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The End of Mrs. and Miss (codebyjeff.com)
35 points by jmadsen on Feb 15, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

Here's the thing: you're talking about someone's name. If a woman always choose to go by "Mrs", that's her choice, even if you don't like it and even if you believe she was unfairly brainwashed into it.

Making it impossible for people to enter their own names the way they actually use them is anti-user. It's like refusing certain characters or artificially restricting the length.

Names most definitely don't make sense, and trying to force them to make sense in your software is the path to madness.

There should simply be a free-form field for "How do you want to be addressed?" (e.g. "Mrs. Smith", "Dr. James", "Jack", "Woof Woof", whatever) alongside any field for an "official" name.

That would be perfectly acceptable IMHO. The point is to not force her into giving out this type of information, rather than restricting what she WANTS to say.

Most forms I see these days either leave it off, or make it free form. This article discusses those that don't.

In any case, this is not "part of your name" - simply move to a country with a different language and look for the "Mrs." option.

You're missing the point. The people of a vastly different culture may not wish to be differentiated based on their gender or marital status, but people of a certain generation take it as a point of pride, being "Mrs" or "Dr." or "Rev." or "Hon." etc. It may mean nothing to you, but it is a matter of decorum for them.

And frankly I find it disgusting that people should consider it brainwashing at all. It is not. At one time, being married was a badge of honour that a woman wore with pride, and whether or not that happens to be your standard of maturity or not, it is not for you to decide what should be important in somebody else's life.

If you're worried, present the user with a short text input. Give it a placeholder "e.g. Mr, Ms". Allow it to stay blank for those who want it. But don't make a judgement call on another person's behalf. It is not your place to do so.

If Ms is there along with Mrs and Miss, there is no forced disclosure.

"If your customer wants Mrs. & Miss, push back. Up to you to decide how far and how hard, but make an effort."

That's ridiculous. There are many women out there who are proud of their marital status. It's a big deal in some parts of the country.

There are better places to fight your war on American traditions than your cart checkout. In fact, I would argue that the carts need more choices. For a good example, check out http://www.bodenusa.com. They offer a big list of salutation options, including awesomeness like "Baroness", "Colonel Sir", "Lady", and "The Honorable". If I ever get a piece of junk mail addressed to "Field Marshal Lord Snell", I'll know who sold my information.

You may disagree, but it's not ridiculous. It's perfectly reasonable. In fact, by calling it ridiculous, you're sending a very strong signal that people who ask questions about whether we should keep doing this the way they've always been done will be shamed.

Is that your intention?

What? By pushing back against a customer who wishes to be addressed as Mrs, you are invalidating their own sense of identity under the guise of doing them a favor. It's paternalistic and infantilizing.

EDIT: Oh wait, "customer" here may mean "client", as wilg pointed out, ie. the person asking for the form to be built, not the person filling it out. That is likely the source of this misunderstanding. I still don't see the harm in providing both Ms. and Mrs./Miss -- some surely prefer Mrs. and there is no shame in deciding you prefer "Ms."

I took this entirely as a conversation between developer and "stakeholder," be that client, employer, whomever, but not the end-user.

I've built many such forms, and all of them have included traditional forms of address. I may build another with traditional forms of address, but I certainly have no problem discussing the subject without laughing the idea off.

Questioning the norm is not ridiculous. Imposing your norms on society is. I agree completely with chrissnell, if your end user considers it an important part of their name, status and identity, who the hell are you to decide differently?

raganwald wasn't saying you should impose your norms on society, and chrissnell never suggested what you agree with. He said it was ridiculous to even push back at all. So all you know is the client asked for something, not that it's important.

If anything, chrissnell said it was ridiculous to question the client.

raganwald said it's not ridiculous to question the client.

And, before you try to weasel your way out, this isn't some interpretation, it's literally what was said.

Granted, with a handle like yours, I could see how having someone else make the decisions for you might appeal to you.

I think it is rediculous. Here's why.

What he is asking is pushing back on a culture issue, as if we, the annointed programmers in the world, are going to create social justice by changing the options in forms and denying people the ability to add what information they want. It's fine to say "Ms should be an option" but it is rediculous to deny women the option to use "Mrs" and "Miss" if they want.

> In fact, by calling it ridiculous, you're sending a very strong signal that people who ask questions about whether we should keep doing this the way they've always been done will be shamed.

That's one possibility. Another one is to recognize that as a programmer, it is not our role to shape society in this way. The best thing we can do is empower people to choose what they want to do, not take away options. Culture arises from the grass roots.

> Is that your intention?

There is one thing that is worth shaming here, and that is those who would deny women agency in deciding these things for themselves. That's not the role of the developer and sometimes there is a room for a little humility.

