Mr.; Mrs.; Miss; or Ms.? None of them!

Hi y’all,

After reading a colleague’s work on non-binary people, in which he discusses the use of “x” and “e” to replace for the “pseudo-neutral” yet sexist “o” in the Portuguese grammar, I’d like to talk about this issue in the English titles: Mr.; Mrs.; Miss; Ms.

First of all, the thing in Portuguese is:

Se os núcleos do sujeito forem de gênero diferente, o adjetivo irá para o masculino plural (RIBEIRO, 2013, p. 293 – my boldface).

b. “Atitude e caráter apropriados para ele”.
(F)            (M)         (M.PL.)
Ainda ocorrem dois núcleos substantivos (atitude e caráter), mas os gêneros são diferentes. A concordância total se faz com o masculino plural. (RIBEIRO, 2013, p. 295 – my boldface).

That means, if there is a “male” person even though there may be ten “females” or seven “non-binary” ones, the vocative and pre-post-modifiers must concord with the “male” one. The whole discussion is on this sexist and patriarchal rule of the Portuguese language. According to the work I first mentioned, “the fact that women did not have the same access to schooling and the public life men did is enough for us to consider that a great amount of the occidental world was described and thought of by the ones who had access to high levels of society, i.e., men” (FRANÇA, 2017, p. 18 – my translation).

When it comes to the issue in the English language, the titles that normative grammar accepts nowadays are:

Miss Ito (single females)
Mrs. Morgan (married females)
Ms. Chen (single or married females)

Mr. Garcia (single or married males)

(RICHARDS, 2013, p. 4)

Things to be considered:

  • There is only one title for males – Mr. (/ˈmɪstər/) – to which it is irrelevant whether or not they have a spouse;
  • there are three titles for females – Mrs. (/ˈmɪsɪz/), Miss (/mɪs/), Ms. (/mɪz/) – which tell listeners or readers that she does (or does not) have a spouse. Again, probably because of this sexist and patriarchal idea that women are to get married and bear children;
  • there are no titles for non-binary people, such as agenders and genderfluids (words my autocorrect is highlighting right now).

Therefore, a new title has been created: Mx. (/mɪks/), a gender-neutral title used instead of any of the others so as not to declare a gender – by people who do not identify with the others or change from one to another. Moreover, the title also allows women to be free from the patrilineal nomenclature that refers back to that time when you had to get married and bear children. It has already been recognized by some dictionaries, such as Oxford and Macmillan, and has been included in some forms and documents, for instance, driver’s licenses and banking papers. Despite dated 1977, no textbooks I’ve worked with teach it.

Food for thought: why is that?

If I can put my voice in, before starting college, I was a grammar person. Concerning this topic, I would be totally in favor of the male form to generalize. After all, “it is neutral; the form which carries gender is the female one. Study the difference between ‘vogal temática’ and ‘desinência número-pessoal'” – I would argue. However, having studied sociolinguistics and read about this topic, I can say that it is a real cause. Not only do I understand it but I also support it. It is more serious than letters, words and phrases can translate.

Feminism and non-binarism go beyond linguistic issues, but it is the language that produces this gender social inequality to women and excludes non-binary people. Needless to say, language is power.

A special thanks to Gabriel França for this research. Todes juntes for you all!

Further reading: 

An article by Jacob Tobia, who declares genderqueer, for The Guardian
New York Times adopts Mx. (1)
New York Times adopts Mx. (2)

References:

FRANÇA, Gabriel. Estudo de novas (des)marcações de gênero gramatical como reivindicação e produção de identidades de gênero não-binárias, 2017. 54 f. Trabalho de Conclusão de Curso (Monografia) – curso de Letras, Universidade Veiga de Almeida, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 2017.

RIBEIRO, Manoel P. Gramática aplicada da língua portuguesa: a construção de sentidos. 22. ed. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Metáfora, 2013. 544 f.

RICHARDS, Jack. Interchange Intro: Teacher’s Edition. 4. ed. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 181 f.

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