When to Call Me “Ma’am” or “Her Majesty”

Okay. I’ve purposely avoided speaking out about the 2016 election. My opinions are strong. But I have no illusion of being able to change your mind with a Tweet, a Facebook meme or a blog post. But I do want to share some thoughts about a particular element at the heart of our current cultural debate–women in leadership. Or about being a modern woman in general…

I recently finished a pretty funny memoir by comedian Jessi Klein titled You’ll Grow Out of It. I started out loving it. Her chapter titled Growing Older had me nodding along while laughing so hard I choked on my morning coffee. But then, she does this thing. That thing too many women do. Even accomplished women. Klein basically starts telling readers about how she equates beauty to sex, lust and youth. She pivots from cracking wise about the banality of our “look young and beautiful at any cost” culture to fantasizing about a “princess moment” at the Emmy Awards, swooning over celebrities and bristling at being called ma’am. (She also attempts to further normalize pornography with a chapter about her interest in it. But doing so is so far off the rails on a train wreck of hypocrisy in terms defending women or decency; I will only roll my eyes and shake my head on that topic. For now.)

First, let me just say that I enjoy looking like a woman. I wear makeup, try to style my hair and often wear high heels (mostly because I’m short, but also because I like how they look.) I am not opposed to girls and women wanting to look or feel beautiful.

I am opposed to letting media, men and an increasingly lewd culture define what is beautiful. High applause for Alicia Keys going sans makeup on The Voice, for high-profile women who allow a crinkle around the eye or a crease in their forehead, for my super classy girlfriend who always looks great but never dresses like her tween daughter.

Then there is the raunchy but funny Amy Schumer skit where she shows up at a picnic of aging actresses who educate her about women in Hollywood only having value if men still want to sleep with them. (The language in this vid is pretty coarse in case you search for it. You’ve been warned.) But if this view is in any way accurate, and I believe it likely is, then why on earth would women want to splash around in that scum pond by focusing more on being/looking “sexy” than on being/looking strong, intelligent, accomplished, wise, classy, lovely, artsy, comfortable, hard-working, etc.

Of course women are sexual beings. I’m not suggesting old-school repression or enforced “modest” dress. I’m just asking WHY would sexually “desirable” be at the top of any list of female aspirations?

And finally, the word “ma’am”…

As with all things, there’s a balance here. An introspective pause button that we should hit when we hear this word.

Klein is frustrated at being called ma’am because she believes it implies she’s “old” and therefore undesirable. I reiterate, if “desirable” is your long-term goal, disappointments will mount (not to mention I’m disappointed in you) and you’ll miss so many opportunities to be someone of greater significance, influence and honor.

Ma’am need not be a curse word or term of degradation. It could be a term of high praise–a word that says you’ve transcended the need to simply be desirable; you’re accomplished. We are mothers, leaders and deep thinkers. We are wise. So fetch me my coffee youngster!

And now, a note of caution to men who think I’ve given you permission to dismiss us with the word ma’am:

A family friend has helped my hubs coach little league baseball for several years. This woman knows as much about the sport (maybe more) than many of the dads on the field trying to relive their glory days.

But one day, an opposing team’s coach attempted to bend the rules, clearly thinking our assistant coach wouldn’t know better–she being a woman and all. She called him on it. He dismissively responded with something like, “Let the ump make the call, ma’am.”

The ump did make the call and she was right. But when she mentioned the exchange to my hubs, he was quizzical. Couldn’t quite figure out why she was still upset. I’m proud to say I helped the hub’s male mind figure it out.

“All other coaching staff is referred to as coach. Your assistant deserves no less. You will inform the opposing team’s coach to refer to your assistant as “coach,” not “ma’am” from now on.”

I could see a light bulb spark to life above my hub’s head. God bless him, he nodded in agreement and walked over to the other team’s coach in an attempt to spread some goodness, decency and respect into the game.

It may seem tricky–when to feel honored and when to be offended. But it’s worth some thought. It’s also worth your time to consider what you want to be known for–being fawned over as a princess? Or being honored as a Queen!


P.S. I love the above photo I found online and the video link of women talking about aging. Of course I offer credit. But still, I cringe when an ad for anti-wrinkle cream immediately follows the video. Sigh…