"MS" TAKEN IDENTITY
The title ,Ms was once the focus of a ludicrous courtroom confrontation. Like a scene from an old movie, Judge Hubert Teitelbaum, aged 73, interrupted a lawsuit proceeding by threatening to "lock up" one of the plaintiff's lawyers if she didn't revert to using her husband's name. He later remarked to another lawyer that he refuses to let anyone "use that Ms in his courtroom."
The judge, a 1971 Nixon appointee, was apparently reminiscing about the "good old days" when women had no identity other than "Mrs. Somebody." In an obvious lapse into chauvinism, Judge Teitelbaum compounded his error by asking lawyer Barbara Wolvovitz, "What if I call you Sweetie?"
Although judges are given generous leeway within the judiciary system, this judge realized his mistake and apologized six days later, but not before shocking the nation and incurring the wrath of the National Organization for Women.
The Teitelbaum incident stands as a reminder that women have a way to go before attaining total equality, especially in the eyes of one "Neanderthal judge."
It was evident that after thirty years of common usage, the title Ms is still not readily accepted. The term was adopted in the early 70's following the Women's Liberation Movement, which was instigated, in part, by Betty Freidan's book, "The Feminine Mystique." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded evidence of Ms was on January 4th, 1952, when the National Office Management Association in Philadelphia, Pa. published a document called, "The Simplified Letter," recommending the usage of Ms for all female addresses.
What is it about Ms that antagonizes people? It could be that "Ms" is added baggage to an overloaded list of feminine titles, i.e.. Miss, Mrs., Mistress, Ma'am, and Madam. Men use one term of address, while women drown in a sea of unnecessary titles which only cause stereotyping and confusion.
A woman with children is always considered to be Mrs., whether she is single, married or divorced. Such assumptions are unfair and certainly no one's business.
If the delivery boy refers to a woman as Ma'am, she realizes that she is considered middle-aged, and if he dares to call her Madam, it's all over but the crying. However, a male of any age can be called Sir.
If an unmarried woman lives with a man, she becomes his mistress, while he remains Mister. If a woman is single she is a Miss, but a single man is still Mister. Mrs., a contracted form of Mistress, is cherished by women who want their marital status known, but as feminists have pointed out, Mrs. is the possessive of Mr., which is not in keeping with today's woman.
In other languages it is much the same. A Spanish man is a Senor,(Sr) but a married woman is Senora,(Sra) and a single woman a Senorita.(Srta) In France, it is Monsieur(Mons) for the male, Madame(Mme) for the married female, and Mademoiselle(Mlle) for the single woman. Twentieth century women are long past the stage where they need honorific titles detailing their age and marital status.
The term Ms was designed to change this. The dictionary defines Ms as a title free of reference to marital status. The Secretary's Handbook has, for nearly twenty years, listed Ms as the accepted address when unsure of marital status. In 1972, Ms Magazine, in its Spring Preview issue, stated that Ms should be used consistently by all women, regardless of marital status.
In spite of these efforts, Ms has not reached the popularity expected by the Women's Movement. Older women are sometimes uncomfortable with Ms and men regard it apprehensively, perhaps remembering the bra-burning rallies by feminists who fought for rights that were theirs by birth under the Constitution.
Another reason might be that Ms is not pleasant sounding. Phonetically, "Ms" sounds like Miz, which is a slang term. And unfortunately, Ms sometimes still carries the connotation that the bearer of the title is probably between thirty and forty years old, a staunch liberal feminist and most likely a sexually frustrated man-hater.
Both Mr. and Ms, while being adequate titles, designate gender and should be an option, not a required formality. Writers frequently use non-gender names as pen names so that their writing is judged on its merits and not on sexual affiliation. Relationships between people should be based on value, not age, sex or marital status. It's time we "untitled" American society, releasing it from the burden of category identification. This would remove sexism from both the English lanquage and the workplace, and promote equality between the sexes. In answer to Shakespeare's question, "What's in a name?", there should be nothing in a name but the person it represents. This might keep people like Judge Teitelbaum from making fools of themselves. Now that we are in the 21st century, many use just their actual names, excluding Ms and all other feminine or masculine surnames. And that is as it should be.