October 31st, 2012

It’s Halloween, a Dark and Stormy Night, and your phone rings. You answer it. It’s Gloria Steinem. She tells you that you should be afraid, very afraid. Of what should I be afraid?, you ask Gloria, not even wondering how she got your phone number. She makes her voice all ghostly and raspy, and tells you some horror stories. She starts with the one in which Rush Limbaugh calls a Georgetown student protesting about contraception a “slut”. Next, she chills your spine with the one about women not being allowed onto a panel of witnesses at the hearing on the White House mandate to require employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage. You shudder some more when she tells the tale of Rick Santorum proclaiming that those criminal-breeding single mothers need politicians who aren’t afraid of “kicking them in the butt.”

The stories that scare me the most are the ones that I experience. My friend who counsels college students tells me that many of his female students start sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…” You’re not a feminist? Let me Google that for you. You’re not an advocate for equal rights for women? That’s too scary- it might make excessive hair sprout from under your arms, or people might think you hate men.

When I got married, I chose to add my husband’s name. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but it was a choice. One friend commented that she was surprised, that she thought I was more “independent.” Choosing my new name, a name I will share with our family as it grows, felt independent to me. But I did consider the context and implications of being a woman who took on the name of her husband (in addition to the name handed down by her father). After the wedding, acquaintances would ask: “What is your new last name?”, and I would think: “Why do you assume I have a new one?” Or they would call me “Mrs. Gumiran”, and I would say: “I’m going by Ms.” Some of them asked why. What is Ms.? What is Ms.?!  I started to realize that many women my age and younger did not know about the title of Ms. and what it signifies. I was horrified!


So on Halloween, the last day of the month that marks the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine, and six days before the election that has everyone talking about the “War on Women”, I am going to get on the phone like Gloria Steinem. It’s time for the…

Ms. Marketing Campaign

Sorry to bother you all by calling random numbers, but it’s better than stuffing Halloween candy in pamphlets and handing them out to trick-or-treaters. At least this is a day on which you’re accustomed to interacting with strangers. Top telemarketing tips offers that:

A good script needs to incorporate all parts of the Sales process; Rapport, Disturb, Solution, Close. Whilst doing that you also need to be considering how people are influenced. The words will differ greatly, depending on your industry, but more importantly depending upon the purpose of your call.

Following these suggestions, I will “mirror” the answerer’s speaking patterns to develop rapport, build their need to know more about Ms. by asking open-ended questions, present the solution that knowing about Ms. will better their lives, and lock them in by asking a closed question. I’ll loosely use the script sample provided on this helpful site.

Opening Statement:

Happy Halloween! My name is Katie, and I’m an independent writer.
I’m calling to find out what you know about a particular topic so that I can write about it.
Would you be willing to talk for three minutes?

Identifying a Need:

Are you married or single?
What title do you go by? Mr. Mrs., Miss. Ms., Dr. etc?

If single: If you get married, what title will you go by? Why will you make that choice?
If a married man: What title does your partner go by? Do you know why s/he chose that title?
If a married woman: Why did you choose that title?
Do you know what the title Ms. represents?
Could I tell you what I know about it so you have more information with which to make choices?

Personalizing Our Product to Suit the Clients’ Needs:

Ms. is intended as a default form of address for women, regardless of marital status.
Note: a man’s title does not change based on his marital status.
It was used as early as the 17th century, but eventually Miss. and Mrs. replaced it, which, please note, do indicate marital status.
In 1901 there was a movement to bring Ms. back into use, to signify sex without expressing views on the domestic situation.
It was suggested again in the early 1950’s as a matter of “convenience”.
In 1961 a feminist named Sheila Michaels tried to promote its use, but was ignored.
In 1971, a friend of the important feminist Gloria Steinem heard Sheila Michaels on the radio, and suggested Ms. as the title for Steinem’s new magazine. The title was used and popularized the use of Ms..
A year later the US Government Printing Office approved using “Ms.” in official government documents.
Today some women use Ms., and others use Mrs. and Miss. I have found that many women do not know the significance of these titles and therefore do not take their meaning into consideration when choosing their own titles. I think women should have the right to choose what they’re called, but they should know the story behind the words they use.

Was some of this story new to you?

The Closing Question:

I really appreciate you giving us this time to talk on Halloween Night. I think its really important that you know the story of Ms. Now that you know the story, what title will you choose?

Let the campaign begin!

First answered call:

You are a write-rrr? A writer! I can’t read. I am stupid. Yes, I am. Don’t call me a liar. You are going too fast for me. Slow down and calm down and tell me what you want. OK, you can get three minutes out of me. I won’t give you any information, though. What do you want from me? Title? What is that? Oh- I don’t even think about chicken-shit like that.

Second answered call:

I”m single. I go by Mr. I would go by Mr., it wouldn’t change. Ms.? It’s a single woman. It isn’t? Oh. Oh. I didn’t know that. Well, if they want to bring it back, that’s cool. If I was a woman and I got married… well… I guess I would go by Mrs. I think people like status, and if they wanted to get married, they want people to know they’re married. I don’t care that Mr. wouldn’t change; for me it’s easier. Unequal? No, I don’t think that’s unequal. It’s not unequal. No problem, I hope I could help.

