Every Woman Is Now a Madame in France
How do you say Ms. in French? You can't. There's no French equivalent to the neutral title. Depending on her marital status, a woman is either Mademoiselle, "my young lady," or Madame, which means simply "my lady." This means women are compelled to disclose their marital status with their name, and it gives a not-so-young unmarried lady a title that lacks appropriate gravitas. Today, France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced a plan to drop Mademoiselle from official documents, and make Madame the generic title for women, just like Monsieur is the generic title for Frenchmen.
Feminist activists sparked this change. Getting rid of Mademoiselle was high on the agenda, along with issues like equal pay, abortion and birth control rights, and sexist advertising. Osez le Féminisme, one of the groups behind the anti-Mademoiselle movement, claimed the title is condescending to unmarried women. The group's leader has said, "It may seem like a detail, but it’s very symbolic of (wider) inequalities." But the consequences of the two titles go beyond the symbolic. if you're an unmarried professional woman applying for a job or a loan; for example, having to identify yourself as Mademoiselle may prompt people to take you less seriously, even subconsciously. That has prompted some women to mark Madame even if they're not married. The new rule will also give women a choice to list "maiden name" or "spouse's name," rather than "family name" on official paperwork.
The government's move suggests feminist action is alive and well in France. Click through to see some of its more spirited recent protests now.