In my youth, the word MISS was regularly attached to my name. I had no idea what it meant, and I had no critique of it. It just was a kind of magical prefix. Later, I learned that it meant a variety of things. It meant I was . . . gasp. . . unmarried. It meant, much less directly, that I was young. I learned the latter when I noticed one day that I had transmogrified into a ma’am — at grocery stores and elsewhere — and not because my marital status had somehow changed nor because I had suddenly joined the military where the term ma’am seems widespread. And, of course, MISS denoted my gender (or sex, depending on when exactly in the ensuing decades we are).
In some ways I am still a MISS. I am not married. I am, though, not young. And, I am a woman. Yet, I am most definitely not MISSING the vagaries of the word MISS.
First: in the time between my early years as a MISS and today, a social movement occurred. In fact, several have occurred. Once in a while, I think we have failed utterly, and occasionally I use that old-fashioned term “backsliding” to describe American culture in its relation to women, but, between the “then” that is retreating into the shadows of time and now the term Ms. was developed. (So was the magazine of the same name, but that is an entirely other tale.) Somewhat parallel to Mr., the term does indicate gender (certainly in itself now controversial) but it does not denote, on the surface, marital status. And, given we had abandoned the age related phrase “young master so and so,” giving up the age-related aspects of MISS seemed and seems a good idea as well. I do not MISS MISS.
There is of course, another reason that I do not MISS MISS. And that is because, perhaps, of the same social movement(s). These movements are part of why my particular prefix might be Dr. rather than MISS. Or, even, President, instead of MISS. (In fact, both might, just might, supersede ma’am in many settings.) I do not, thus, MISS MISS for these reasons too. When deployed against me (hmm, interesting phraseology, eh?) these days it is meant to be polite by some, but to demean or lower my social status by others. It is a very impolitic politeness.
And yet, there is more. I do not MISS MISS. I like going by my first name in many venues, though on occasion, I like titles. But, I do not truly MISS MISS. I do not. And when I say that, I feel just a tiny bit like Dr. Seuss.
What then do I miss? On occasion, I miss my parents, both of whom have been dead for decades. I often miss my home in upstate New York and my partner. I miss them. I am nostalgic for some things that seem gone forever — ranging from Frank’s soda (a local Philadelphia brand) and the days when 50 cents bought me a hoagie and more. I miss things that were basics when I was growing up and are mysteriously deemed retro today. (No, I do not think some of those things deserve to “come back,” least of all some of the fashion statements of the 1970s or the sexism and homophobia of the mid-twentieth century. But I do indeed still think vinyl superior in the case of music, the smell of sea shores always makes me think of ski ball, . . .) I also miss the ways feminism pushed us all — called us not just to join a rat race that was already out there but to change the world for the better. I miss the ways that I was able — and willing — to take risks in favor of ideals.
No, I did not go uphill through snowfalls on both directions to school. Nor did I walk there. Nor was the past irremediably harder than the present. No more than it was paradise. I miss most the notion of a future that was hopeful and filled with possibility. I do not miss MISS.
So, tonight, in honor of what I do miss, let me say this, from the vantage point of Shimer, steering somewhere between reality and utopia, and of myself, steering somehow between idealism and realism: I do not MISS MISS. But I do, indeed, feel a longing — for the ideals of liberal education, made real through a community of inquiry, criticism, generosity and hope. I truly MISS a world where Pell grants paid for a much higher proportion of higher education for individuals, when we argued that education was a clear and necessary public good and did not equate it with social conformity or work force development only, when we dreamed together of a world without war. And, of course, I miss Wrigley Field without lights.