Mix or Minx?


by D. J. Webb

In the old days, the men were Mr and the women either Miss or Mrs, depending on marital status. Now, clearly, there is an assumption there that men are independent, whereas women are adjuncts of their husbands, if any. However, that assumption is rooted in the biological fact that women are the childbearers, and in any society will have to leave the workforce from time to time to give birth. The role of women as child rearers is a natural one: maternal instinct isn’t a social construct. This, in turn, means that the career choices of their husbands are still, even today, generally more relevant to the socioeconomic status of a woman than her own abilities and life choices.

But more fundamentally, the Miss/Mrs contrast is rooted in tradition. There is no good reason to change it. Anyone who wishes not to adopt this contrasting nomenclature is free to do so, but, I would argue, not to impose her choice on others. Claims that male use of Miss/Mrs is “offensive” are wide of the mark indeed: confected outrage at the use of such terms is actually what gives rise to offence.

We notice a rising trend favouring the use of Ms, apparently pronounced Mizz, which fails to disclose marital status. I recognize that women may choose to adopt such non-words themselves, but I do not choose to use such terms. In the 1950s, the default was to assume—for reasons of kindness and politeness—that a woman of a certain age was married. Nowadays, I think it convenient to assume, in an age where a minority of people get married, that women are not married. A woman who fails to disclose her key status should be assumed to be a Miss.

One other solution would be to return to the 18th-century use of the word Mistress, of which both Miss and Mrs are derivations. Apparently “Ms” Rodham Clinton has sought in the current presidential campaign to tone down her feminist credentials and opt to be known as Mrs Clinton. She is undoubtedly married, and Mrs William Clinton is her correct designation. But I would be content to call her Mistress Clinton.

However, to my consternation, connected with the nonsense over transgenderism (note: gender is a grammatical category; it does not refer to biological sex, and the word “gender” to refer to “sex” is simply wrong), there is a novel campaign to use a sex-neutral honorific Mx, apparently to be pronounced Mix.

Mx is now occasionally to be found in the New York Times, where we read:

Caleb LoSchiavo, a student leader who was born female but does not identify with either gender and prefers the honorific Mx., said there was less of a generational divide than some expected.

The New York Times also writes that the Royal Bank of Scotland offers Mx as a choice in its forms in the UK. The Independent writes that the Oxford English Dictionary—previously a worthy academic work—is considering including Mx in its list of words, and that Brighton and Hove Council, as well as the Royal Mail, now offer the use of the honorific Mx too. Mx is in the mix.

I think libertarians should think along the lines of defending people’s right to cast scorn on such terms, particularly as pressure will increase on people in certain jobs to acknowledge the use of such terms. I myself previously worked in a company where the written use of Ms was encouraged, and there was nothing I could do about having the cultural revolution thrust on me. I don’t mind finding myself the object of cultural propaganda of this type as long as I can refuse to adopt such terms and ridicule them as I see fit. I think the correct pronunciation out loud of Mx should be Minx. For example, when we read

Are we anarchist?” Senia Hardwick asked. “Technically, yes.” Mx. Hardwick, 27, who prefers not to be assigned a gender — and also insists on the gender-neutral Mx. in place of Ms. or Mr. — is a staff member at Bluestockings, a bookshop and activist center at 172 Allen Street on the Lower East Side.

we should refer to this person, probably female, as Minx Hardwick. This designation is probably quite accurate.

9 thoughts on “Mix or Minx?

  1. Ms is older than most people think. It actually began to be used in the 17th century but fell into disuse until the 1950s. I have no problem with it, in principle, and I use it as a default title if I do not know a woman’s marital status (if I do know the marital status, I prefer to use the traditional titles unless politely told not to, which has yet to occur).

    Even etiquette experts believe there is a place for Ms, most prominently when a married woman retains her maiden surname: if Miss Doe marries Mr Bloggs and keeps her name, she cannot be either Miss Doe (as she is married) or Mrs Doe (as her surname does not derive from her husband); Ms Doe is appropriate in such circumstances.

    I am unsure what the convention is on this, but it “instinctively” feels better to use Ms also for a divorced woman who has reverted to her previous surname.

    • Vabadus, you are quoting cultural revolution propaganda at me, oblivious to the fact that it doesn’t work on me! Who is an “etiquette expert”? I am an etiquette expert if I choose to declare myself so. If Miss Doe marries Mr Bloggs, she is Mrs Bloggs. You ask what we should call her if she chooses to be referred to by her maiden name, but I’m not interested in catering to all cultural-revolution choices. She is Mrs Bloggs. End of story. If a woman is divorced, she is either Miss something or Mrs something — Ms doesn’t exist. If I was written in the 17th century, then that was in a period when the spelling of the abbreviation Mrs was being finalized.

