“This will probably seem a bit silly.” That’s how I started the conversation with my bank manager in my hometown of Teignmouth that got me laughed out of his office.
“I want to change the name on my account from ‘Miss Cook’ to ‘Ms Cook’” I told him. At this point I expected him say “yes of course” and within a few clicks I would have the prefix on my bank statement that I use everywhere else. Instead he laughed. A lot. When he composed himself from the devastatingly witty joke he said, “You’re right. That does seem silly.”
My Caitlin Moran sexism alert was going off in my head. “This is sexism!” I thought. “And it’s happening to me.” Why does a bank manager in 2012 find a woman wanting to change her prefix funny? This should be an every day occurrence. I was under the illusion that Ms was the default honorific for women. Perhaps I just read too much of the Guardian, which in their style guide says, “use Ms for women subsequently unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs”. Well if the Guardian would call me Ms why are you laughing MR bank manager?
I tried to explain to him why I wanted to change it. It was simply because men are called ‘Mr’ their whole lives and I wanted to have a prefix I could use in the same way. Pretty logical I thought.
“But ‘Ms’ is for divorced women. Are you divorced?” – he thought he had me there. “No I’m not but I know lots of women who choose Ms.” He laughed again and dismissed me. I thanked him for his time and stormed out of the office in true Apprentice boardroom style.
I was riled. But I do get that on the scale of women’s rights issues it hardly even deserves a place. Being called ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ is not something that’s going to make the pay gap widen, cause the conviction rate for rapists to lower or fuel street harassment. I was still annoyed though. I was at the bank anyway opening a savings account and it would have taken one minute.
When I went in the next week to cash a cheque, I asked the woman behind the counter to change the ‘Miss’ and she left the manager a message asking him to change it. He never did. By this point it was less about wanting to have a prefix and a name I could keep for my entire life – Ms Chloe Cook does have a certain ring to it – but more about the point that bank staff refused a customer’s request because it was a feminist issue.
The inevitable time came when I ran out of money for baked beans and vodka and needed to extend my student overdraft. I went into the meeting determined not to take no for an answer. That conversation ended, Me–“So you won’t change it?”. Him–“No.”
It turns out Bournemouth, where I go to university, is a pretty good place for gender equality. After all the trouble with the bank back in Devon a clerk behind the counter changed it within minutes. “They really wouldn’t change it?” she said. “That seems silly.”
Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.