March 2nd, 2009Call Me Mrs.by Lorraine V. Murray
Names are extremely important, and if you disagree, ask someone whose surname is Pig. Then compare that person's life experiences with someone named Jones.
As for me, I am perfectly fine with my married surname, which is Murray, but I wish people would stop automatically sticking "Ms." in front of it.
I would like very much to see a rebirth of the lovely, old-fashioned title of "Mrs." The beauty of this title is that it implies the existence of a Mister to whom the woman is attached. By contrast, Ms. has a cold edge to it. It lumps all women -- married, single, divorced and widowed-- into the same amorphous group.
Ms. became fashionable during the heyday of the Women's Liberation Movement. At the time, feminists reasoned that women should not reveal their marital status because men -- who used "Mister" -- did not.
As a radical feminist at the time, this reasoning appealed to me because it reinforced my belief that women should be treated just like men. I was also an atheist then and rejected the existence of inherent masculine and feminine natures. After all, without God, who would have created them?
As the years passed, however, despite my attempts to cling to feminism, I found its premise about the sameness of men and women impossible to defend. The big problem was that it ran aground of my everyday observations.
The people who burst into tears during arguments, I noticed, were nearly always women. The ones responsible for nearly all violent crimes were men. I never witnessed a man showing off a wedding band to friends or shopping for hours to find just the right shirt.
I also observed that a man encountering an infant in the grocery store generally did not begin talking to it in high-pitched tones, which any woman would recognize as baby talk. And a woman confronted with a spider usually would call out for a man. But I never saw the reverse happen.
In "What's Wrong with the World," G.K Chesterton writes about a woman who asked him if he believed in "comradeship between the sexes." He found this a bad idea, he wrote, because men act differently in groups of men than they do with women.
"If I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade," he said, "you would turn me out of the house."
When I came back to the Catholic Church, I realized that I did not want to live in a society that treated men and women exactly the same. I very much appreciated men who had muscles, for example, but found the same attribute repulsive in women.
And if fellows wanted to gather in men-only clubs, and say things they wouldn't say if ladies were present, well, that was fine with me. Women -- even those who ardently beat the drum of feminism -- don't want men tagging along on girls' nights out.
I suspect that Chesterton would not have cared much for the "Ms" title, since it is another example of treating men and women as if they were the same. Some proponents say that the neutral label helps women maintain equal footing with men in the business world.
I can imagine Chesterton pointing out that this argument is thin indeed, because it is remarkably easy to deduce a woman's marital status without even knowing her name. You simply glance at her left hand or engage in the simplest of conversations: "So does your husband also take the bus to work?"
When we tweak language, we shake up people's perceptions of reality. For many generations, for example, women embraced the label of "housewives," which implied a woman's connection to both husband and house. Later, that title was replaced by "homemaker," which no longer implies a marital relationship. (It also doesn't entail that the person in question necessarily is a woman.)
Today, mothers who devote their lives to their children are rather awkwardly called "stay-at-home" moms, a term that, for Chesterton, surely would have seemed as redundant as "go-to-work dads." Mothers with jobs are called "working mothers," as if moms at home were just twiddling their thumbs.
As a little girl, I dreamt of one day being a writer, but there was another strong current running beneath my fantasies: I prayed that I would find a man to love, who would love me back – and who would marry me.
I finally did meet my soul mate, Jeffrey Murray, and I was delighted to stand with him before God as we vowed to become one. I was thrilled also to take his last name and assume a new identity as his wife. Ever since then, "Mrs. Murray" has sounded perfectly beautiful to me.