If Coco Chanel was still alive today, we’d have to call her Madame Chanel. Or at least French red tape would. After years of debate and lobbying from feminist associations, the French government signaled the end of the Mademoiselle box in all, but not beyond, administrative paperwork, effective immediately, as per Circulaire 5575/SG published by the Premier Ministre’s office 21 February. Mademoiselle was used for any unmarried French woman, no matter her age. The Prime Minister called it “a term referring, without necessity or justification, to the female marital status”(1).
Upon learning the change, Fashion Carrousel cried “non mais j’y tiens à mon mademoiselle !” (“But I do like my Mademoiselle”). She’s not the only one. In left-leaning weekly Le Nouvel Obs, Lydia Guirous, founder of Future, au Féminin, a feminist association fighting against the Americanisation of French feminism, denounced the move as “Tupperware feminism”(2), mentioning the “many women happy to be called Mademoiselle”(3).
Differentiating married women from unmarried women, without inflicting the same to men, was an administrative throw back to yesteryear, when women were defined by their marital status. Although an improvement, the decision, which had long been supported by feminist associations Osez le Féminisme! and Les Chiennes de Garde is little more than a symbolic gesture announced in time for the April presidential elections. Lacking support from the bodies guardian of the French language, such as the Académie Française, the circular is unlikely to start a radical mentality change.
Although inequalities need to be made right, one at a time, some matter more than others. Suppressing Mademoiselle from official forms is lobbying procrastination: doing the small tasks first because you feel a sense of achievement while dreading and postponing the ones which really need your attention.
(1) Circulaire n° 5575/SG du 21 février 2012 relative à la suppression des termes ‘Mademoiselle’, ‘nom de jeune fille’, ‘nom patronymique’, ‘nom d’épouse’ et ‘nom d’époux’ des formulaires et correspondances des administrations, Translation my own
(2)(3) Lydia Guirous, “Campagne féministe : je me rejouis que l’on m’appelle mademoiselle” 10 January 2011, Nouvelobs.com