The Unmarried Woman

The other day I remembered a little news piece about French feminists wanting to remove the word ‘mademoiselle’ from the French vocabulary. I looked it up again and translated, it basically says that they want to get rid of the word mademoiselle because the distinction between mademoiselle and madame would be sexist and discriminating.

Personally, I have always really liked the word mademoiselle. It might be because I am not a native French speaker and therefore not so used to the word, but it sounds so pretty to me. Besides the beautiful sound of the word, I like having a word in your language for an unmarried woman. Where English has the word miss and French the word mademoiselle, we used to have a word for an unmarried woman in the Dutch language too. However, this word is not as pretty as mademoiselle and hardly gets used anymore.

I know this topic does not specifically relate to internet, but if we talk about feminism and gender, I think this actually does relate to those topics and how women are looked upon and probably even more how they valuate themselves.

Coming to the point why this French feminist movement wants to scrap the word from the language, it being sexist and discriminating, I think it depends on how someone experiences being an unmarried woman. Some women might be devastated about the fact that they are not married and still single, and I guess that these women do not like to be reminded of that everyday. There are, however, also women who are proud to be unmarried and self sufficient. For these women, mademoiselle might be a title they take with pride. Moreover, I have been given to understand that the word mademoiselle in the French language is rather used for a young woman than specifically for an unmarried woman. The only time unmarried women actually are confronted with the fact that they are a ‘mademoiselle’ instead of a ‘madame’ is probably when they fill out official forms.

I honestly can not really see how using a different word for an unmarried woman is sexist and discriminating, especially when it is basically not used anymore to specifically make that distinction. The only thing I started wondering however is why there are not separate words or titles for married and unmarried men in any language I know of.

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2 Responses to The Unmarried Woman

  1. Leïla Teteau-Surel says:

    Sigh. As a French feminist who was member of the organization that made the buzz around this topic, I’ve talked so much about it and am so tired of it.

    To sum up :
    * Why, as a woman, should your marital status be public? People are not concerned by your private life. For example, if you’re a teacher, your students. How many times have I seen in middle school and high school people mocking a teacher for not being married – seem so old-fashioned for me that I can hardly believe it ?
    * Besides, there is not such a distinction for men.
    * Then, “mademoiselle” is often used in a patronizing way – I hate that-, reminding you that you’re a young woman in an inferior position.
    * For those who think “I like to be called mademoiselle, that’s sooo pretty” and so on…Wait for the day when in the street, or at the bakery/wherever, you’ll be called “Madame” which would mean “now you’re getting old and out of the market of fuckable women, you should have a stable partner at this time”.
    * And you absolutely don’t have to be called “mademoiselle” when you’re not married there is no legal obligation. There is official recommandation to make the word disappear from administrative papers since more than 20 years!
    (And there are other reasons…but I think that’s enough.)

  2. apalmgre says:

    I think that the last reflection you make Roselien is very important, that there isn’t a distinction in married or unmarried men, or old and young for that matter.

    And thanks Leïla for your comment. Using mademoiselle can be a way to infantilizing women or suggesting silliness, weakness or insubstantiality. Other similar words used for women are girl and baby. Even if this isn’t directly connected to internet culture, can you come up with examples there? Maybe one example could be the term grrrl and cybergrrrl, where there is am attempt to empower girls and women.

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