Paul Graham wrote an essay called "Things You Can't Say." He should update it so I'll know what things I can't say on Hacker News, like "Let's discuss this idea like reasonable people without, heaping shame on people who have ideas we disagree with."

I understand your point.

I just think there are points where some ideas need to be called out for what they are.

The idea that we mostly male programmers will help make women equal by denying them options on how to fill out forms that they might otherwise want to choose strikes me as deeply at odds with itself.

> big list of salutation options, including awesomeness like "Baroness"...

That's interesting. Including titles of nobility makes things much more interesting. The appropriate thing to write on an envelope for a Duke is "The Duke of PlaceTheyAreDukeOf", and the letter starts "My lord,", but a baron is handled differently. He gets "(The Rt Hon) The Lord PlaceTheyAreBaronOf." And that doesn't even begin to cover all the cases.

I'd love to be addressed as Wing Commander by ecommerce sites.

I read "customer" as "client" because it looks like the OP does consulting.

So to tie this back to my original question - why are we asking women to put information on a form that has no use other than to let us know if she might be a potential mate?

If you make a new form, limit salutations to Dr., Mr., Ms.

Why do you ask people what their titles are at all? Dr., Mr., Ms. Why do you need them?

If your customer wants Mrs. & Miss, push back. Up to you to decide how far and how hard, but make an effort.

Given that you do ask such silly questions, who are you to push back against the title someone wants? If a woman, say my mother, older than the both of us, wants to be known as Mrs., who are you to push back on that? Is your push back a step for gender equality, or you just being even more self-absorbed and clueless in your questions than before?

Would you push back against a person that wants to identify with a different pronoun? Or a different gender? Then why are you pushing back against that person's choice of a title?

Do you verify the titles? If not, what's the skin off your nose?

His point is clearly not about pushing back against how someone identifies.

There is simply no male equivalent to "Miss" and "Mrs.", so asking someone to choose between titles is implicitly asking for their relationship status.

I would prefer there were no titles at all, but if you have to use them the only equitable way of doing it is to eliminate "Mrs." and "Miss".

Edit: Actually even better would be to have a text field.

> I would prefer there were no titles at all, but if you have to use them the only equitable way of doing it is to eliminate "Mrs." and "Miss".

Or you could just be inclusive and allow Ms, Mrs, and Miss.

"If you make a new form, limit salutations to Dr., Mr., Ms."

Why on earth is "Dr." in there? From those options it strikes me as if the form would really care about wether or not I am male or female, but if I am a doctor, then who cares if I am female or male, I have apparently made it to a higher state of being, one that transcends gender. Get rid of salutations all together. If it is important for you to know the persons gender, ask them specifically that question. If, for some unknown reason, you also need to know if the person completing the form is a medical doctor, or a doctor of another type, ask that question directly as well.

I think it is more about formality rather than gender. Mr. vs. Ms. is because the English words we use for that level of formality are different based on gender.

I think it similar to how students are told to address their teachers as Mr. X or Ms. Y, rather than by their first names.

Then there is Rev., Hon. and so on.

My guess is that Dr. is just the most popular/most insisted upon among salutations that are based on profession/education and so the others get neglected sometimes. (I doubt most people know what the full list of salutations should be.)

Nobody does. The "full list" is effectively unknowable. A truly full list would include myriad words from every language for every culture, military, religion, and organization in the known universe (and would be ever-changing). This is just another part of the whole "What is a real name?" thing.

I, for one, prefer to be addressed with the honorific "Darth".

People with doctorates generally want you to know they have a doctorate. I personally find it unnecessary, though I do see why somebody would want to be addressed as such.

Common sense, etiquette, and those being subjected to the terms seem to have sorted this out a long time ago. Further down in the Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms):

The American Heritage Book of English Usage states that: "Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct." The Times (UK) states in its style guide that: "Ms is nowadays fully acceptable when a woman wants to be called thus, or when it is not known for certain if she is Mrs or Miss". The Guardian, which restricts its use of honorific titles to leading articles, states in its style guide: "use Ms for women... unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs".

In business, "Ms." is considered to be the standard default title for women until or unless an individual makes another preference known. The default use of Ms. is championed by a number of etiquette writers, including Judith Martin (a.k.a. "Miss Manners").

Eliminating it completely solves a non-problem and takes preference away from those who would prefer either term.

I kept my surname, and am frequently called Mrs by random shop assistants reading my name off my credit card and noticing my ring. No; that's my mother.

However, having experienced this weird identity/title disconnect a few times now, I know she would also feel like it wasn't her, but somebody else, being addressed if she were forced to be "Ms".

Sure, there are times where you don't want to be informal and there isn't much of an alternative than Title Surname, but I'd rather see the titles removed altogether. Should we try to make "Miss" and "Mrs" obsolete? Probably, but not by removing the ability for us to choose it on forms.

Simpler solution: No salutations.

