Using ‘Ms’ is still a feminist issue

National Rail don't have a problem with women using Ms

“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.

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Dorset police rape campaign totally misses the mark

One of the scaremongering campaign posters

Written for The Bournemouth Rock newspaper.

Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Unless you’re a final year student stuck in limbo between the library and your semi-detached in Winton you will have seen the yellow triangles plastered around Bournemouth town centre. They are warning signs reminding us women to keep safe at night. Operation Protect, a campaign ran by Dorset Police, has been linked to the 50% drop in alcohol fuelled sex offences in Bournemouth, as well as winning a national policing award. Maybe there’s no denying that fall in rates and the campaign are linked, but there are still major drawbacks to its methods.

At first glance the main message is neither revolutionary nor controversial. Most of the posters emphasise the importance of getting home safely and knowing your limits – sound advice for everyday living. Two posters however, are misinformed and scaremongering. One of them shows cartoon stick figures captioned, “we met, he bought me a drink, we danced, he raped me”. It suggests that every man a woman ‘dares’ to dance with or accepts a drink from will sexually assault her. Both posters then state, “In most rape cases women know their attacker.” This is true, but Dorset Police have failed to put this in the right context. Most victims know their attackers because almost half of all rapes occur within relationships.

According to statistics by the Home Office about victim and perpetrator relationships, in the majority of all rapes reported the perpetrator and victim are partners at the time of attack. Ex-partners, dates and ‘other intimates’, meaning family members and close friends, commit a further 40%. Strangers account for 11% of attacks and 16% of rapes reported are perpetrated by acquaintances.

Nothing is factually wrong with what the posters are saying. But thanks to skewed media reporting the general public has an idea that rapes are committed by strangers hiding in bushes. Now the police are telling us that most of our male friends are waiting for their opportunity to attack. So us women have to now look out for strangers in bushes and male friends, acquaintances, doctors, lecturers, our hairdressers, that bloke we met at that party once and thought was alright – anyone who we already know. By saying that most rape victims know their attackers without explaining why is irresponsible. Not to mention that it paints all men out to be sexually violent.

The thing that angers me the most is that they had a chance to do something different. The whole campaign focuses on women making the right choices to prevent themselves from being raped and barely touches on telling rapists not to rape. Only in sexually violent crimes do people blame the victim. I could cover up head to foot in a bin liner, stop drinking alcohol and even stop flirting with men unless I wanted to have sex with them within the next half an hour and if I was raped someone, somewhere would still say it was my fault. That’s the kind of attitude rape victims have to deal with everyday and the police should be the first people to try and stop this, not fuel it.

Original article in the Bournemouth Rock page 11