  2. In correspondence with a person of an unknown sex, I generally use “M” but will ask for the appropriate honorific, if it doesn’t cost me anything one way or another.

    While in principle, I agree with this article, our dysfunctional society does seem to require the assumption that there is a surplus of effectively unmarriageable women (along with female-impersonators regardless of the rationalization for this impersonation). This is not a desirable state of affairs unless one intends to produce a government-owned “harem” (and that may well be the intention evidenced by the results). Adjusting to this reality doesn’t mean accepting it or codifying it however.

    I haven’t “adjusted” yet myself, which, of course, results in some questioning my own femaleness to include yours truly at times. Apparently, “we’re all alike,” and as such our marital status doesn’t matter when we are, like Feudal times, first married to our Lord and Master of Government. We are all “Brides of Government.”

    Part of the ubiquitous use of “Miss” as a form of address, I believe, is the assumption that all women want to be thought of as younger than they are and otherwise possessing of higher reproductivity than actual. Therefore we are also “Whores of Government” pandering our sexuality as a means of enslaving men to The State. That also isn’t new if its current form is particularly repulsive.

  3. Well, I won’t be using any “gender neutral” descriptions any time soon – unless I am under serious force to do so. Thankfully I work in an industry where this is not likely to happen any time soon.

    But I suppose I am a simple soul, with some simple views at times. For me, a male is a Mr and a female is Mrs if in adulthood and Miss if younger.

    It does not imply nor signify (to me) about their marital status. If my next door neighbour had lived at home all her life, was pushing 35 and had not been married, I would still refer to her as Mrs Smith, if her parent family name is Smith.

    If I did not know her status, I would still say Mrs, with the idea being it would either be her maiden name or another married name if applicable.

    It is not something I have really given any thought to before. I do not know the supposed conventions we are supposed to use. Ms, Miss, Mrs, I’m not too bothered really – but Mx?, no, that won’t be happening.

  4. At least we aren’t as bad as the French, where tables and chairs are gendered as well. I resolved at a very early age that any language that stupid doesn’t deserve to be learned, and its inventors should have been defenestrated.

    I think it would be easier these days to have one term for women. PC aside, I always found it awkward to need to know somebody’s marital status in advance of addressing them. I’d probably just stick with “Miss”, since it has a slightly olde-world nature to it, like addressing a schoolmistress.

  5. I disagree about the ‘Ms.’ honorific. It has settled origins and is courteous in situations when the subject’s preferred honorific is unclear. The reality is that a lot of women who should be addressed as ‘Mrs.’ would prefer ‘Miss’ (or ‘Ms.’). It’s not just ‘Miss’ that causes embarrassment and resentment. I was once remonstrated with quite harshly for using ‘Mrs.’, even though it was traditionally appropriate, and for that reason, unless I am sure of the lady’s preferred honorific, I will always use ‘Ms.’

    • Tom, in that case (the case of a married women who resented being referred to as Mrs X), you should have simply replied “my dear, you are a minx, and I don’t give your marriage five minutes”.

      • I don’t know if she was married. This incident happened more than 20 years ago, when I was working in an office, just after leaving school. I had been asked to write a letter to some organisation or other, and it was addressed to a female manager. I remember it quite clearly because of the affect it had on me.

        I was instructed to always use either ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss’. and that it was age-related, but there were subtleties. ‘Mrs.’ should be used for ladies over a certain age, and ‘Miss’ for the younger women, and it was understood there was a vague, greyish point during a woman’s mid-20s when she crossed from ‘Miss’ to ‘Mrs.’ If a single woman was engaged to be married, you were to use ‘Miss’, in most cases irrespective of age. If in doubt, and assuming the correspondent was ‘of age’, you were to use ‘Mrs.’, it being implicitly accepted that in most situations one cannot possibly know in advance the marital status of a correspondent in business and official matters, so ‘Mrs.’ was the default position.

        So I wrote this letter and maybe a week later was told-off as she had kicked up a fuss about being called ‘Mrs’. It seemed like a big thing at the time, and I noticed that occasionally letters to women were addressed ‘Ms.’, so I started using that when the position was unclear, and I’ve never had a complaint about it. I agree with you that ‘Ms.’ isn’t very easy on the ear. I don’t like it either, but I think as a means of writing a polite letter, it’s an acceptable solution. I don’t want to have to go back to the previous situation where we are all walking on eggshells around hyper-sensitive women.

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