Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Miss or Mrs?

Yesterday, Lucy Mangan in the Guardian explored the pitfalls and perils of titles: Miss, Mrs or Ms. It set me thinking about my own experiences.

For many years I have curtly corrected banks, cold-callers, service-industries etc on my identity. I have often been given the option of Miss or Mrs - rarely Ms - and I have usually tried to get them to use Ms (though this is much harder work than it should be). But what has often irked me more than what title to grant me has been the assumption of my name in conjunction with that title. If I am answering the phone at home when they ask for Cloud, they will often assume that I am 'Mrs Cloud' ('Mrs his-name'). This has also been played out on occasions when I have been phoning to arrange a service visit at home, only to be greeted by astonishment that I am not able to be at home whenever they please with no notice (the corollary of this is when I will say my partner could be at home and they then refer to him as 'Mr Rullsenberg'; that is, 'Mr my-name').

I found a way to get around this - though I accept it is not for everyone and I wish there were ways to make the use of Ms more acceptable. I went and completed a PhD (I hasten to add that was not my main reason for doing it). Although I never thought I would use it in that way, there is something very empowering about deflating an irksome twerp who cannot comprehend that I am not 'Mrs his-name' by replying I am "Dr. my-name". Of course, as my doctorate in is the socially useful (!) field of American Cultural Studies, I have to remind myself that ultimately I am going to be hopeless on a plane if the cry goes out "is there a doctor on board?" - unless they want a cultural analysis of a text or painting. But the title of Dr. does still command a swift change of tone and I take these small triumphs where I can, especially if I am not even given the option of Ms (and sometimes they do not even give the option of Miss!)

Of course, this all reminds me of the anecdote about Einstein (?) when someone came by to see 'Dr. Einstein' and his housekeeper informed the visitor that he was "not the kind of doctor who does anybody any good." [Some might say that medical doctors more often fall into that category than they should, but I'll take the limitations of my field on the chin and accept that ultimately my work probably doesn't change anybody's life in the significant daily way that a medical doctor can do].

1 comment:

Kara said...

I know I'm responding to this a year and a bit after the fact, but I'm REALLY surprised that Ms. isn't used that often in Britain. (Especially since, it seems, that the British use the neutral term "partner" over boyfriend, husband, etc.) While some women in the US certainly refer to themselves as Mrs. so-and-so, it is seen as almost a throwback. Almost everyone uses Ms. here unless the person they're referring to specifically requests otherwise. Of course, if you can be called Dr. - well then, that's certainly an improvement over all the others!