Lots of women these days object to the title “ma’am.”
“I got ma’amed!” they say in exasperation. It’s as if they were referred to as “elderly.”
When I was in my early 20s, I hated being called ma’am, too. But it didn’t happen very often, which was fine.
As women, we spend way too much time worried about our age. When you’re young, you want to be taken more seriously. When you’re old, you want to feel like you’re young. How about just accept what age you are and enjoy it? I’m not suggesting we all let our hair go gray (unless that’s your thing) and start knitting afghans all day in our rocking chairs (unless that’s your thing). I’m just saying stop worrying about being older than or younger than anyone else.
While in college, I once tried to rent a car. My car was in the shop, but my husband was overseas and I had a toddler to get to daycare and myself to get to classes and work, so I decided to rent a car. To my surprise, I was not allowed to rent from some rental car places because I was not yet 25 years old.
“You mean, I can drive, vote, drink, fight and die for my country, but I can’t rent a fucking car?” I shouted into the phone. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied. Luckily, I found one that would rent to me and was able to go about my business. I don’t know if they have changed that requirement, since I’m 20 years past 25, but I suspect it’s gotten even more difficult.
You could say I spent my 20s trying to be as grown up as possible. I didn’t really have a choice, since I had a baby at 19 and got married at 20. Thinking back, I was far more mature then than I am now! Chasing around a toddler sounds like a nightmare now, much less worrying about feeding and diapering it. No thanks. But I did all that with aplomb in my 20s, while banging out an education and managing a household at the same time. I was proud to be mature and getting shit done. Now? Meh.
When I was in my 30s, I got called ma’am a lot more, and I just got used to it. By the time I got into my late 30s, I was like, “Hell yeah, you call me ma’am! I earned that shit!” Plus, what else should they call me? “Miss”? We’re not fooling anybody that I’m a “Miss.” Do you really think that when you’re in your late 30s that anyone really thinks you’re 17? Let’s not kid ourselves, people. “Hey Lady” sounds vulgar and Jerry Lewis-ish (no offense to Jerry). Some younger shop girls have started calling me “Girlie.” WTF? I’m not your Girlie.
One exception: My ex-husband started saying “Yes ma’am” to me a lot later in our marriage. It wasn’t nasty, just constant. His intent was to shut me up when I said something he didn’t want to hear. It eventually had a tinge of sarcasm, and for a few years after that, I didn’t want to hear “yes ma’am” from anybody.
“Miss” is what you call someone who is younger than 18. When she is older than 17, you address her on paper as Ms. Technically, because I have been married before, I am still a Mrs. But you’d better not call me that. I’ve been divorced for 19 years now, and I haven’t looked back. So I am a Ms. If I get married again, I still plan to be Ms.
I think this is because in the past, women were referred to as Mrs. Husband’s First and Last Name. So her name was not even a consideration because she was the property of her husband. That is seriously fucked up.
Ma’am is the acceptable address in person to someone you don’t know. When I’m trying to get someone’s attention, I say “Ma’am …”. And I’d expect anyone else to do the same to me.