Europe bids adieu to mademoiselle

Europe bids adieu to mademoiselle

By: || Updated: 01 Jan 1970 12:00 AM

ROMANCE may feel bereft and nostalgia depleted, but Europe is determined
to follow the route to political correctness. The German “Fräulein”
as prefix was abandoned some time ago, for no one is a “little woman”
nowadays, whatever her marital status. Even the Spanish “Señorita” is
too old-fashioned for use, and has been cast out together with all the
excitement and mystery it evoked. And now “Mademoiselle” is definitely
on its way out of all official forms in France, for the government has
accepted the point feminist groups have been trying to make since
September last: why should women be forced to advertise their marital
status when men get blithely by with “Monsieur” alone?

validity and fairness of the point can hardly be underplayed, for just the
presence of such distinctions in official and social terminology argues
inherent heterosexual gender bias in the dominant culture. Trust the
British to have negotiated these shoals with the least fuss and maximum
stolidity: “Ms”, an incurably unattractive syllable midway between
“Mrs” and “Miss”, and meaning, to everyone’s great relief,
precisely nothing, is now accepted all over the world. It signifies
gender, but nothing more. To be politically correct, though, requires
sleepless vigilance. Is it fair to signify gender? What prefix should
transsexuals have?

That, however, is rather a long way from where
France is at the moment. Few mourned the exit of “Miss” and “Mrs”
on aesthetic, nostalgic or romantic grounds, for the words are singularly
lacking in euphony and, in spite of, say, the fascinating Misses Bennet or
the unforgettable Miss Earnshaw, short on seductive associations. But the
loss of a “Señorita” or, now, a “Mademoiselle”, is somehow like
the loss of an elusive cultural, perhaps just literary, nuance. The
“Madame” of Madame Bovary did carry a world of meaning. But frills are
almost always politically incorrect.

That is something France
evidently took time to accept, although its triumphant feminists are being
asked whether this is the right time to expend energy on issues such as
prefixes instead of focusing on the grave imbalance in pay and status
between men and women in social, professional and political life.

Skewed cultural attitudes require more than cosmetic changes, say the
critics. But whatever France does is still fashion, a bit late though it
may have been in the political correctness race. So even when not in
Paris, it is fashionable to do as Parisians do. Sending “Srimati” down
the same path as “Mademoiselle”, even if the former does not indicate
marital status, may actually be quite the thing. There would be an
immediate gain in crispness, spoken time and printed space, as well as a
leap in political correctness, for “Sri” shows no bias in gender or
sexuality. The loss would be, again, in those dispensable things: nuances,
histories and a beautiful word.

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