Madame vs. Miss vs. Ma’am

by | Jan 30, 2012 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

I adored this piece “French Feminists say Non to Mademoiselle“. I have written about my own discomfort about being called “ma’am” (ick, hate that word!) in this piece, “Ma’am vs. Miss” and want to replace it something something less matronly. I don’t expect that the US will ban “Ma’am” anytime soon. We already have the option of “Ms.” which the French lack.

From the Global Post:

In the 19th century, mademoiselle was a noble and honorific title, associated with the marital status of the woman. That said, at the time women didn’t have much standing in society. The Napoleonic Code, initiated in 1804, ruled that women could never reach majority, or legal adulthood. They became permanent minors, first under the guardianship of their father, then under that of their husband.

When the Napoleonic code was dropped in 1938, women were to be called “madame” when they reached adulthood. But “mademoiselle” is still widely used to designate unmarried women in France, unlike in most other European countries where the practice has been abandoned as discriminatory, said Muret.

Muret added that in their professional lives, women who have a high level of responsibility are often called “madame” while subordinates are called “mademoiselle.”

“It is used in a condescending manner,” she said.

So when we visit France now we will all be “madames,” then, regardless of age, just as all men and boys are “monsieurs.” And here in the U.S., perhaps we can be “madames” too. It sounds a lot more elegant than “ma’am.”

1 Comment

  1. elle

    Using Personal Titles #4: Miss, Mrs., Ms., Ma’am, by Dennis Oliver … the service worker is your age or younger than you, Miss is probably acceptable. If the worker is older than you, Miss is probably not acceptable: use ma’am

    This is why I don’t like ma’am. It’s just plain ageist and here is some guy teaching people learning English to judge a woman based on how old she looks and call her ma’am or miss. I know I don’t appreciate being sorted like a piece of beef or livestock. The problem isn’t the word. It’s just a symbol. It’s how the word is being used. I just want this country to choose: Miss or Ma’am. I don’t care. Just use one for every female person regardless of her age or marital status. All men are sirs, after all.


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