When Miss Helen Clark was Prime Minister, and before that Opposition Leader (Labour) in New Zealand, her nastier opponents on the right delighted in referring to her as “Mrs Davis”, or even, “Mrs Peter Davis”. I loathed it.
Straightforwardly, it’s rude and obnoxious not to call someone by the name by which they wish to be known, even if you think it’s grandiose / not deserved / inaccurate / whatever. I get mildly annoyed when people address me as “Debbie”, especially if I have just been introduced to them as “Deborah”, even more annoyed if they persist when I have corrected them, and then very angry if they simply carry on blithely, or even worse, deliberately call me “Debbie” because they know I don’t like it. Some one who does that is asserting that they have power over me, doing their best to dominate me, and making it clear that it really doesn’t matter how I like to think of myself and present myself to the world; instead, they are going to define me.
There’s an extra dynamic going on when people insist on addressing a woman by a name that emphasises her marriage, when she has chosen to use another name. It’s a “get back to the kitchen” moment, a choice of words that pretends respect but instead asserts that the woman should think of herself only as a wife, as having an identity only in virtue of her husband. It erases whatever position or standing she has, and makes her a subset of another person. When it was applied to Miss Clark, it was a nasty jibe at her, and even if it was a joke, the point of the joke was “Haw haw haw – you’re a woman.” Funny, eh.
I thought it was a small minded and petty practice when the right wing blogsewer dwellers in New Zealand did it to Helen Clark, and I think it is a small minded and petty practice when the Labor Party in South Australia, led by Mike Rann, do it to Isobel Redmond, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition. Ms Redmond prefers to use “Ms” but Mike Rann and other Labor MPs have seemingly adopted a tactic of calling her, “Mrs Redmond”. I don’t know what they mean by it, unless it’s to suggest that she’s just a frumpy housewife and she ought really to be at home, doing housewifey things, instead of cutting it with professional men like them.
They should stop doing it. It shows they’re rattled by Ms Redmond, 12 weeks out from the state election.
I tend to be a left voter, and no doubt when we go to the polls on 20 March here in South Australia I will yet again vote left. But if Mr Rann and his team keep this up, I’ll be holding my nose as I do it.
For the record, I almost always use my given name. If a form obliges me to use a title, then I use “Ms”, except in a professional context, where sometimes I use my professional title. Most of the time, I don’t need to use it at all, so I don’t.
I can think of one exception to the general rule of calling people by the name they prefer to use: some people have titles which are granted by parliament or through universities or by professional bodies, and unless you have been granted the right to use one of these titles by the appropriately authorised body, you shouldn’t use it (I have in mind titles such as “Dr”). But if you want to call yourself Prince Bishop Brian Schnagglefloom, then that’s what I’ll call you too.