Adieu to ‘Mademoiselle’: French Town Bans ‘Sexist’ Term

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First, a ban to the term mademoiselle, next a movement to do away with gendered nouns? People struggling to learn French can only hope.

Cesson-Sévigné, a suburb of Rennes, France, has banned the use of the title “mademoiselle” on all official forms starting January 1, 2012, The Local reports. Two feminist groups in France, Osez la Féminisme (Dare Feminism) and Les Chiennes de Garde (Guard Dogs) had been campaigning to remove the title from state and company forms for some time.

What’s so wrong with mademoiselle? It sounds polite, if not beautiful, after all. Deriving from the word for “damsel” or “little lady,” mademoiselle is the French equivalent of “Miss.”  But according to these groups, the title is “sexist and condescending,” as it differentiates unmarried women from those married, while there’s just one all-encompassing title for men: “Monsieur,” or “Mr.” There used to, in fact, be a title for unmarried men — damoiseau — but it was done away with decades ago. Only fueling the fury, mademoiselle originates from “virgin,” which carries a whole set of connotations apart from being merely sexist. It renders women as young, naive, and perhaps not as serious as their madame counterparts when in the workplace or in other formal situations.

The town hall issued a statement saying, “This is about getting rid of anything that could be seen as discriminatory or indiscreet.” Germany itself abolished use of the title “Fräulein” for unmarried women in 1972.

That makes everyone a “Madame” now, n’est-ce pas?

MORE: Don’t Dare Call French Feminists ‘Mademoiselle’