Why ‘Mademoiselle’ is an insult to French women

“Is that Madame... or Mademoiselle?” It’s a question often asked in France, whether you’re opening a bank account, voting, or even booking a train ticket. French feminists argue that France needs to get with it, and stop defining women by their marital status.

 

A group of women’s rights activists have launched a campaign to get ‘Mademoiselle’ as a civility wiped off administrative forms. “Men are called ‘Monsieur’ all their lives,” they argue on the campaign website. “But women are either Mademoiselle or Madame. And that [terminology] is linked solely to their marital status.”

 

 

The activists might be absolutely right, but it’s unlikely to get them far. It’s been 40 years since feminists first campaigned for this change, and since then, they’ve invoked more of a sense of outrage than encouragement from the French public. Regarding their latest effort, an online poll hosted by conservative daily Le Figaro saw 75% of voters dead set against the proposal.

 

But reading the comments below the poll, it’s easy to see that many eager participants had failed to grasp the concept before offering their opinion. “We are not going to go through centuries of beautiful French literature replacing the word Mademoiselle with Madame!” argues one man. Another asks if “young man” will be banned too. “These feminists have psychological problems,” says another, followed by the comment “But Mademoiselle is such a lovely word!”

 

It’s as though they think uttering the word ‘Mademoiselle’ to a young woman at the corner shop is enough to get you arrested. Alas, non! As many more-informed web users have pointed out on other websites and forums, Mademoiselle as a spoken form is not the crux of the matter. (It’s actually considered a compliment to older French women, and there are plenty of men willing to dole out the term in order to do just that.) What these feminists are arguing is that on an administrative form, ballot slip, tax form or theatre ticket, it should not be obligatory to divulge one's marital status for one gender and not another.

 

France lagging behind

 

It comes as no surprise that this remains an issue in France. The country was ranked a poor 48th in global gender equality at the World Economic Forum this year – way behind the likes of its European counterparts which dominate the top ten. French women were some of the last in Europe to get the vote, and they couldn't even open a bank account until 1965. But the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal has given France’s feminists, usually dismissed as a bunch of radicals, a rare glimmer of media spotlight. The anti-Mademoiselle crusade is part of a wider awareness campaign attempting to bump France up a few notches in the global scheme of things.

 

Some argue that there are more important issues to deal with before getting round to details like Miss and Mrs, but minimal changes like these (if there are enough of them), could help to transform the somewhat lackadaisical national mindset. The rest of the West is way ahead when it comes to civility: in Spain, all adult women are registered under Señora, in Germany, it’s Frau, and in the UK and the US, you can choose between Miss, Mrs or the ambiguous Ms, no questions asked. Even in French-speaking Canada, Mademoiselle has long been confined to addressing schoolgirls only.

 

Back in France, women face raised eyebrows or a knowing look whenever they are compelled to divulge their marital status.

 

“So is that Madame or Mademoiselle?”

 

"What a silly question," we might soon be saying – but only if feminists manage to convince the masses that this really is an insult to women.
 

