No More Misses

Why is a woman's marital status so important that she must use "Miss" or "Mrs" to signal it to society?


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)

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About the Author


I'm an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and now a published author. My first novel, Cloud 9 Minus One, was published by HarperCollins India in 2009. read more...

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