I Am A Lady
The Lady of Shalott painted in 1888 by John William Waterhouse
Thought Number One: Titles
I have a new title! Yes, it’s official…well…sort of official…
I am a lady.
Before I begin to try to prove my case for being a lady, let’s just throw it out there that it is so much easier being a man as far as titles go. For the most part the title “Mister” is one of the few titles that would be used other than a professional designation.
Women, however, have an array of titles that they may be called over a lifetime. Throughout the world, many titles have to do with the marital status of a woman or her level in society. In the U.S. some of various choices have changed over the years.
For example: There was a time that married women took on the husband’s first and last name when signing legal documents. For example a woman would write Mrs. John Doe when signing a check instead of writing her own given name such as Jane Doe. My grandmother once got a call from the bank asking her to quit signing her checks like that after my grandfather died. She was in her 90’s at the time and seemed to be annoyed by the request. They knew who she was after all. The same bank didn’t have a problem cashing checks that had been stolen from her with forged signatures on them so, I am prepared to just think they are a crappy bank but back to the subject at hand.
One of the reasons, I am bringing this up today is several times over the last couple of weeks, friends of various ages have talked about the period of time when a woman is referred to as “MISS” versus when she is routinely called “MA’AM” This appears to happen in the early 30’s range of age.
Many women seem to struggle with the onset of Ma’amism. Perhaps it is the fact that ma’am is the contraction of Madame. Madame does have a certain matronly sound to it, I guess…oh and there is that other connotation as well? But is that any better or worse than the title “Mrs.” that is a contraction for Mistress.
It has been long enough now, that I don’t actually remember the time that I was called “Miss” more than I was/am called “Ma’am”. I am pretty sure that when I was 23 and pushing a stroller with 2 little babies in it, even then…. more often than not I was called Ma’am over Miss. Frankly, it didn’t bother me much one way or another. In defense to those involved, it was fair to assume I wasn’t a “Miss”. If they had the advantage of knowing my last name I would of been called Mrs.
Today, 30+ years later, things have changed somewhat in terms of titles. Younger women could be called Ms. if the person addressing them was unclear about their marital status. The word “Ms.” or at least words used in the fashion of not associating a woman to be the mistress of a man has been around since the 17th century but it didn’t gain popular usage in the U.S. until the 20th century.
In 1961, Sheila Michaels attempted to put the term into use when she saw what she thought was a typographical error on the address label of a copy of News & Letters sent to her roommate. Michaels “was looking for a title for a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man.” She knew the separation of the now common terms Miss and Mrs. had derived from “Mistress”, but one could not suggest that women use the original title with its now louche connotations. Her efforts to promote use of a new honorific were at first ignored. Around 1971, in a lull during a WBAI-radio interview with The Feminists group, Michaels suggested the use of Ms. A friend of Gloria Steinem heard the interview and suggested it as a title for her new magazine. Ms. magazine’s popularity finally allowed the term to enjoy widespread usage. In February 1972, the US Government Printing Office approved using “Ms.” in official government documents
Around that same time other things changed as well. More and more women retained their own surnames or hyphenated their name with their husband’s name after marriage. Many opted to use Ms. instead of Mrs.
Thought Number Two: Why I Am a Lady
Typically, if I am somewhere that people have to address me and they have the advantage of seeing my name on a charge card or some form of ID, they are still in a bit of a fix as to knowing how to address me. Judging by my age, or the fact I wear wedding rings, it would seem easy enough to call me Mrs. BUT it isn’t easy because no one can figure out how to say my last name. I, actually, admire the people that give it a try. Few ever succeed in getting it right but they get points for trying. Mostly there are the apprehensive about making a mistake, though and just say…Thanks, Cheryl or don’t use any name for fear of getting it wrong. I respect that.
Sunday, though I was at a nursery getting bags of potting soil…big bags of potting soil that were beyond my capability of lifting. After paying for the soil, the nursery employee, walked me out to help load them into the back of my SUV. After loading them, he was at a crossroads on how to address me. I should tell you he was young and of Asian ethnicity. After looking at my confusing name on the pickup slip, he grinned ever so sweetly and said, “Have a great weekend, Lady!”
So now I have been a Miss, a Ms., a Mrs., a Ma’am, and a Lady. I think all of those need to be listed on the next government form I fill out so that I can check the appropriate box.