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22 Comments
The correct form for unmarried men is Mondamoiseau. I stopped using Mademoiselle when I got pregnant., but it didn't stop my Head from writing Mlle on the sign on my table for my last parent-teacher meeting, you can imagine the puzzled looks on thechildren's faces. Another humiliating right of passage is when shopkeepers say, Mlle, no sorry mme when you turn round. I love the M or Me idea.
Mademoiselle is lovely, it sound sophisticated! In English we say Mrs. for women who are married, we say Miss for women unmarried, and Ms. for either (I suppose). Why should you be offended by the title Mademoiselle??? I don't think that's something that should be taken into offense, I'm only 15 and I'm called "Miss" all the time, it doesn't offend me, why should it offend you?? I'm just wondering. Don't be ashamed to be called that!
In English there are three options, Miss for unmarried, Mrs. for married, and Ms. which does not reference marital status. Is there a French equivalent to Ms?
What do the Quebecoises do?
Maybe we should simply change the rule: you're Mademoiselle until you have a child (or adopt one). Then, you're Madame. I do think there is a difference between women who are girls only and women who are mothers.
Hey, Why people spend precious time debating on things thats not going to change the economy of the nation or either bring popularity or wealth to the nation ,rather they should focus on making the country economy booming and bring more discoveries to better human life on the planet.
La demande ne porte pas sur la disparition du mot mademoiselle du vocabulaire, mais simplement que cette discrimination n'apparaisse plus sur les formulaires administratifs. Il est vrai qu'en France, pour toute démarche il est plus demandé à une femme qu'à un homme, est-ce justifié ? à mon avis : non. Il est vrai, également, qu'il y a des problèmes plus graves à résoudre sur notre bonne planète. Bien sûr, mais il y aura alors toujours des problèmes plus graves que l'égalité des sexes et, sur ce principe, nous devrions nous taire ? à mon avis : non. Je ne suis pas une féministe pure et dure, une acharnée du combat contre l'homme. Je veux simplement qu'au quotidien il ne soit pas fait de différence entre une femme un homme. C'est bien peu demandé, mais à chaque fois cela provoque une tempête !!!
Anonyme...............you obviously missed the point about why a computer is called an ordinateur in France. Computer sounds like "con puteur".......look it up. The French HAVE adopted a lot of words from other languages.....weekend, parking, camping, stop, bye-bye etc, but quite wisely want to preserve the use of the French language. People who DON'T do that will all end up speaking American English and I, for one, would absolutely hate that!
Why not cut the Gordian knot and use: M or Me But I suspect it is the French love/desire of/for petty bureacracy that is the stumbling block.
In America, women are asked whether to use Miss, Ms, or Mrs and we don't really have a problem with this. I know some areas of America are upset by using this system, however, those that are like that are very radical in their feminist views and have in many senses become too radical. There is a growing group of women in America that have become borderline psychotically feminist and feel that men should have no rights whatsoever and that only women should be allowed to have anything and that frightens me as it could become a serious issue if its not kept in check. I myself get a lot of grief and flack by women because I'm shown to be too sympathetic to how men might feel about things and I that I will defend them in most situations. I really get it when I thank a guy who opens the door for me, takes my coat, pushes a chair out for me, lets me go first when ordering things or when I want to check out, and when a guy offers to pay for things for me. I know that some feminism is needed on certain issues and that's fine, however, men have rights too, and if feminists aren't careful it could come back to bite them something fierce.
In France I would like to tick a box "Comte", but I have to choose "Monsieur", my friend a PhD cant find a box to tick "Dr". In England we can tick the box "Earl" and "Dr" so in France it's not perfect. It's especially odd because the current French forms were reserved for the high aristocracy and Royalty. So instead get rid of all boxes and everyone in France is "Citizen" and if you dont like it go back to any communist country that will have you...which at the latest count is not many! Off with their heads or let the feminists eat cake.
>>Madame... or Mademoiselle<< Just call them 'Mad.' and have done with it all.
I agree that women should be treated as equals to men, and for years now the chauvanistic males have derided equality between the sexes. What saddens me is not the bureucratic nonsense of form filling, that is easy to rectify; but the mindset which for some distorted reason considers copying the English speaking world. Please i beg the French people, do not copy either the Americans or the English, you will destroy what is still attractive in France, namely courtesy and respect. Americans unfortunately are ignorant on the whole of any other culture unless it is American, this explains the few passports issued to their citizens. The French should avoid emulating the English/Brits as their manners have almost disappeared and their communication skills both spoken and written are full of americanese. To return to the argument regarding form filling; if your married and it is a legal requirement to disclose the same, the authorities should provide a box to tick on the form, but make it compulsory for both sexes. That should remove the implied insult to the women. Vive Le Republique
