'Mademoiselle' is one of the most iconic words in the French language, but French feminists are not interested.
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Few words say “French” more than “mademoiselle.” The French title for a young or unmarried woman trips off the tongue like accordion music by the Seine. But feminists have tried to shelve it for 40 years: The word’s etymology ties to “white goose” or a naive or silly girl, they note; its usage forces women to declare a status. Americans modernized “Miss” to “Ms.” Germans made “fraulein” kaput. The Spanish spiked “señorita.” But “mademoiselle” floats languidly on.
On the heels of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, feminists are taking another shot. Their goal: Banish the check box for mademoiselle on state and corporate paperwork.
Paris groups Dare Feminism and Watchdogs launched a campaign Sept. 27 that includes a “kit.” A form letter is ready to send to whomever it may concern: “I would be very grateful if you would cease to employ the civil title ‘Mademoiselle’ as well as ‘maiden name’ or ‘spouse name’ in any documents or letters addressed to me.” In Paris most women have heard of the issue, and it is getting plenty of attention on social networks. But habits die hard. Older female celebrities such as Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve insist on mademoiselle. If the check box were eliminated that would be fine, most women said. If not, no big deal. “I don’t mind mademoiselle,” said Teresa, who is married. “When people use it I feel younger.” Agnes, unmarried and older, called the term “not pejorative; it’s nice.”
Marie Noelle Bas of Watchdogs says the campaign is working. A poll in Marie Claire has 72 percent ready to nix the check box.