Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1998 11:59:15 -0500
From: Larry Horn laurence.horn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: Ms.

At 11:33 AM -0500 3/5/98, Alan Baragona wrote:


These experiences brought me to this conclusion:

- When you live in a more traditional community, perhaps only
divorced or homosexual women, who have to brave being different
anyways, would use a less traditional term such as Ms.
- This may lead to the conclusion by others in such a community, that
the meaning of Ms. ACTUALLY IS "divorced, widowed or homosexual

This seems to me to be a very reasonable conclusion about what is going
on socially and psychologically.

Maybe the generalization is something like [- paradigmatic] or [marked],
or something along those lines, where the interpretation of these notions
will vary from community to community. Even within the
urban/academic/middle-class culture most of us operate in, there seems to
be a tendency to use Ms. (in non-business-envelope contexts) for unmarried
adult woman (replacing Miss) and for married women who retain their maiden
name (replacing an already awkwardly extended use of Miss or an even more
awkward extension of Mrs.), and for divorced women who either retain their
ex-husband's name or revert to their maiden name. In the first of these
subcategories, "Ms." does often seem to convey [+feminist], in the others
its use is for women in non-prototypical or non-conventional situations.

- Obviously this was not the intent of those who first coined the
term! And hopefully we can continue to preserve its original sense,
that of NOT classifying women by their marital status.

Which leads to the question of whether or not the term's originally
intended use is salvageable in the face of widespread reinterpretation.

The same problem that extends to e.g. "chairperson" or "spokesperson",
typically now used specifically for women in those roles rather than for
people of irrelevant sex.