Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ms - a missed opportunity?

The word Ms. - mostly used by women who don't see the need to reveal their marital status - gets extensive coverage in this Guardian article. The debate about Mr, Miss and Mrs goes to the heart of feminist linguistics.

Many (or should that be femy) argue that the titles given to women and men in English reflect a male dominated society in which women's status as married or unmarried is marked, while men have a single generic title. Some have argued that this shows that women's status in language is inferior. The article looks at the 40 year history of the word and attitudes towards it, commenting along the way that many young people have never heard of it, despite its prevalence in the 70s and 80s.

In my (obviously male) experience of attitudes to its use in English lessons, many students associate it stereotypically with either divorced women who wish to make a (possibly bitter) point about their new found single status, or more dismissively as referring to "those weird women" (probably feminists, possibly lesbians, maybe even wearing Nepalese yak-fur hoodies) who complain about everything and probably want to ban words like "history" and "human" for being too malecentric. But, this article explains exactly why Ms. is an important word and why it should be used. And it makes some much needed points about why language matters and how gender is often constructed through some of our language use.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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