The comments from Patia, Dan’l, and stef to my neighborhood experience got me thinking about the choices I make, as well as about categorization and about why I react so strongly to among other things, “dear.” Some of it is context: if a grandmotherly lady calls me dear, I’m apt to beam.
I think we all have places where we react more strongly than others. I know when I’m being patronized. If I don’t call them on it, I feel diminished. Trying to make change in the world is more important, but what I’m talking about right now is feeling diminished.
Dan’l, I appreciate your point about the confusion of what we call others. That’s something I care a lot about. But this is about who calls me what. I agree with Patia that the deli staff wants a category of one in which they can include all women. Is there a category of one for men in the same situation? Are all men always called sir?
And, yes, Stef, I’ve been a loyal customer of theirs for 25 years, and if this was a one-shot, I wouldn’t have bothered.
My impression (and I’ve worked with the public my whole life) is that people want to be treated well. I don’t think most people think that a tag phrase is the same as being treated well, especially not if the phrase is a simple one size fits all …whatever category the phrase is supposed to apply to.
People usually treat me very respectfully and patronizing phrases like “girl” don’t come up a lot. (Yes, I believe in “Girrl Power” but context is everything.)
One guy in my local corner market, whom I’ve known since he was helping out at 14, started calling me “young lady” when he began working full time in his 20′s. I pointed out our age difference and he said, “A lot of the old ladies like it, but the cop who lives upstairs told me she hates it.” He never called me young lady again. And actually I’ve never heard him call another woman customer that again either.
The problem with people’s desire to categorize groups in broad terms is: for anyone who isn’t in the center of power, or who’s in more than one category, the result is usually not respectful. This is because, respect is about people as individuals, not about our group identities.
The urge for simplicity may be understandable, but it’s also about a skewed and oversimplified perception of what women (or any other categorized group) want.