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Angry French feminists call for ban of “sexist” word “mademoiselle”

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French feminists have said "non merci" and taken to the streets to protest the use of the term "mademoiselle." They're seeking a ban on the word they consider "sexist and condescending." Though a man in France is a "monsieur" his entire life, women are often required to identify themselves as either "mademoiselle" or "madame," ("Miss" or "Mrs.," respectively) by entities such as banks, government departments, and certain private companies.

The controversy started raging several years ago, with feminists pointing out that the equivalent word for men, "damoiseau," had been taken out of circulation years ago. (And Germany stopped officially using their equivalent female term "Fraulein" in 1972.) The issue faded until the Dominique Strauss-Kahn fiasco, which re-ignited the dormant feminist flame. 

The feminist outcry has been led by two groups in particular: Les Chiennes de Garde (Literally, "Guard Bitches" — they actually wear dog masks), and Osez le Feminisme ("Dare to be Feminist"). Both groups want women and girls to only be called madame, believing the other term is symbolic of France's inveterate sexism. Osez le Feminisme spokeswoman Juliet Muret wondered, "Did you ever ask whether a young man was a 'Mr.' or a 'Squire?'"

The word "mademoiselle" derives from "demoiselle," which was used as a title of nobility in pre-revolutionary France. I can understand why French women might grow tired of being addressed as the equivalent of "my little lady," or "my girl" — they're not Anna Chlumsky. Not being French, I never thought "mademoiselle" was sexist; if anything, it sounded like a polite, fancy title. But Muret sees the whole issue differently: "The tolerance threshold for sexist remarks has fallen. There has been a sort of awakening."