Whenever I appear in court, I proudly announce myself as “Chinua Asuzu, [usually] for the Defendant.” I am visibly male, and extremely proud of it. The judge, observing my maleness etched on my rugged face, jots my name down as “Mr Chinua Asuzu.” Knowing this, I smile in silent gratitude for the judge’s graciousness. I never introduce myself to the court as Mr. The judge respectfully assigns the title to me. Unknown to many Nigerian Alhajis, Ambassadors, Architects, Barristers, Chiefs, Doctors, Engineers, Pharmacists, and Professors, “Mr” is a title of high respect and honour for gentlemen. The judge puts this title in front of my name. I am a man of respect. I am a gentleman.
The title Mr does not indicate my marital status—only my gender, and the fact that I am deemed worthy of respect by the honourable judge. The judge is not interested in my marital status. He couldn’t care less. He respects me whether I’m married or single, no matter my age. He’s just waiting to hear whether I’ll talk cool law or hot air.
But when a female colleague announces herself as, say, “Fatima Bala,” the judge retorts, as if a fatal omission had been made: “Miss or Mrs?” If she’s single and on the “wrong” side of 40, the lady would then confess in an apologetic whisper: “Miss,” as if being single was comparable to leprosy, or as if the title of Miss was a matter of intense personal shame.
Female lawyers are supposed to announce their court appearances with a clear and loud indication of their marital statuses summed up in the title Miss or Mrs, for example, “Nkechi Olajide (MRS)” or “MRS Nkechi Olajide”. When they are married, they shout the title: MRS; when they are single and mature, they whisper … miss … as if something is amiss with Miss.
Nothing is amiss with Miss!
Whether a lawyer, male or female, is married should not be the concern of any court or judge. But if it must be, then courts and judges should be interested not only in the marital statuses of female attorneys but also in those of males.
Ms (pronounced Miz) should do for women what Mr does for men: as married and single men use Mr, so married and single women should adopt Ms. Women all over the world should reject any discriminatory or unjustifiably differential treatment in forms of address. Ms is a woman’s best and smartest title.
As in other phases of gender issues, women are often their own worst enemies. Why must you advertise your marital status on your business card and in other business and social contexts when your men don’t announce theirs? Men introduce themselves as, say, Jonathan, or Mr Goodluck, while women scream Mrs Abiola. Women should demand and expect respect on their own footings as individual human persons and not as appendages to some man.
The egregious discrimination built into the judicial inquiry about female lawyers’ marital statuses is a subtle and nuanced assault on the spirit of section 42(1) of the Nigerian Constitution and articles 3 and 18(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These statutory provisions and treaty obligations frown severely on any species of discrimination, no matter how disguised, against women.
“And now, Ms Okorodudu, what were you saying about the case of Heaven v Pender?”