French women say: Don't call me Mademoiselle!

24th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 23, 2006 (AFP) - It's one of the first distinctions visitors to France learn to make: the title 'Mademoiselle' for young unmarried women, and 'Madame' for other women.

PARIS, April 23, 2006 (AFP) - It's one of the first distinctions visitors to France learn to make: the title 'Mademoiselle' for young unmarried women, and 'Madame' for other women.

But now a feminist group is trying to scrap the traditional French equivalent of the English 'Miss' — and is promoting an online petition for it to be outlawed, leaving only 'Madame' for all adult French women.

"The USA and Great Britain are more advanced than us on this subject," says the petition, launched this month by a 40-year-old psychoanalyst and supported by the group Les Chiennes de Garde (literally "The Female Guard Dogs", or "The Guard Bitches").

They argue that France is now ready for a linguistic gender reform on the same scale as the 'Ms' trend introduced into English a couple of decades ago in a bid to jettison 'Mrs' and 'Miss'.

The petition's author, who goes by the pseudonym Mathilde, said she resolved to attack the use of 'Mademoiselle' when she was forced to sign the title before her name while recently buying an apartment.

She argues on the website www.lapetition.com/sign1.cfm?numero=1099 that 'Mademoiselle' is discriminatory and archaic because it differentiated between women who were sexually available and others who were not, whereas the simple 'Monsieur' applied to all adult men carries no such connotation.

With civil unions carrying almost the full weight of marriages and nearly half of all babies being born out of wedlock in France, the distinction has no value beyond reducing some women to sexual objects, she and her backers contend.

Not only that, but no French law requires unmarried women to be called 'Mademoiselle', and indeed two administrative guidelines, published in 1967 and 1974, recommend that titles invoking the marital status of women be avoided, she notes.

As a result, the petition calls for 'Madame' to be used in all cases.

Her efforts have won widespread media attention, much of it in her favour, and the petition is due to be submitted to the French minister for sexual equality, Catherine Vautrin, within the next few months.

So far, the text has accumulated more than 2,300 electronic signatures, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

But even the author recognises that she won't win over all Frenchwomen to her cause.

In discussions with her unmarried friends, she admits that "some appreciate being called Mademoiselle, which gives them a value of not being past their use-by date and giving them a sense that they're still desirable or still fertile".

Nevertheless, she says she will soldier on for the good of all of Frenchwomen, even those who "don't realise that they are perpetuating their submission to chauvinist values".

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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