Four reasons why ‘Mx’ will never work as the new marital status title

Controversial. I know. But hear me out…

‘Mx’ is the newest title on the block to be added into some (but not all) of the drop down lists we see when registering online. 

Gender and marital status free, it should be the answer to all of our problems, right?

It should give women who don’t want to be defined by marriage an option. 

It should give all people a way of opting out of binary constraints. 

It should give businesses a way of offering options which allow authenticity.

So why isn’t ‘Mx’ propelling us towards a more equal society at speed?

Here are our four reasons why ‘Mx’ will unfortunately never catch on, and our solutions for businesses who are attempting to be more inclusive.

1. Many people still don’t know anything about ‘Mx’.

Many people are still unaware of ‘Mx’ as a title and it’s rarely included in the short list of options in the ‘marital status title’ drop-down box. 

The title was first used in the 1970’s and has been further popularised in the last few years after Brighton and Hove City Council added it to their list of options in 2013.

‘Mx’ has had five decades to make it’s mark so far. And it hasn’t. 

A campaign to get the title added to registration form fields, Include Mx, have openly celebrated Sky, The National Trust, Office Shoes, Boots, ITV, Gucci, Screwfix, Hermes, River Island and Wilko for including the ‘Mx’, but continue to challenge  Sainsbury’s, Argos and many others who don’t include it, and there’s a long, long way to go.  

2. ‘Mx’ is tricky to pronounce. So people won’t use it.

We know that lack of knowledge on how to pronounce names and titles creates problems for some people. 

When I’ve introduced people to ‘Mx’ who’ve never heard of it, they always ask, ‘but how do you actually say it?’ 

Using ‘Ms’ as example, my interview with Kerrie Gemmill, (Executive Director at Traverse) covered her frustration at the postman ridiculing her title ‘Ms’. Over-pronouncing it – “Mzzzzzzzzz!”

Twitter and various grammar advice websites are FULL of advice on how to pronounce ‘Ms’, which is astonishing seeing as it’s much more ‘say how you see’ than ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’.

‘Ms’ has been around since the mid-1960’s, and if we haven’t achieved full acceptance and understanding of that, then we have low hopes for ‘Mx’ ever becoming well known and well used. 

Remember when ‘Jif’ cleaning products changed their name to ‘Cif’? – The reason, (and the reason for many big brand name changes), is because the pronunciation of the original brand name for so many people, was tricky, and created barriers to engagement. 

If people can’t say it, it’ll never catch on!

3. ‘Mx’ doesn’t tell businesses anything… so they won’t add it!

This was a revelation during my recent interview with Rose Tolley, a Quaker living locally to me. 

She said I’ve convinced her to challenge all requests for marital status titles. And she said if she’s given the option to choose ‘Mx’ when she’s unable to leave the field blank, then she’ll choose it. 

…which led me to think that if SHE chooses it because she’s a Quaker, and I choose it because I’m the leader of the GoTitleFree campaign, and lots of other people choose it because they’re non-binary, or because they simply see the information as ‘none of your business’, then there are a lot of stories behind that choice. 

Businesses should always be able to explain why they’re asking for a piece of information about us as part of GDPR rules. But the introduction of ‘Mx’ into their title fields throws an important question into the mix…

If it’s not giving them any information about marriage or gender, what possible reason could there be for asking it? 

If the purpose is ‘to be accurate’ when addressing somebody in their spoken or written communications, then why include this ‘new’ title instead of removing the whole box, making it optional, or including a ‘how would you like to be addressed field? (Where a person could also write out the pronunciation of their name, which many people like to do!)

More to the point, if it’s not telling them anything, and they can’t pronounce it, then why include that, (or any title) at all?

4. Another option is another category. 

The Fortnum and Mason website allows people to register without a title, but if you actually want to order something, you must choose from a list of 56 titles. You can be ‘Mx’, or ‘Reverend’. You can be a ‘Wing Commander’, or ‘H H Sheik’ – but you cannot have no title at all.

Titles are not very egalitarian are they? – Statuses are useful in the professional world, when we need medical attention, legal advice, or religious guidance, but not when ordering a hamper of tea and jam.

An equal society should mean no difference in behaviours towards those who are ladies, viscountesses, earls… and the rest of the lowly folk. 

 In 2017, HSBC announced TEN gender neutral titles were to be added to their accounts, including ‘Pr’ for ‘person’, ‘Ind’ for ‘Individual’ and ‘Mre’ for ‘Mystery’. 

I think we can all imagine how many eye-rolls there may have been from people who are too lazy to learn another flag, another letter in the LGBTQ acronym, and another title to get their heads and mouths around. 

There are thankfully many people who understand that to progress from bias, we must educate ourselves, expand our minds and learn about the lived experiences, and challenges faced by, people with different histories, cultures and backgrounds. But not everybody understands this, or has benefitted from the training which underlines the importance of this approach.

Confusion creates nervousness. Categories create bias and segregation. They don’t bring people together. 

Removing titles does not make us any less female, male, human or married. But it does give all of those people who transition between marital status, and gender, the option to do so privately and with less judgment. 

Using a first name and surname, without a title, where the individual has been allowed to type in their details freetext, reduces the chance of mistakes and misgendering.

Ultimately, the removal of ‘Mx’, and all the titles we’re unnecessarily asked for, can create a simpler and more equal world. 

GoTitleFree exists to support and challenge businesses with their journey towards gender inclusivity. 

Find out more below!

Stella Sutcliffe

 

For some examples of organisations who are going title free, and some free top tips on how to become more gender inclusive as an organisation, register for our next event:

3.30pm BST on Friday September 9th 2022 – Register here  

To use our toolkits now and start your organisational journey, click here

To sign our petition for organisations to go ‘title free’, click here

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