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This conversation shouldn’t have to happen, but when it does, this is how it should go.
cap, captain miss america

I was in the grocery store, waiting in line for the self-scanner, carrying my basket and a large bag from another store. One of the employees reached for my basket without asking, and said “Let me help you with that, honey.

As usual, I bristled.  I know that for some people, this is considered a standard friendly way to greet a woman, but I’m used to it being used in one of two ways: catcalling and other verbal harassment, or to condescend, especially to a younger woman, in a “oh you can’t carry that heavy basket, honey.”

Now, I was fine managing my basket, but since he was an employee, I was also appreciative that he was attentive enough to offer help.  I wasn’t appreciative of the “honey” part of the statement.

I told him not to call me “honey.”

Now, usually, this is the part where a guy will put his hands up and say he was only trying to compliment you, or “whoa, back off,” as if you were the one getting in his business, or whatnot.  Some guys will get actively hostile.

He didn’t.  He said, “I’m really sorry.   Please don’t crucify me?  What would you like to be called?  Should I call you ma’am?”

I was a little annoyed by the ‘please don’t crucify me’ part, but sort of surprised that he apologized so sincerely.  I said, “I don’t mind what you call me, as long as it is not a diminutive or affectionate term.”

“I won’t use it again.  I really didn’t mean it that way,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said. “And I’m not trying to crucify you either.  It just really frustrates me.”

“I know,” he said.  “That was a bad choice of words on my part.”  It was pretty clear he was referring to the ‘crucify’ part, here.  “I’ve been helping elderly women all day, and they like being called ‘honey,’ so it was on the tip of my tongue.  I see you in the store a lot, and I  want you to feel comfortable here.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I know you didn’t mean it to be offensive.  But a lot of guys it just to be condescending.”

“Yeah, I know that,” he said.  “I won’t say it again.”

“Thank you for apologizing,” I said.

“Thank you for understanding,” he said. “I hope we’ll see you again soon.  Have a good night.”

This is obviously not exactly verbatim, but it is as closely paraphrased as I can make it.  At no point did this man raise his voice, or act frustrated with me at all.  Even though I am not sure I buy the part about him only calling me ‘honey’ because he’d been helping old ladies, he seemed to understand exactly why it bothered me, once I said something about it.  And he expressed that he wanted to respect my boundaries.  Part of it, I’m sure, was because he was an employee and I was a customer, but I’ve had other interactions with store employees over similar complaints that did not go as well, so part of it is also the individual.

I’m writing this down because I talk a lot about negative interactions with men over gendered language, and I wanted to point out that there are men who get it, and as respectful of women who communicate their boundaries.  Even strange men, who aren’t our friends.  Thanks, guys, to all those of you who DO.

Of course, I walked out of the store and got followed down the block by a guy who shouted “hey, baby!” at me (he stopped when I turned around and shouted, “don’t do that!” back at him), but, you know.  Baby steps.

Mirrored from Antagonia.net.

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I started calling people sug months ago for some unknown reason. It was a weird time.

I'm glad you stood up and told him not to call you that! I think it's easy to be brave on the internet or in a group but it's the quiet daily things that are really important.

I always tell men to stop calling me by a diminutive when they do it, unless they're from a region/generation where that's acceptable and I know they don't mean the same thing by it. I feel like it's important for people to communicate their boundaries-- because if we don't communicate our boundaries, people can continue to pretend they think it's okay and whip out the "oh, no one ever told me," excuse. When we do, it means that they might not do it to the next person.

Baby steps
pun intended? :D

don’t do that!

I was walking down the street a couple of years ago with a friend of mine, and a dude sitting on a bench with a group of friends catcalled us. She turns around, looks at him, and yells, "Are you some kind of RAPIST? SHAME ON YOU!" Man, the look on his face. :D

Nice! I usually stick to "don't say that," or "please leave me alone" or something similarly direct and concise said in a matter-of-fact tone. I only get that angry when I see a man continually harassing a woman who is clearly scared and looks too uncomfortable to say anything. Partly because then they start ranting at me instead and I can dish it back. One time an entire subway car cheered for me after some asshole got off, that was pretty awesome.

No pun intended, but I am pleased it found its way in there.

Oh gosh, that employee was awesome.

