Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This Ms. Don't Miss The Mrs.

I come from a long line of feminists, they just don't know it. My grandmother says to her friends when referring to me, "She's a women's libber," as if she were saying, "I smell a poopy diaper." Yet, if she thought for an instant she was being paid less than a man for the same work, there would be hell to be paid. The problem is that she doesn't believe women are paid less than men. She also doesn't believe that O.J. Simpson is anyone other than a charming, innocent retired athlete/actor. Therefore, what Grandma believes and what actually is, might just be two different things.

I have been happily married for nearly 20 years and I love my husband dearly. But I am not a wife before I am a woman, an individual. It's terribly distressing to me that so few people seem to understand the weight and significance of using "Ms." over "Miss" or "Mrs." Only "Ms." is equal to "Mr." If men are not addressed differently based on their marital status, why should women be?

My husband is my best friend, my soul mate, he is also a feminist, which is to say a person who believes in equality for all. The rest of my family and his have been respectful of our choices. However, on our wedding day, my teenage sisters painted our car "Mr. & Mrs." not out of defiance to our beliefs but out of ignorance of their importance to us, while also motivated by the perpetuation of engaging in a tradition. Moments before walking down the aisle, I spotted the car, licked my hand and wiped away the "r" in Mrs. so the car read Mr. & Ms. , albeit a bit smeared. I lovingly explained it to my accepting sisters during our wedding reception which was all caught on tape by the befuddled videographer.

My husband and I each have our own last names and our daughter has his last name as her first name and my last name as her last name (There is a way of preserving the lineage of both parents in families based on the book by Sharon Lebell, Naming Ourselves, Naming Our Children ). We have a meaningful family name of convenience for others to address us as a unit when it comes to holiday cards, restaurant reservations, etc.

When people address me by "Mrs. " or my husband's name, I politely yet emphatically correct them. I ask them how they prefer to be addressed; and if it is by "Mrs. " and their husband's last name, I address them as such. Even though I am against the tradition, I am for individual choice and respecting others and honoring their wishes.

In response to the question, "How do I deal with people who disagree with me?" I would have to say, "I don't." I do my best to be thoughtful, considerate and sensitive to others; but I include myself in the group of "others" and place more importance on what I think about what I am doing in my life than I do on what others think about what I am doing in my life.

I just keep walking my path and they just keep walking theirs. I do believe that we inform people how to respect us by the actions we take to respect ourselves and the world around us. When we pay attention to the light within each individual we become enlightened as a collective. I don't have to try to teach or educate anyone about anything. That is done naturally when I revere my authentic self without apology or justification.

Everything can be argued; wisdom asks us, should it? I'm not interested in arguing over personal choice. I am interested in living with equality. Being addressed by "Miss" or "Mrs." may be a tradition, but it's also an example of inequality. It may be a minor detail, but minor details can change the very meaning of a thing.

The following two sentences have the exact same wording but depending on where I put the comas, (the small, seemingly insignificant details like a woman's last name or doing away with the titles of "Miss" and "Mrs." altogether) the meaning of the sentence changes completely:

"A woman without her man is lost."
(meaning that women need men)


"A woman, without her, man is lost."
(meaning men need women)

Small details make big changes. Perhaps if all married women kept their own name and used "Ms." instead of "Miss" or "Mrs." society would see them more as equals; and they would receive equal pay, and who knows…maybe, just maybe, someday a woman could be president.