In the town of Cesson-Sévigné, in western France, unmarried women will no longer be referred to as “mademoiselle”—as of Jan. 1, the title (which means “miss”) has been banned from official forms, and all women are to be referred to as “madame.” The move is an attempt to get rid of “anything that could be seen as discriminatory or indiscreet,” a statement from town hall said.
Across France, a growing number insist a woman’s title shouldn’t be defined by her marital status. Two feminist groups have mounted a campaign to get rid of the word “mademoiselle” from official documents, and with it the suggestion that an unwed woman is either a young girl, or a spinster. “Some women appreciate being called ‘mademoiselle,’ and find it flattering,” their website says, while insisting that it’s “nothing less than sexism. It seems that only marriage, and a husband, can confer legitimate social status.”
The French aren’t alone in moving away from this distinction: in Germany, “fräulein” fell out of use as a title for unmarried women in 1972. But even “madame” implies that a woman is married. Proponents of the switch might look for a French equivalent of “Ms.,” doing away altogether with female titles that imply a marital status.