Don’t call me “Ma’am” unless I look like I’m over 65. Even then, Sir, doesn’t every woman wants to think she’s not past her “sell-by date.” If you’re my waiter and you want a big tip from me, call me “Miss”. If you’re a shoe salesman and you want me to buy those shoes, say, “Can I help you Miss”? At the check-out counter, if you want a big smile, DON’T CALL ME MA’AM! I’m willing to bet most women still love being called a “Miss”. It’s subtle . . . it’s flattering, it’s like you just said, “You’re still attractive.”
I LOVE the guy at the Post Office who says, “Hello Young Lady”. He’s from the South and he doesn’t call me “Ma’am”. He knows something a lot of gentlemen don’t.
When you say “Thank you Ma’am.” I cringe and my inner voice screams “I’m NOT my old Aunt Edna!! I’m NOT my mother” It’s like a poke in the eye , a term of non-endearment and everything it represents. It’s a moniker reserved for women of a “certain age”, but there’s an undercurrent of something derogatory in it. What is the exact age at which a woman becomes “Ma’am” and not “Miss”? 30? 40? 50? 60? 70? Does it mean I’m a married woman not a single woman? Why must age and status enter into a casual relationship with a stranger? Ok, Mister. I’m not your mother or your boss, the Queen or your teacher.
How do I correct those nice young men at the checkout, at the bank? I don’t. I’m not allowed to say anything unless I can figure out a way not to sound snarky or sound like I have a chip on my shoulder. Just five years ago, I was still being carded when I bought a bottle of wine, which meant I appeared to look 28 or younger. That is a stretch but I liked it. Somehow, it made me feel more relevant in this youth obsessed culture. And, exactly when did youth become the pedestal upon which we all must live, gauge our self worth? Our culture does not affirm the glories of older women. Men with grey hair look “distinguished”, women with grey hair, over the hill. I resent this, yes I do.
When I was 28, making my living in the entertainment business, a director told me, “You ain’t no spring chicken”. OMG, I’m over the hill at 28?!! I’ll be wearing polyester and hobbling along the street with a cane in no time. And why do we say “28 years OLD”? Why isn’t is “28 years YOUNG”?
This brings up the topic of Age-ism, which is rampant, especially in the ole US of A — and it somehow seems more imposing if you’re female — or if you’re in certain professions where the 20 somethings receive most of the adulation and attention Nearly every popular magazine shows svelte young women, air brushed, too thin, professionally made up and super-groomed. We are obsessed with celebrity and youth. Birthday cards are often jokes about “getting older.” Articles on how the years have not been kind to certain “celebs”, their cellulite and flab exposed to the world; shame on them for not retaining their youth. The cosmetics and plastic surgery industry, injecting face parts with botulinum toxin, fad diets, brain supplements, all support the myth that youthful beauty means you’re desirable, hip, and valued.
I do believe that living well, thinking well, eating well, and being well improves the aging process. If we’re lucky enough we have the privilege of living a long, healthy, rich and fulfilling life and we might deserve a certain degree of respect. Our entire culture seems to have forgotten that elders might be wise productive members of society. We put them out to pasture in granny farms, reinforcing age as something to hide away, remove from view. The graceful aging process doesn’t deserve to be reduced to “Ma’am” — an aberration of the French “Madame” which has some air of dignity and authority to it. Kiss my hand and call me “Madame” with a French accent, that somehow feels different. Then again, “Madam” can refer to an older woman who manages a brothel, escort service or some other form of prostitution, What about “My Lady”? Ooooh, how 18th century romantic.
Hey maybe some women feel “Ma’am” connotes respect. They’re proud of their Ma’am-ness. Well . . . not for me, “Ma’am” does the opposite.
Is it the same for men? If a man is called “Sir” or “Mister” does that mean they’ve hit THAT AGE of not being youthful, virile and vibrant- i.e., past your prime, no longer full of potential, hopes, dreams? In the military, in school, or if you’re not on a first name basis with your boss, maybe “Yes, Sir!” is required . .. But in street clothes, does “Sir” make you feel better, more distinguished? Maybe it does for men. Maybe it denotes authority and respect? And, we’ve been trained to trust the image of the white, grey haired white male more than any other demographic in the USA. These are usually the most influential leaders in politics, business, military, in all areas of life. Maybe it’s because they remind us of “Daddy’. And the “Ma’ams” and “Madams” are old women who are regarded as well . . . old. This might be different for transgender folk.
I’m not talking about political correctness, eliminating or creating gender neutral forms of address. I’m talking about what is a kind and polite way to address women in public situations where you don’t know their names. When in doubt, leave it out. It’s easy to say “Thank you” without the “Ma’am”.
Abraham Lincoln said, ‘In the end it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.” And Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” It’s not just about being young at heart, it’s having a purpose and a place.
If I do happen to hobble into your establishment wearing polyester some day and you call me “ma’am”, I probably won’t give a damn what you say. I’ll have earned my license to speak my mind. In fact, I’ve earned it already, and I’ve gotten over it by writing this rant. But remember . . . If you don’t call me Ma’am, I won’t call you “Mister”.
PS. I discovered this Blog after I wrote this little rant. Check it out: “Don’t Call Me Ma’am”. It’s reassuring that others feel the same.