Dear Forms: Stop Making Me Choose Between Ms., Mrs, or Miss. You Are Missing the Point!

by Debbie Stoller


Back in the day, all men were referred to as Mr. (as in Mr. Burns), and women were either Mrs. (as in Mrs. Robinson) or Miss (Miss Hannigan), depending on whether they were married or not.  Actually, if you were a Mrs., you were really supposed to be addressed with either your husband’s full name (as in “Mrs. James Franco”) or just his last name (“Mrs. Franco”) rather than your actual full name (Mrs. Michelle Obama would have been a no-no). Miss was reserved only for singletons, but also usually only using a woman’s last name, not first (Miss Thing). 

Anyhoo, eventually feminists got  pretty annoyed that women’s marital status had to always be include as a part of their names, when men’s weren’t. Why couldn’t there just be one title for women? Something like Mr.? And thus was born Ms.

Well, not exactly. Ms. was first suggested in 1901, in a Springfield newspaper, and it wasn’t at the behest of women’s rights activists: instead, it was from a man who didn’t know how to refer to a woman whose marital status he did not know. Use Mrs? Miss? Either way risked complete embarassment. So why not “Ms” as a third option?

Some dude's bright idea in 1901

His idea, although quite genius, was ignored for decades. In 1932 it was suggested again, in the New York Times, but once again fell on deaf ears.

And then along came those feminists I mentioned above. And I don’t mean second wave feminists of the 1960s and 1970s. No; these were feminists of the 30s and 40s, as noted in 1949 by linguist Mario Pei.

But alas, they still didn’t get much traction.

So, in 1961, when a 22-year-old woman named Sheila Michaels found the term on a letter addressed to her roomate, it must have made quite an impact. Because, as the New  York Times tells it, she became a “one-woman lobbying force for the title as a feminist alternative to Miss and Mrs.” Her campaign gained momentum, and as the years progressed, more and more feminists got on the Ms. bandwagon, with Gloria Steinem, in 1971, famously using the word as the title for her newly launched feminist magazine. 


But of course, there were the traditionalists and their backlash. These were the women who wanted to continue to be called Mrs. and Miss, and with that statement actually also made the point that they didn’t consider themselves feminists. And there were plenty of men who felt the same way. Soon, Ms. wasn’t so much an alternative to Mr. as it was a way to state that you were a feminist. It was a label you had to fight for.

It took a whole lot of fighting before the New York Times, in 1986, finally decided to take on Ms. to replace both Mrs. and Miss, and some folks were pretty unhappy with that too.


This is was posted on someone’s blog in 2013.  Written by a woman. **stabs eyes out with pen!**


It is now almost 30 years since then, and we STILL don’t have Ms. as an all-purpose title for women, one that doesn’t reference their connection to a man, just as men’s titles don’t reference their connection to a woman. 

Because now, whether this is a matter of being PC or not PC, most forms give me three choices:

Are you Ms., Mrs., or Miss Debbie Stoller?

Which now pretty much means: are you a feminist, a  woman who is married, or a woman who is single?

Because, for fuck’s sake, Ms. was supposed to REPLACE Mrs. and Miss, not sit alongside it. 
I mean, first we are identified by our relation to a man, and now we’re identified by our relationship to the women’s movement.





How long do you think it will take before filling out a form is no longer a political action?

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