Titles and the weaponisation of gendered language

As we commence a new Pride month, where the world joins together to recognise and celebrate the positive influence LGBTQ+ people have had on the world, the GoTitleFree team have been thinking about the examples we’ve heard of titles being weaponised. 

We know of many examples of marital status titles being used against a person to demean them or downgrade status. 

In relation to the Queen, the inappropriate use of a title led to a Plaid Cymru AM being removed from the chamber in the first incident of it’s kind in 2004.

Leanne Wood, the then elected member of the National Assembly for Wales, referred to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’ during a debate about the government’s proposals for Wales at the time.

The Queen had visited Cardiff just prior to the incident, and Wood made sure to display her distaste and lack of support for the monarch.

She refused to withdraw the remark given the opportunity, and found herself removed from the room due to ‘discourtesy’. 

Leanne Wood remarked that she had been treated ‘unfairly’, and said she had addressed the Queen in such a way because “I don’t recognise the Queen” and “because that’s her name”.

She used the title to belittle. To bring the Queen down in status.

Putting aside opinions of royalists versus republicans, it’s just one example of how titles can be weaponised, to remove status, used to demean. 

The GoTitleFree team regularly immerse themselves in articles, books and texts about female empowerment and gender identity equality in our search for existing champions of our mission, and recently found further examples of this weaponisation in ‘Of Women’ by Shami Chakrabati. – A book intended to address issues of gender injustice no less…

This example demonstrates how titles may be sometimes used accurately, but not equally in comparison to men.

In the second section of ‘Of Women’, (ironically called, ‘Misrepresentation’), she pointed out some key elements of Theresa May and Donald Trump’s first meeting as world leaders.

The world was watching them, and the President’s over familiar manner towards the UK Prime Minister had many viewers reeling. 

Chakrabati writes about how, at the height of the Brexit negotiation crisis, Theresa May seemed to allow a shocking display of forwardness from Donald Trump.

In the paragraphs, Chakrabati refers to Theresa May as ‘Mrs May’ four times throughout that section of her book, but at no point refers to Donald Trump as ‘Mr Trump’, opting for ‘President Trump’ instead on three occasions, and simply ‘Trump’ on ten others. 

Theresa May’s job title of Prime Minister is not used at all in conjunction with her name. 

Throughout her book, Chakrabati uses honorifics in reference to people many times, and always in reference to women, (‘Mrs Clinton’, ‘The former Mrs Trump’) with no reference to the inequalities represented by titles. 

Perhaps it was Chakrabati’s lack of love for the Conservative Party which led her to refer to Theresa May in this way? (The book was endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn…)

Perhaps ‘Mr’ just doesn’t tell us enough about the men in Chakrabati’s discussion to bother using it? 

Let’s face it, the female titles, along with gendered words are used to belittle and demean all the time in the suggestion that women are weak and men are stronger:

“Don’t be such a girl!”

“Man up!” (equally damaging in it’s effect)

The use of ‘Miss’ and ‘little madam’ is used regularly in day to day language to describe a girl who may be seen as bossy or spoilt, when it’s less likely that such a judgement should even be passed on a boy. (He’d perhaps be more likely to be seen as ‘assertive’ or ‘confident’ for demonstrating the same behaviour)

Regarding the title ‘Mrs’, there’s the underhand negativity attached to “her indoors”, “the wife”,  “The Mrs”, where we can think of no equivalent for the title ‘Mr’.

We have a long way to go regarding gendered language, but our campaign remains about the titles of course. 

We asked a pulse survey group to tell us, as quickly as they can, what images came to mind when we gave them a word:

Master” – Masters [Golf], a little Victorian boy, Master bedroom, Master set of keys, Master chef, Master’s Degree, Mastermind. 

Miss” – An unmarried woman, Miss Honey, Little Miss Sunshine, Miss World, Miss Selfridge, Miss Dior. 

In summary, titles which are intended to be equal for a boy and a girl, are not at all. The images relevant to ‘Master’ were all images of power, and attainment. Whereas the ‘go to’ place in our minds for the word ‘Miss’ were about sweetness, availability, glamour and fashion. 

Titles are not always used as weapons. But they can be.

The intention of the use of gendered language may not always be to demean. But it can.

If organisations can start to move away from the practice of upholding marital status titles in society, then perhaps we can start to see references to titles in a derogatory way become a thing of the past.

Stella Sutcliffe

Photo courtesy of Timothy Eberly

Sign the GoTitleFree petition by clicking here now, and encourage businesses to take practical steps towards removing titles from their forms and data capture systems. – Thank you!

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