At some point on Halloween night, they make you stop ringing doorbells. Like houses with no lights and no candy, all of the women who answered their phones declined talking to me. It’s too late at night for me to continue dialing random numbers. At least in developing my script I became more clear about what I wanted to say. And at least I got to talk to one crazy man and one uninformed man about Ms.. Maybe some of you readers will consider this post a call and provide your commentary about Ms.. Was some of this story new to you?


Happy Halloween & Election Week!



12 comments to “Ms.”

  1. Omg, I want more phone calls! Katie, thanks for conducting this research and for imparting your wisdom on Ms. In Beirut, we have Madame (married) and Madamoiselle (single) Bc we r French. :/ Anyway, it is also used in terms of age. It’s kinda sorta funny when someone calls me “Madame” and then Quickly says “Madamoiselle” as if to correct their grave mistake. Sometimes they ask. It’s interesting to think that even your pharmacist or grocer cares ab your age or marital status.

  2. I always thought Ms. was used by an unmarried woman. I wonder how many people believe that as well. My question is if enough people believe it denotes marital status, does that then make it common knowledge? Even if we’re all technically wrong? And are we technically wrong even if everbody believes it?

  3. As a kid someone told me that “Ms.” was for divorcées to use because they were no longer “Mrs.” and couldn’t go back to “Miss”, so I thought that for years. And yes, I called them divorcées as a kid.

  4. Well, since i got married (three years ago) I use Mrs.
    I had been divorced for 32 years and during those all those years I used Ms. But now- I worked for it- I got it -and i’m freakin using it!!!
    Seriously, Ms is used for anyone who wants to use it single or married. Which is kind of nice. Married is nice too and does announce that you have a mate when you use Mrs.. On the other hand some women still use it if their spouse dies so…….uh….what was the question?

  5. What Bryan says is interesting, because there is a sense that someone who uses Ms. has a chip on her shoulder or something. Right? It isn’t a neutral decision. Why do we even have these stupid titles anyway? They seem super antiquated and oppressive. All of them. Arg. I just worked myself up. : )

  6. hey, where’s my comment?

  7. Rima- Should you start a Ms. movement in Beirut? What would the grocer say?
    Pete- It’s technically wrong when it’s uninformed– there’s a difference between language evolving and people not knowing history. Spread the news.
    Bryan- For how long did you call divorcées “Ms.”? What changed your thinking?
    Mom- What was it like to be in your twenties during the start of the feminist movement? How does living through that contribute to your choice-making now?
    Tim- Are you still worked up?
    Erikka- I didn’t see another comment, but I’d love to know your thoughts!
    Thanks, all, for extending my marketing campaign beyond Halloween Night!

  8. As a married Ms. in her early 40’s, I chose the title knowingly. I was a vocal feminist in college, the product of my outspoken mother and her band of sisters. Protests, marches, Ms subscription and all. I always assumed Ms. meant you were a woman with a mind all her own. Not beholden to her husband for an identity. I never considered taking a new last name and using Ms. with it.

    I guess you could say I have a chip on my shoulder about this. I never did change my last name. When I asked my husband if he’d consider changing his name, he said he just wasn’t so fond of mine, so no, he wouldn’t. Well, that sealed the deal.

    Now that I have 2 daughters, I am instilling the same feminist ideals in them. Against the tide of marketing being slung at them. Against the political tides. (Although in MA, it’s not such a strong tide.)

    Having a different name from the kids makes things awkward from time to time, but it allows me some distance from the mothering role.

  9. My concern with Ms. is that it is a linguistic abhorrence: an abbreviation that stands for nothing. Mr. stands for Mister, Mrs. stands for Mistress, Miss is not an abbreviation, but Ms. stands for …nothing. It is a fake abbreviation–the period at the end of it is a lie, an artifice to make it appear parallel with Mr. and Mrs. Women deserve better. Personally, as a divorced, and then remarried woman, I’d rather be called…Mr.

  10. This was a really interesting read! I’ve enjoyed your blog, overall, but I think this is one of my favorite posts. (I went from a Ms. to a Dr., but most people assume “Mrs.” because I don’t carry my diploma the same way I wear my rings.)

    I thought of your blog while driving yesterday–what are the number of reasons people flash headlights at you? Do those ‘signals’ change from country to country? (I am from the US, but live in South Africa) Wondered if you had contemplated that and not posted it…?

  11. Thanks, Dr. Kelsey! I am intrigued by your question of signals- must explore. What are the signals in South Africa?

  12. Hi Katie! I’m still figuring out the signals here and my guesses are heavily biased from learning to drive in the States. My three working hypotheses are 1) people flash their lights at you if you have your lights on during the day, 2) to warn about cops lurking with cameras, and 3) to get out of the way. Two of those I recognized from the States, but the random flashing if you have your lights on, I’m not sure about. So I was curious if it varied around the world.

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