoiselle” or “madame” without an optional neutral description like “Ms.” reveals a woman’s marital status upfront. “This forces the woman to expose [her] personal and family situation … Did you ever ask whether a young man was a Mister or a Squire?”

“[T]he distinction Madame/Mademoiselle is neither flattering nor mandatory,” states the Osez le Feminisme site. “Above all, it is the ordinary sign of sexism that persists in our society.”

The campaign encourages French females to call themselves “madame” regardless of marital status. The organizations say the postal service, tax collectors and local councils should all transition away from using “mademoiselle” because there is no legal necessity for the distinction, which is an outdated description.

Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, told The Daily Caller that the debate over “madame” and “mademoiselle” should not be shrugged off as silly, especially considering the world’s sorry state of marriage.

“The French [feminist] push to use ‘Madame’ all the time when addressing women instead of reserving the word, ‘mademoiselle’ to refer to a younger, unmarried woman is reminiscent of the U.S. attempt years ago to address all women as ‘Ms.’ Times have changed, though, since ‘Miss’ was an issue in the U.S.,” Dr. Crouse told TheDC.

“Now, marital status, as well as a woman’s age, is more touchy than ever. Years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan commented that those who won the war over language would prevail in the culture. Given the demise of marriage around the world, perhaps the brouhaha over ‘Miss’ and ‘Mademoiselle’ is more serious than frivolous.”

Some speculate the French groups launched the movement in response to the recent sexual assault allegations against former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but the French could just be behind on a worldwide practice. In 1972, Germany banned “fräulein,” which refers to an unmarried woman, from official use. In the 70s, “Ms.” gained popularity in the United States and is currently the country’s default address for women.

French feminist groups have been fighting to make the change for quite a while. According to The Daily Mail, former Minister of Women’s Rights, Yvette Roudy said in 1983 that “mademoiselle” was “discriminatory”. Les Chiennes de Garde voiced opposition to it five years ago.

Brigitte Grésy, writer of a short anti-sexism treatise, told Le Monde that the mademoiselle/madame distinction is “less important than the wage gap, violence or lack of access to abortion,” but demonstrative of “the reality of world.”

Author Laurence Waki joked to The Daily Mail that the loss of distinction could actually put females in awkward situations when approached by creepy guys.

“We will no longer be able to single out imbeciles who try to find out whether you’re free with the chat up line: ‘Madame or mademoiselle?'” Waki said.

Veronique Guerra, a lifelong resident of the south of France, had similar, light-hearted remarks for TheDC: “The truth is that women love being called ‘mademoiselle’ after they turn 50! It’s before this age that they appreciate being called ‘madame.”

The French language has many other confusing structural rules that could easily be perceived as sexist. The word “fille” means “daughter” and “girl,” while “garcon” means boy and “fils” means son. For adults, “mari” translates to “husband” and “homme” means “man” while “femme” is the word for “woman” and “wife.”

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Laura Donovan