No More Misses

Posted: February 28, 2012

The French government will no longer insist upon single women writing Mademoiselle in front of their name. The French do not have an equivalent of Ms., and so women were forced to choose either Mme. or Mlle.

Finally, the light has dawned upon the authorities there that the marital status of a woman is no longer relevant to any decision making in society, especially one where more than fifty percent of children are born to single women.

Why is a woman’s marital status so important? Almost everywhere women are asked to choose between Miss, Mrs. Or Ms., while men just have to tick on plain Mr. Clearly matrimony is not an issue for the male sex. Of course this is because it’s men who designed all communication in the past. Their prurient interest in a woman’s sex life was the reason why they asked for proof of matrimony.

Society has evolved in such a way that it’s no longer material whether a person is married or not, not even where children are concerned. Surrogacy, same sex marriages and live in relationships are doing away with conventional notions of living in sin. But the government in most countries is way behind social norms. What should a divorced woman call herself, ‘Mrs.’ Or ‘Miss’? And why is it anyone’s business?

Conventionally a woman’s marital status was an important of the social fabric. There were visual aids to help people figure if a woman was married or not. In India, the mangalsutra or vermilion in the hair, are the most obvious visual aids. In a wedding ceremony, the filling of the bride’s hair parting with vermilion is the culmination of the entire ritual, and a cause for celebration. No such transformation awaits the man. Is that why many men don’t consider the bond of matrimony sacred? Western cultures have slowly done away with the inequality in symbolism. Both men and women, if married, sport a wedding ring. The concept of widow’s weeds has become a relic.

In India we have a long way to go before women can achieve such symbolic equality. From guardianship of a child to the symbolism attached to widowhood, it is women who are firmly relegated to inferiority. How will things change? While some emancipation is happening in the cities, the media, a barometer of social trends, continues to glorify traditional symbols, instigating a blind following amongst otherwise socially responsible women.

Women whose cultures did not sport the mangalsutra, for instance, are now sporting one, and woe betide any widow who continues to wear hers. Post-modernists may cite this as the triumph of the unifying power of communication, but surely it’s high time some debate also happened on why women are expected to continue to follow stereotypes, whether inside the TV or outside it.

Pic credit: Velo_city (Used under a Creative Commons license)

I'm an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and now a published author.

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  1. Marital status is a field in most “forms” that we need to fill e.g. opening a bank account, investing in a ULIP, etc.
    It is irrelevant to any of the activities afore-mentioned but yet we are asked. How often have I asked the people around me, why does a woman have to put on vermilion? Why does not a man carry some symbol of marriage on his person once he is married? Why is it only the woman? The answer is its all about the social conditioning of our rights and priviledges and as rightly noted, these ruled have been formulated by men because it is in their best interest. Again on losing her spouse, it is the women who has to change her lifestyle, give up eating non-veg, wear white or light colored clothing and stop using vermilion or wearing the mangalsutra. The man continues with the same lifestyle. If we do away with the symbolisms of marriage that have been thrusted upon women, we can do away with the rites that follow widowhood.

  2. Marial status is the Status Symbol . whenever one disclose herself widow / divorcee immediately ppls reaction changed. myself is divorcee. but have faced such situation many times n still do . as for mangalsutra, i do wear ’cause of society n for security from MEN . somehow i experience that even if i disclose my marital status & when especially men see my mangalsutra, they hesitate to make 1st move. As for MEN widow / divorcee women are always free to entertain them ! as if they are doing social work by offering their shoulder to cry on ! i hate this attitude. some have gone to extent to ask me remove my mangalsutra as they don’t feel comfortable when talking to me! so irrespective of wearing mangalsutra our society doesn’t allow divorcee & widow women live their own life !
    As for using MS / MRS. it shouldn’t make any differences on forms but it is in our mind . it won’t make any difference to men but women who are married they will only point our status , Oh ! look at her ,she is Divorcee/ widow still she is using MRS!
    otherwise like men now all women should start using only MS. status irrespective of whether she is child / married / divorcee / widow . what say?

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