A communist Mairie in the Val-de-Marne officially banned the use of the terms ‘mademoiselle’ and ‘nom de jeune fille’ (maiden name) on Thursday.

The municipality of Fontenay-sous-Bois judged these terms as discriminatory towards women. From now on, all adult women in the area will be referred to and addressed as ‘madame’, and will no longer be asked to provide their ‘nom de jeune fille’ on official forms.

The move came as part of a local plan for improved equality between the sexes, and will apply to all administrative documents.

The deputy mayor for women’s rights and equality, Nora Saint-Gal, said that although the law was only symbolic, it was nonetheless significant, and would help in sweeping away leftover traditions from the past which often go unnoticed, and are not recognised as being discriminatory.

She also highlighted the fact that it is perfectly possible to ask whether a woman is married or not without using the word ‘demoiselle’. Otherwise, she added, we would still be using the term ‘damoiseau’ (the male form of the word, meaning a knight’s squire or young man).

There has long been a debate in France over the term ‘mademoiselle’, and many feminist groups have been very openly opposed to it, seeing it as condescending, and an unnecessary intrusion into women’s private lives.

Other women feel differently about the debate: many French women will be flattered if you address them as ‘madamoiselle’, because you are suggesting they look young enough to be one. Similarly, a lot of francaises will be insulted if you call them ‘madame’.

Time will tell whether the rest of France will follow on from the example of Fontenay-sous-Bois…

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