I think that the best clue for what to do can be maybe found in English. Instead of erasing the option of being a "Mademoiselle", one should create a new word like "Ms". That way the emphasis isn't put on trying to stamp out "Mlle" (which many people obviously still want to use and preserve) instead, a third option is giving a fair choice for those who want to use it. This way something is kept in the language for those who think it is important or beautiful, but for those don't feel comfortable with the term, they can simply opt out. easy...
despite the confusion arisen after reading some of the controversial arguments posted,i think to some extend the word mademoiselle could be not appropriate in some situation such as when buying a train ticket.however it is accurate in other case in term of ranging women in an age-class.therefore,striking to ban the word would not be fair and just an adjustment depending on the situation it relates would be a good starting point.
In France you have a serious issue with women not reporting Rapes. You have a society that thinks its OK to sodomise a child but escape justice because of his art? You have serious sexual divisions in your labour force But what is the burning issue 'being called Miss' instead of Mrs. BIZARRE!
Well when it comes to being backwards in development, there are other things the French language has lagged behind. Even in this, the 21st century they still call the traffic lights as "feu de circulation" or a regular pen a "plume". Plumes have been abandoned long time ago as writing tools, and as for the traffic lights, there is no fire. Remember when they raised a big stink about Le Drugstore years ago? Even the American program 60 Minutes sent a reporter to Paris to see what was the big fuss. One of the suggestions was to called it le Bazaar, which is a Turkish word to start with. I do not care to remember what the Academie de la Langue Francaise ended up permitting, but this is embarrassing. On the other hand, English, a Germanic based language has no qualms of keeping itself renewed and modern. They borrow from left and right, from other languages, and they are neither apologetic nor regretful about their choice. Take the words Pajama, Bungalow, Pundit, Junta, etc. Some words that have come into the language from other sources and are not considered shameful, discriminatory or such, they are fused into the language and are used without objections. One more French word that deserve a mention here before I go. The very common worldwide use of the word computer. The initial use of the machine, and even now to certain extent is to count. The front part of the word computer, the comp comes from the French version of the word "compter" and yet, when the computer became part of our daily lives, the French had to invent a new word, and that was "ordinateur", meaning "manager" the thing that manages rather than counts. And guess which is the language of communication because of the facility and ease of use or of learning....I am sure you may have guessed that it is not Hindi nor it is French. So there is nothing wrong with "Mademoiselle". Those who are complaining, would they have preferred that unmarried men be referred to as Monsiette as opposed to Monsieur? Something for you to ponder about.
It is little bit funny, but I think, it´s good idea. Here in Slovak republic we have in formal and official forms four possibilities. Same for both gender: single, married. Thanks for article.
If a man called me Madamoiselle at my advanced age I would think he was trying to chat me up................and not very well!! This form of adress, like many things in France, is antiquated. But things move on slower in some societies than others and YES, small changes like this do make a difference. It is a reflection of the general attitude towards women in France. Evenyually maybe I will be able to go alone to the bar in the evening for a coffee and a brandy without people assuming I am a hooker!
It always seemed to me that Mlle vs. Mme was much more of an age rather than marital status question (totally unlike Miss vs. Mrs.) And of course, there is the unofficial male equivalent - "Jeune homme!" I miss having people shout that at me, "Monsieur" makes me feel so old. Still, if the women of France want their equivalent of "Ms.", they should have it. I wonder what they will choose?
Hi 'stuck in the middle', as argued in the post, it's not the spoken use of the word they're fighting, it's the use of it on administrative forms. If men were also asked to divulge their marital status when filling in a form, this would be a different argument. But in this case, it's only women, so it's discriminatory. You can be as gracious as you deem fit among your peers but a woman should not be forced to define her marital status when buying a theatre or train ticket, when a man is not (and shouldn't be either). Sophie
In some ways the phrase is a way of attaching a status of maturity to ones being....When you address a young person you say may I help you young man or lady, as they get older sir are you traveling with your wife or alone...When a young woman or middle age woman or a older woman travels it is a way of selecting a proper place they may relax as they travel or as they eat or sleep....people whom are not married may travel in different circles and thus care not to be polite to other people in the area , so you see it is not necessarily a term of belittlement as much as a way to present respect to ones person...may you forever curtsy graciously among your peers !!!!