July 6th, 2015
Are Ma’am and Sir becoming outdated?
I just got back from a vacation to visit my family. Even though I turn 30 in less than a year, my family still sees me as a little girl. I’m told by all of my older friends that this will never change and it is something I need to just get used to.
Recently, I moved to New Orleans, where Southern hospitality is high. So, being called Ma’am is something I am very accustomed to. Since moving here, I call everyone over the age of 18 Ma’am or Sir. As a sign of respect. I thought.
Recently though, I have been giving this idea a little more thought. My first girlfriend is very masculine. She likes to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes and thus mostly shops in the men’s department. She has short hair because she is an auto technician and long hair gets in the way and gets hot. Because of these things, she often gets called Sir. It doesn’t offend her; she chalks it up to people’s assumptions and their ignorance. But to be perfect clear, she does NOT want people to think she is a man. She loves being a woman. She also loves being comfortable.
When people call her Sir, we usually just brush it off. You have to pick your battles and someone set in their ways will likely not learn anything from us speaking up. It can be draining and exhausting to constantly correct people or to let their words drag you down. But a few weeks ago, a guy asked to bum a cigarette and kept calling her Dude and Man, so I piped up and said “This is my girlfriend.” He reacted in a completely nonchalant manner and simply introduced himself to her by name. When she told him her name, he said it was a pretty name and we all moved forward in conversation.
When we talked about it later, we agreed that it isn’t our responsibility to fight every battle, but that sometimes it does seem that someone may learn something from their encounter with us and may not make the same mistake in the future.
When I was back in Florida last week, I was called Ma’am a few times when we were out. Once, my father laughed and literally said out loud “Ma’am?” The second time was at the movie theater and my grandmother turned to me and said “He called you Ma’am!” I reminded them that I am turning 30.
The reason I wonder whether Ma’am and Sir are becoming outdated is because they seem to represent an assumption about two things, a person’s age and a person’s gender, neither of which we should be assuming when we meet anyone.