I hate being called “Ma’am.” Yet, it’s a name that people have been using with me a lot lately. It triggers a visceral, knee-jerk response where I suddenly find myself admonishing -- sometimes harshly -- the person who uttered it.
It’s interesting how this name is so displeasing to my ears, almost as offensive as an avalanche of much more derogatory and sexists names I’ve been called over the years.
So I decided to dissect it in an effort to better understand it -- and have a feeling some other ladies out there might relate.
It makes me feel old.
As someone balancing between the ages of 30 and 40, I fear I’ve crossed some imaginary boundary between youth and middle age each time someone addresses me as “Ma’am.” The connotation of the name to me is this: “You are old, so I am going to use this word to brand you as such.” Please, dear God, I’m not that old – not yet.
It is too polite.
With some people it’s simply a mechanical response that can’t be untrained – something their mothers and grandmothers told them was the polite thing to tack onto a sentence when addressing a female older than them. This typically is the case in the southern United States, where it’s ingrained in the culture. But really, it’s not necessary to be so formal, at least not with me.
It sounds outdated.
It’s probably a bias toward my Yankee upbringing – as the phrase was rarely used in my hometown – but it just strikes me as odd that “Ma’am” exists in our modern-day vernacular. Haven’t we moved on from such antiquated titles of formality?
I associate “Ma’am” with something that the servants from “Downton Abbey” and “Gone With the Wind” say to people like the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Scarlett O’Hara. And I don’t like to think myself above anyone.
Do people even need to tack it on to the beginning or end of a sentence, anyway? If you want to be polite, just talk to me sweetly and with well-mannered body language.
But if you do that then utter “Ma’am,” prepare for my admonishing.