public service announcement: don’t call me Ma’am

I’m interrupting my regularly-scheduled editing session to write this blog post.

I’m attracted to men with good manners. I find it sexy. I always notice when a man, even a stranger, lets everyone on or off an elevator before exiting himself. I think it’s sweet when a date walks to the passenger side of the car to open the door for me. I like when a man opens a door for me in restaurants or simply directs me to walk through an entrance way before him. While I firmly believe in equal rights for women, I’m not a feminist to the point where I don’t believe in chivalry, and I make no apologies for appreciating being treated like the gentler sex sometimes. I also welcome good manners in general—people who say “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” or any variation of these expressions; individuals who wait their turn, who are mindful of other people around them. Good manners is near the top of my “must-have” list for potential boyfriends.

Yes, I like good manners. What I don’t like is being called “ma’am.”

I’ve had countless discussions with other women, both face-to-face and via social media and this is what I’ve discovered: We hate the term “ma’am” —HATE IT! It makes us feel old and unattractive. As if the media and Hollywood don’t already give us a complex about aging, women in their thirties, forties, and fifties don’t need it from regular people serving us coffee, handing us deliveries, and running up our items at the grocery store. I’ve always been told I look much younger than my actual age, but over the last few months, I’ve been called “ma’am” so many times I’m afraid I went to sleep one night and woke up old and matronly. I’ve been tempted to shout, “Ma’am?? How old do you think I am??” (Confession: I have done this once or twice and immediately felt stupid, but it’s because “ma’am” is a horrible word and one most women abhor.) I’m no longer an ingénue, but I’m a far cry from an “older” woman, yet after I’m called “ma’am,” I confess to questioning whether the person I see in the mirror is the same woman others see when they look at me. I’ve second guessed my own female vitality, and I know I’m not alone, all because some misguided person thought calling me “ma’am” was the polite thing to do. It’s not.

I appreciate that many people are raised to refer to women as “ma’am” as a term of respect or to be polite, but unless the person doing the greeting is a child who thinks any adult over the age of twenty is old, or you are speaking to a woman who is clearly over the age of seventy, it’s MUCH kinder to use another word, for example, “miss.”

Thank you for listening. Now back to my regularly-scheduled evening of edits.