‘Master’ means ‘power’. ‘Miss’ means…’unmarried’.

It’s been over a year since we first explored the use of ‘Master’.

Why is ‘Miss’ so widely used and accepted in the English speaking world, when ‘Master’ is not?

Whilst the title of ‘Miss’ is used freely and officially to refer to females until she is married…or until she is deemed old enough (!) for ‘Ms’, ‘Master’ only seems to exist on boys bank accounts and at Doctor’s surgeries.

When does this unsuspecting lad make this transition into his ‘Mr’ adulthood?

After researching over 40 Doctor’s surgeries, the answer was near-on unanimous. The administrative team makes the title amendment on behalf of a male patient, based on age, and ‘usually’ at about age 16. Much younger than many grammar and social protocol websites suggest starting to think about addressing a ‘Miss’ as a ‘Ms’.

And the choice is made for him, by his bank or by the doctor managing his record.

We so rarely see the title of ‘Master’, and the ways in which children hear the title ‘Miss’ are so limited, (due to having no direct means of contact with the businesses who address them in such a way), we wonder what our kids think about titles. What do our children think titles are all about?

What boys and girls are taught, knowingly and sub-consciously about titles, is taught to them by books, television and school. Because let’s face it, there are no references to them at home.

Consider the following examples:

  • Roger Hargreaves and his ‘Little Miss’ / ‘Mr Men’ series of books.

These have already faced criticism in this regard, but mainly for the subtly gendered content of the books, rather than for the use of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mr’ as the series headline.

The University of Lincoln found that these books offered little to overcome gender stereotypes during the study in 2018, with a large majority of the original books providing “passive” role models in the Little Miss series, and “highly active” ones in the “Mr Men” counterparts.  Adam Hargreaves attempted to help matters by adding to the original series by including “Little Miss Inventor”, amongst many other new characters since the death of his father in 1988. Nevertheless, the titles remain, and the ‘Miss’ characters… terminally ‘little’.

  • Allan Ahlberg added to his Happy Families books by including, ‘Ms Clara the Climber’ in 1997. The only one of 20 books with a ‘Ms’ on the front cover. This was a fabulous chance to show how a ‘Happy Family’ can be single, blended, or simply ‘together’ without reference to marriage.

It fails miserably to achieve what it could have regarding normalising an alternative family unit. Covering marriage breakdown, two marriages for Clara, and not very much at all about climbing, 26% of it’s reviews on Amazon rate it with one star, and 8% or reviewers score it at only two stars.

Let’s not even discuss Peppa Pig, with Miss Rabbit and Mrs Rabbit and Daddy Pig and Granny Pig… because I’ve yet to see a ‘Ms’ used in Peppa Pig, never mind a ‘Mx’.

I know, I know! How dare I slander Peppa Pig! This is political correctness gone mad!

My point is, what are we teaching our children about gender identity?

Children may not be actively taught about titles, and the connotations attached to them, but they learn it anyway by seeing what’s acceptable and what’s accepted all around them.

Where else do we see ‘Master’?

  • Master set of keys/ dice/ tools. The central, most important set.
  • Master Woo – The wise mentor of the Ninja in the Lego Ninjago brand. Very powerful. A great figure for any child to aspire to! This character was probably introduced in reference to ‘Sensei’, the Japanese term for a ‘Master of Martial Arts’
  • Jedi Master – The ‘Padawan’ trained from childhood and only achieved the status of Jedi Knight, or Jedi Master after twelve to fifteen years, after strict tests of endurance. NB There are no female Jedi Masters in any of the original Star Wars films, and only a handful in the prequel films with no real air time.
  • Mastermind – Only a quarter of the contestants on the gameshow are women… but in all fairness to the BBC, this is because only a quarter of the applicants are women. (I wonder if women would be more inclined to enter if the gameshow name didn’t scream ‘THIS IS A SHOW FOR MEN’?! – I agree that ‘Miss Mind’ or ‘Mistress Mind’ wouldn’t exactly be a suitable alternative! Purely because the connotations we attach to ‘Miss’ and ‘Mistress’. Connotations which need breaking).
  • Master’s Degree – Awarded when a student has truly ‘mastered’ their art or science. A ‘Masters’ is often the next step after a ‘Bachelors’… let’s not even get into that one. Although if any university out there would like to tackle renaming these attainment levels, it would do wonders towards their Athena SWAN applications (The Equality Challenge Unit’s system of measuring a university’s dedication to gender equality).
  • Master Bedroom – A term until recently seen on all the floor plans of the houses punted by estate agents, this is now becoming a realty term of the past due to suggestions of the slave trade… perhaps other uses of ‘Master’ will fade into the past because of this association too… making it an even more obscure term compared to ‘Miss’.

In conclusion, when ‘Master’ does appear in our vocab, it’s an expression of power and attainment.

Less stereotyped roles models than the children’s book examples I’ve used above are indeed appearing in our books and TV programmes, but boys could never truly identify with ‘Master’ as a title anyway, because it’s simply not part of their day-to-day life.

‘Miss’ should also be the case if we are to treat children equally.  (Especially seeing as the evidence suggests that the little girl we give this title to will one day feel the expectation to become something else, depending on whether the eventual route for the unsuspecting ‘Little Miss’ is marriage, or ‘spinsterhood’ – shudder!)

I would like for every young person to enter the workplace and question title data gathering because titles, and the expectations and assumptions attached to the female ones have never been a part of their life.

Businesses and organisations need to move with the times, make way for authenticity, demonstrate their commitment to equality, and drop the ‘title’ box.

Stay well, (and title free) everyone 😉

Stella Sutcliffe

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