What the Quaker tradition taught me about 'Mr' and 'Ms'
I was once chastised at school for not writing “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before people’s last names. My teacher told me it was rude to not address someone by their appropriate title. I didn’t mean to be impolite. What she didn’t know was that I grew up in a Quaker household, where the idea of a “title” before your name was something completely foreign to me.
As an adult, I’m an atheist, but I grew up with Quakerism. One of the major principles of my Quaker household was egalitarianism. The idea of titles never entered the picture because there was no reason to distinguish between “Sir” or “Ma’am,” “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Miss.” In Quakerism, everyone is just “friend.” In fact, it’s common in Quaker schools for children to call adults and teachers by their first names. It’s not a matter of disrespect: It’s one of equality.
As I grew up, I learned more about titles, and when it’s appropriate to use them. But the idea still bothered me. Who or what decides your appropriate title anyway? What if you don’t want to declare your gender or your marital status when you’re applying for a store card or donating to charity or signing up for a fun-run? t’s trying to paint our wonderfully diverse population in black and white, through categories, and it bothers me. The Quaker notion of refraining from referring to people with titles such as Miss, Mrs, Mr or Sir falls into their testimony of equality, and aims to eliminate the possibility that titles can be used in sexist, racist or even classist ways.
In a world where women are still expected to declare whether they are married or unmarried on almost every form they fill out, forms are difficult to fill out. That goes for people who appear somewhere along the gender spectrum that doesn’t fall into the neat categories of “male” or “female,” too. I’m on a mission to unify all the people in my life online and offline by using, you know, just their actual name.
That’s why I don’t use Mr or Mrs or Miss or Ms or Sir when addressing people or myself. If I’m not sure of their name, I can always call them “friend.”(Though as a relatively shy person, I might have to settle for ‘Excuse me’ initially.)
These past few weeks, my brother has been busy writing the invitations for his upcoming nuptials. When mine arrived, the top line started with just my first and last name. No need to precede it with Miss, declaring the fact that I’m unmarried or, in fact, that I’m female. Just that I am a person the same as everyone else. I
So for the people I know or haven’t even met yet and the strangers I’ll meet tomorrow and the next day, know that I’m not going to call you Mrs. or Miss. You’re my Friend. You’re my equal.
Elspeth Shaw loves writing about culture, travel and endless trawling through netaporter.com.