Having spent all my high school years under the tutelage of a wonderful French teacher named Mademoiselle Robillard, I was somewhat taken aback to read in the New York Times that the term "mademoiselle" has been banished from official forms and registries by Prime Minister Francois Fillon.
"Mademoiselle" is most commonly thought to refer to a female's matrimonial situation with married women being referred to as "Madame", It is also used to refer to a young woman. Young French men are often referred to as 'jeune homme' through their 20's before they are referred to as "Monsieur". The advocates of the elimination of "mademoiselle" have suggested that a young woman be similarly called "jeune femme" before aging into "madame".
Advocates of this change say that "mademoiselle" is a term that suggests female subjugation but the article suggests that is not an universal interpretation. Apparently the term originated in the late 1600's to mean an unmarried female but it was not broadly used until the 20th century.
English usage of the term "miss" had similar dual connotations of referring to a young female or an unmarried female. Although it is still used to some degree and is an option when filling out forms, it has largely been replaced by "Ms". "Ms.", however, does not connote age in the same way as "jeune femme" although it has become the accepted way of referring to all females - married and unmarried.
I guess I should not have been surprised about this change given the adoption of "Ms." in English-speaking countries. I did find it surprising that the Prime Minister had actually decreed the term's demise. With so many more serious women's issues to consider - health, jobs, education, family-raising, etc., this seems inconsequential in so many ways and yet it somehow rose to the top of the Prime Minister's agenda.
It will be interesting to see if, in fact, "mademoiselle" can be removed from French life by decree or whether it will live on in some sort of government defiance. In the meantime, I am wondering how to reference my French teacher of years ago. "Mademoiselle" seemed like such a lovely word.