Living in the south it is a given that if you go out, you will get called "sweetheart/honey/sugar/darling/whatever" regardless of gender or age. And even though I've lived here all my life it annoys the fuck out of me. I drop those diminutives around my friends like they're about to go out of fashion, but I've always felt it was completely inappropriate among strangers. I think it was most disarming when used against me when I was acting in a managerial capacity at my last job because I do feel like it was used to deliberately belittle me since I look so young and am female. Almost in a "oh sweetheart you are so cute for pretending like you know anything about this" way, which was completely inappropriate given that I had been there for five years and definitely knew what I was talking about.

Yeah, I call a lot of my (usually female) friends "love" or "lovey" mostly, and sometimes "lady" or "sir."

And yes, that pisses me off the most, when men use it in a sense to "put you in your place." Ugh.

I was pretty impressed with his response. He still shouldn't have said it in the first place, but he was profusely apologetic, seemed sincere about it, and I feel like he will actually consider it in the future.

We have a gentleman in the finance department who habitually addresses us all (just the women, I assume!) as "darlin'", "sugar", etc. I never knew quite what to make of it, until my officemate mentioned she always imagines Ricky to be an older man, and very southern. When she said that it clicked for me and I got the image of someone who would talk that way. Thing is, he's never met any of us (and these exchanges are over email - I've never spoken to him on the phone) so it's not based on being a perv, or condescending based on age, or anything - it's just his way of being friendly. I do find it cute, it makes me smile. I guess being in the south so long has affected me.

That said, I agree that if that conversation has to happen, that's a really great way for it to go.

Edited at 2012-05-11 01:09 am (UTC)

Well, I think when it's elderly men it can be adorable if they're not being obviously pervy or anything. And I do have some Southern friends with whom I let it slide-- or really, I let it slide with anybody when I'm traveling in the South. Some people, just, their affect and manner make it okay even when it wouldn't be okay for anyone else.

This was so refreshing. I'm really impressed by both of you.

Thanks! I mean, I tend to tell men to lay off all the time, but this is the first time I have ever gotten a genuine apology and left feeling like the person I had spoken to might actually think about how he addresses women in the future.

I'm even grossed out by the guy you're thanking. Further proof, I suppose, that I wouldn't last a week as a woman in the city.

Hahaha, he seemed genuinely apologetic-- which is a rarity. Sometimes guys fauxpologize and are all "SORRY, GEEZ, I WAS JUST TRYING TO COMPLIMENT YOU." This is the only time in my entire life a guy has actually acted like he meant it when he apologized.

You kind of get used to it. Girls are called things like "honey" and "sweetheart" by men from the time they're little, and you don't really realize there's something wrong with that until you're not little anymore and people are still speaking to you like you're a child. Street harassment, catcalling, and such is a totally different thing and that started for me when I was 12 or 13-- read, when I had visible breasts. So by now it's normal. Still infuriating, but you do get a bit desensitized to all but the biggest assholes.

A lot of it is context dependent. In the south, everyone's a hon or a son and it's just not worth trying to be called differently. As sailors, it's babe on the west coast, dear on the east coast, and it applies to males and females. Despite this universal designation, I have a coxswain who refers to me as sweetheart. It's kind of funny having to explain why babe is ok and sweetheart isn't.

Edited at 2012-05-11 04:47 am (UTC)

Yeah, I give a pass to elderly people and people from the South-- it means something very different based on regional/generational norms. Just like it doesn't faze me when Brits use 'love' when speaking to random strangers.

One thing that kind of gets to me with both of those sets of words -- 'honey' &c. in the US South and 'luv' in the UK -- is how gendered they are. I mean, yes, they are used for equals as well as as diminutives (though I always sort of feel like young people using them to address elderly people are being really patronizing), but while men use them to women and women to both men and each other, you pretty much never hear adult men using them to address other adult men (or even boys above the age of like six or so) ... except as hi-larious gender-inappropriate jokes or within certain sections of gay culture.

(I grew up in the US South and currently live in the UK.)

Yeah, I'm not crazy about it even when it happens, but at the same time, there's a difference between asking someone to change individual behavior that isn't universally accepted and asking someone to change something that is culturally ingrained and even embraced by a lot of people.

For me, it's not gendered titles that bother me-- Sir and Ma'am are perfectly fine-- but the fact that most of the gendered titles for women are names that reduce them to children or objects. One that bothers me is that "guy" and "girl" are equivalents, yet "girl" literally means "child" while "guy" does not. Yet I still use it myself; it is a hard habit to break, and sometimes it just seems more familiar.

