To me, the word ‘mademoiselle’ sounds elegant, like a french aristocrat sweeping down a staircase in a gorgeous ball gown. In fact, French is considered to be one of the most beautiful languages in the world. However, two feminist groups in France, ‘Les Chiennes de Guarde’ (Guard Dogs) and ‘Osez la Feminisme’ (Dare Feminism) have been attempting to ban the use of the word ‘mademoiselle’ from all state and company forms. Why would these organizations try to do such a thing? The answer lies in the root of the word.
Mademoiselle, derived from ‘damsel’ or ‘little lady,’ is the French term for ‘miss.’ This word is used to denote an unmarried, usually young, woman. However, if you go back a few decades, you will see that it has a more interesting background. It actually originated from ‘virgin,’ giving the word the connotations of being innocent, naive, and young. ‘Mademoiselle’ is still widely used throughout France, however there is no current masculine counterpart. Long ago, the word ‘damoiseau’ was the title for unmarried men, similar to our outdated term, ‘master.’ However, that word fell out of popular use. But why hasn’t ‘mademoiselle’?
That’s the question these two French feminist groups are asking, saying that the term is sexist and condescending, as it distinguishes between married and unmarried women. Starting this year, Cesson-Sévingé, close to Rennes, France, has decided to forbid the use of the ‘mademoiselle’ on all official forms.
Why is it important that a woman have her marital status known, but not a man’s? In the interest of equality, I believe a term should exist so that if a woman wants to have her status known, she can. It doesn’t have to be ‘mademoiselle,’ being as the term originates from the controversial origins of naiveté, but I do think a term should exist. In addition, I think that a man should be able to introduce himself as ‘damoiseau,’ if he wishes. Who knows what kind of day-to-day vagaries this term could clear up? Let’s bring back ‘damoiseau’!
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