I called a friend "Ms ..." once - she was quite offended, though she chided me in a humourous way. She is quite proud of being "Mrs ...".

So if you eliminate Ms, you eliminate her from your user base. And it is NOT your job to drag people kicking and screaming to your view of The Right.

I happen to prefer using Ms, for the very reasons you state. But it would be patronizing in the extreme for me to use Ms instead of Mrs when Ms offends. Or instead of Miss.

If you are not going to have a comprehensive list of all possible salutations (including Rev, Father, Your Holiness, Minister, Prime Minister, Honourable, Right Honourable, etc., as suggested by another comment, then have none).

I find it creepy when machines address me by name anyway. I shudder every time my ATM displays "Thanks, Peter". I would much prefer "TD thanks you for your custom" - or something less archaically phrased.... :->

>If you make a new form, limit salutations to Dr., Mr., Ms.

No. You let people decide how they'd like to be addressed and leave your amateur social engineering at home.

You could just as easily argue against using salutations at all; the stance taken in the article could arbitrarily be taken from a number of different stances each with arguably similar weights.

I don't think it's right to force your own opinion on people when you can just as easily give a blank field and let them put whatever they want, including nothing at all.

> If you make a new form, limit salutations to Dr., Mr., Ms. If your customer wants Mrs. & Miss, push back. Up to you to decide how far and how hard, but make an effort.

Well done man, you went all the way to explain that we should not make differences between women and men, and there you still keep a difference for DOCTORS, like OMG do you not see the gaping abyss in your argument ?

Why don't you go all the way and push back on the use of ANY honorific title, because seriously there is no rationale to put people above others just because they studied more or obtained a position of power somehow.

You destroyed the whole point of your article, just because you want to fight for women but you should be fighting for equality for ALL if you were a little bit logical.

I think you're right about "Dr." but you're kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

You can make that same point while recognizing that probably the author wasn't really trying to place doctors on a pedestal.

"If you make a new form, limit salutations to Dr., Mr., Ms."

I've never understood why people with MDs or PhDs feel the need to be addressed as "Dr." wherever they go. Distinguishing between "Dr." and "Mr." or "Dr." and "Ms." seems at least as weird as distinguishing between "Mrs." and "Ms.".

And once you concede that people with those degrees deserve to be called by their preferred salutation, why not add all the other possible honorifics, like, "Senator", "Rabbi", "The Right Honourable", etc.?

Maybe the right approach is to just provide a text box that the user can fill in with their preferred salutation, or leave blank.

It's interesting how much cultural baggage goes into creating something as simple as a data entry form.

Salutations are abbreviations, though... and you're likely asking for a salutation so that your CSRs and/or salespeople can call people by it, for "enhanced politeness."

But what happens when someone fills in a salutation your CSRs/salespeople don't recognize? Do they hazard a guess at pronouncing it? Screwing up a title seems worse than screwing up a name, in terms of how much respect you've lost with what might be a potential client. (Really, though, I'd guess that they'd just ignore it, look at your gender, and call you "Mr." or "Mrs.", depending.)

On the other hand, the true 100% solution... I'm not even sure. An autocompletion-search based chooser that knows about every salutation that exists around the world, with the abbreviated, expanded, and IPA-pronounciation forms included for each salutation?

I've never understood why people with MDs or PhDs

It's a relic of professional address. In Germany, an engineer may still be addressed as "Herr Ingenieur", or a professor as "Frau Professorin" (I'm a little rusty since the last orthography). Attorneys in the US may be addressed as "Esquire". Public officeholders and members of the military are often referred to with title or rank.

My father was addressed as "Maj. Welch" whenever he could get away with it.

a lot of paper forms leave this as other, with a blank to fill in.

I read the following Wikipedia article and wound up fascinated: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms.

It claims that the use of /mɪz/ (Ms. in spelling, but the S clearly pronounced as /z/) was proposed as "close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions" of slurring the pronunciation of "missus" and "miss" as a single entity. Never thought of it that way, but my first reaction to reading this article is that we already have such a title, "Ms.", with the S pronounced as Z.

  Your computer IP address is listed at 
  StopForumSpam database so your visit is blocked. You can 
  unblock yourself by entering the following code:
What the hell? CAPTCHAs just to read pages?

Presumably someone earlier was being malicious from that IP address. Unfortunate, but slightly reasonable from someone who was being targeted I suppose.

Except that it's using referrer IP's. (I get, both our cloudflare IP's.)

Which is ridiculous. Agent IP's, fine (although this is a really stupid way to go about it).

Referrers, okay, but only if you suffer massive abuse via a certain link, otherwise it's really, really dumb and you may ban tens of thousands of innocent bystanders.

But referrer IP's? That's just beyond idiotic.

Have no idea. That's something my host is doing, for reasons they know. I've never had more than 120 hits in a day before this post, so not aware of any policies they may have with regards to this.