Oh yeah, I meant that the use of the words varies by gender, not that they are gendered terms in and of themselves.

Re: the latter, I keep thinking maybe we ought to promote 'gal' -- which, IIRC, came into popular usage around the same time and is basically the female equivalent -- except that it is so gosh-darn corny!

'Chica' is also decent, but I suspect most English speakers tend to associate it with 'chick', which is blegh.

I posted this to my facebook (because it speaks to me) and it got quite positive responses, including one that "This was probably the greatest exchange ever about gendered language."

Thanks! And it was pretty unexpected. The best I usually hope for is "GEEZ, sorry!" Hands in the air and back off.

It is, perhaps sadly, soooo refreshing when you can have a positive exchange with a guy about sexism, where he seems to actually be listening to you! Heck, I was excited the other day because I was discussing online why it's often inappropriate for men to make public declarations of what behavior they find attractive in women, and I got a response that was sort of "oh, well... they were discussing this thing, so it didn't come out of nowhere... if you knew the context..." and responded with "I did know the context and I'm not sure why you'd think it would be relevant to anything I'd said." and they responded with "Oh yeah. Good point. I hear ya."

I'm pretty sure I was talking to a man but even just anyone on the internet actually acknowledging that they were mistaken in a discussion felt so amazing!

And another time I was having an argument with this crazy sexist dude on twitter and one of his friends, also a man, got involved and was like "hey, she has a point. and you and I don't know how women would feel in this situation and have no right to tell them how they should react." and stuff like that, and it was the beeeeeeest thing ever! And made me feel a million times better about the extremely frustrating conversation I'd been having with the other guy.

Anyway, yes. Any time someone responds to you with respect and awareness rather than defensiveness and aggression, it feels so good.

And I also really hate being called "honey" etc - I think I usually just give a glare. If the person is older than, say... 55-60, then I usually give it a pass, though, especially if it's a woman.

You know, most of the time when people use "honey" and such with strangers it doesn't faze me, unless the tone adds a level of obnoxious to it. But I respect that it bothers others, and can absolutely see why they don't like it.

I've had other things bother me in the past, and I'm working hard to speak up when a comment/action bothers, frustrates or annoys me, so I give kudos to you for speaking up. And kudos to him as well for having a respectful conversation about it.

For me, part of it is that I live in a large, pedestrian city where street harassment happens often, certainly more than once a week and sometimes more than once a day. So to me, a lot of it is asking men who aren't jerks not to do things that will validate the jerks.

That's a pretty encouraging story. I find a lot of guys don't get that lifting/carrying things for me is annoying as hell more often than I get called cutesy nicknames. Still, I pretty much use words like "honey" and "sweetheart" for small children and pets only.

I actually really appreciate offers to help with heavy lifting: the way I see it, a guy doesn't ever know if a woman might be suffering from CRIPPLING PERIOD CRAMPS at any given moment, so offering-- and then respecting her response whether it's yes or no is great. But it bugs me when someone actually physically takes something I am holding out of my hands without asking me first. That actually seems quite threatening, even.

Offering to help is totally okay, but I'm more used to having someone either insist I can't do it myself and then take it for me. I remember shoveling snow off the sidewalk in front of my workplace and having at least one elderly man take the shovel away from me and do the icy parts for me. I'm tall and weighed more at the time so luckily it was more insulting than threatening.

Gosh, you're doing so much better than me. I actually had a store clerk call me a "bitch" in the homebrew store here in Houston the other day, merely because I was happily nonchalant about ditching his advice in view of my own experience with brewing mead. He tried to pretend it was a joke.

I got annoyed. So I explained to him what bitch stands for, that men only apply it when the woman in involved is "Being In Total Control of Herself". He was extremely non-plussed and quietly went to hide in the back instead of bothering me anymore.

I understand that the vast majority of their clientele is of the male persuasion, but really... there is a limit.

It's funny because this came up DAYS later, but today's dilbert made me think of your post. :)

I'm not sure I like the message because it suggests that the woman gets irrationally angry-- and knowing Scott Adams, that is probably what he means, given that he's written blog posts full of rape apologism before. But the lady does have hair like mine and man that guy is a douche!

Well, that's the character, she's angry and violent. But it was more that he piled enough condescending old-boy-network into the CEO's opening paragraph to call it a "weaponized payload".

Mostly it was the fact that he specifically calls her "Honey" that brought your post to mind. :)

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