opinion

For 31 years women have called themselves 'Ms.' But do you really know what it means?

In 1986, The New York Times printed the prefix ‘Ms’ for the first time when identifying a woman.

Inking those two letters on paper did not come without resistance; Times stockholder and feminist author Paula Kassell fought for the term’s relevance with then-publisher, Arthur Sulzburg.

A few months later, the prefix was used in court documents detailing a Supreme Court ruling on a sexual harassment case, in which “Ms. Mechelle Vinson” won claims made against her supervisor.

Now, more than three decades after the long-fought battle to win the right to be identified irrelevant of age or marital status, I have only just learned what ‘Ms.’ means.

Listen: Mamamia Out Loud explains why the prefix Ms is so significant. (Post continues.)

A feminist statement, to be a ‘Ms’ is to be whoever you want to be. Not a ‘lonely’ unmarried ‘Miss’, or a ‘Mrs’ as determined by the man you’re married to, but a woman with the right to keep your marital status to your god damn self if you so please.

Despite me being 30 years late to the party, this revelation will completely change my perspective of the four little boxes at the top of my health insurance form, rental application and driver’s licence renewal.

Until today, I’d been ticking myself as a ‘Miss’ under the misguided belief being a ‘Ms’ was a spiteful reminder for women of a certain age that they hadn’t found a man.

To be a 'Ms' is to be whoever you want to be. (Image: Getty)
ADVERTISEMENT

Like Bridget Jones, or a 'cat lady' who's 'let herself go' in unshapely clothes with grey roots, I was under the impression being referred to as a 'Ms' was an insult.

My colleagues couldn't disagree more. For one woman in her 20s, identifying as a 'Ms' is her way of sticking it to the patriarchy.

A married woman in her late 20s agrees, arguing it's irrelevant and 18th century for anyone to be identified by their relationship status - especially considering men have always and will always be a 'Mr', whether they've got a ring on their finger or not.

what does ms mean
For one woman in her 20s, identifying as a 'Ms' is her way of sticking it to the patriarchy. (Image: Getty)

Another woman has been a 'Ms' since she turned 18. Even though she copped flack for using the 'mature' prefix in her teens she persisted, because to her, a 'Miss' is a young girl, not a grown woman.

Another colleague uses 'Ms' on everything because it's no ones business if she's married or not.

So, thanks to the women before me who fought for the right to chose how they are identified, I'll be ticking 'Ms' from now on.

Do you identify as a 'Ms'? Why, or why not?

00:00 / ???