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.