Not long ago, a young and recently married friend of mine confessed that she had encountered a bit of a disappointment in married life. Contrary to what many might think, her disappointment was not with her husband, or their home, or any other common aspect of a newlywed’s life. Instead, she mournfully declared, “Nobody calls me ‘Mrs.’!”
I laughed and suggested that perhaps the coveted title would come with time. Now, however, I wonder if my comforting words were a bit misguided, for the use of titles – Mrs., Mr., Ms., and so on – seem to be a thing of the past.
Columnist Ben Yagoda recently noted this phenomenon in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. While responding to an invitation which asked for his title, he happened to notice that the choice of ‘Miss’ was absent. Curious, Yagoda did a quick Google Ngram Viewer search for the terms Miss, Mrs., and Ms. to see if the latter and more feminist option had replaced the former. But while the use of Ms. has risen in recent years, it wasn’t enough to compensate for the decline of Miss.
Using the same Ngram feature, I ran my own chart, adding in the title ‘Mr.’ It also experienced dramatic decline in the last century.
Such information suggests that the decline of Miss and Mrs. is not so much the byproduct of the push for the modern and feminist title of Ms., but rather the decline of respect in society.
Let’s face it. It seems more cool, and maybe even easier, to refer to friends, new acquaintances, co-workers, teachers, and other individuals by first name. Those who still address others by their formal titles are considered too stiff and proper and encouraged to “lighten up.”
At the same time, however, it seems society has never held a greater reverence and demand for respect for the individual. Women declare that society has dissolved into a rape culture which fails to respect their bodies, minds, and emotions. Men, on the other hand, insist that it is their sex which is continually trampled underfoot by women in the workforce, in dating relationships, and in family life.
I’ll admit that it’s a small thing, but is it possible that by ditching the boundaries and formality promoted through titles such as Miss, Mr., and Mrs., we also diminished the respectful atmosphere society seems to be searching for?
Image Credit: Roman Holiday, Public Domain
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.