I doubt I'm banning "tens of thousands of innocent bystanders", however :-)

I'm not sure what issue you are having, but there is no captcha on my site & there do not appear to be any issues viewing it

This is a nice idea but the claim that it is "not very hard to do" is incorrect. For starters there's the confusion factor which may trigger some support requests. That's more work. Moreover it may result in some consternation among customers who actually do desire the traditional salutation. That's a different kind of difficult, going against your customer.

Again, not saying it's wrong, just saying it's not easy. There's maybe even a point in there about programmer tendencies to underestimate the full impact of small code changes...

Why do you feel the need to identify the gender of your users at all?

Even assuming the need, why do you feel the need to lecture your user when she wants to use the term 'Miss' or 'Mrs' to identify herself? I mean, it's one thing to provide neutral options like 'Ms' or '', sure, go ahead... but are you operating a web site or a culture war?

How about having the customer actually enter the title (and name on postal and other forms) they want to be addressed as?

Not everyone has a last name. Chinese people have a family/village/personal name, others have just a single name.

Cultural assumptions for the convenience of database schemas is unnecessary.

Let people choose their username. Let them choose their "name" to be addressed as, including title.

>"If your customer wants Mrs. & Miss, push back. Up to you to decide how far and how hard, but make an effort.*

You just lost a customer.

Seriously, is this still a thing in the Anglo-Saxon world? Being male, I was never aware of that, although I must have filled in hundreds of English language forms.

In the Netherlands, this kind of thing has been unacceptable for decades. The only reason why someone would put that in a form is as a deliberate joke.

I was taught that Mz (as in Mizz) is a marriage neutral form. Of course, if someone refers to themselves as Mrs. (like most school teachers), I'd go with that, but otherwise I like Mz.

Just out of interest - related idea from over two years ago:


I reject the notion that asking (or not asking) for marital status affects gender equality, in our industry or in society, in any meaningful way.

It's not asking for marital status that's at issue; it's selectively asking for it — only from women.

Then ask for marital status from men as well - Master and Mister. Unfortunately, they are abbreviated the same way, and the honorific Master has fallen into obsolescence.

Or just don't ask for it at all. I find it better to let the person determine how they would like to be addressed than limiting it based on my political agenda.

If you don't want to ask the question, just leave the salutation selection off the form entirely. Don't go around omitting options because you don't think people should be able to choose them.

Is a married woman is more likely to take maternity leave than an unmarried one?

Last century perhaps. There is nowhere near as much social shaming for women with children born out of wedlock in current Western society. It would be a dubious act, morally and statistically, to predict the likelihood of maternity leave based on an honorific.

Always thought it was weird that there wasn't a male form of "Miss."

There has been, and may continue to be in some places: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_%28form_of_address%29

I recall seeing a flight reservation form on a British Airways site that had a pulldown menu for either titles or forms of address that included "Lord" and various others. To a US American it was slightly surprising, but to a native Brit it would probably seem quite natural. (Of course, what airline would pass up a chance to bring back distinctions of class?)

I see the problem that the original post describes as a "value and a half" issue - the client and programmer are trying to extrapolate values for several ranges from the variable they have jammed multiple values into: gender, marital status, title, and form of address.

Even if all your users are from one culture, you're going to have unexpected corner cases - these pages should suggest some:



This argument is just hilarious. Yep, there definitely are no more important problems in the entire world than whether women should have a choice in defining their own marital status or not.

So does this mean you don't write any software that doesn't save lives? That you don't come onto Hacker News and make comments?

For whatever reason you find yourself doing a task. Gardening, washing dishes, building a web form, saving a life. Whatever it is you choose to do, why not do it as well as you know how? Why denigrate something as not being worth doing well because there are more important problems in the world?

While you are trying to make it sound somewhat ironical that is the very reason I am on HN (and, partly the reason I left that comment): to find something that helps me to "write software that does save lives" or to find any problem that would be important enough to try and solve it.

So what I'm stating is not that I simply "do not think of that problem as of being important enough to discuss". Actually, I don't see any problem at all. And I find that both sad and funny — maybe even horrifying — that many other people see it as a problem and even important one. Because, really, there aren't many "non-live-saving" tasks, everything that makes world a better place to live is pretty much worth doing.

That arguing on topic if you should or shouldn't leave a choice between `Ms.` or `Mrs.` doesn't make world better. Actually, I wonder if it isn't accomplishing the opposite. If you are a woman and you are presented the form that asks you how you'd like to be called in the emails or whatever, seeing both `Ms.` and `Mrs.` on that form doesn't hurt you unless you have some pretty serious psychological problems. More than that it might be even annoying to be unable to choose the honorific you personally prefer. That's why you might want to leave text input for your customer to enter whatever he wants anyway.

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