When did I become Ma'am?! When did random strangers start looking and me and stop seeing the young and hip Ms. (or Miss if you must) and start seeing Ma'am?
My mother used to rail against people calling her ma'am, most memorably to a referee at a Gordon College soccer game during my sophomore year when she blew her top over a fight on the field that the ref didn't break up quickly enough for her nursing sensibilities. I was more pissed that he gave Gordon the penalty when the other team swung first. When the ref challenged an irate "ma'am" to set an example, Mom shrieked, "you're the man, YOU be the example," followed by a vehement "and don't call me ma'am!" that resonated across the quad. Deep in the depths of Lane Student Center and in the backs of smelly locker rooms all over Massachusetts, her name is still whispered with fear.
Not that I'm looking to become even more like my mother than I already frighteningly am, but this ma'am thing is beginning to gnaw at me ever so slightly. I was at the Shop Rite earlier this week standing for 15 minutes in the express line, wondering just exactly what was being expressed, and the cashier repeatedly ma'am'd me. She was being respectful and professional, which is why she kept her head, but still. She was considerably older than me and addressing me as ma'am.
Exactly when did I cross the ma'am threshold?
And what determines that change in title? Does the cashier somehow know that I'm beginning my first year on the far side of 35? Is it tattooed somewhere on the edge of my slightly graying hairline? (Seriously you guys, a whole cavalcade of gray stringers are encroaching on my crown. What is up with that?!) Am I emitting a ma'am pheromone - a disturbing thought that still would explain my dating life? Is it simply my aura of sophistication and superiority automatically instilling respect and a dollop of reverence?
Hmm. Maybe not so much.
Also, why is there such a distinction for women but not for men? Men hit puberty or 18 (the former does not always automatically precede the latter) and it's "Sir" right away. To continue with "boy" or "kid" or "brat" or "hey you" would be considered demeaning, insulting, and possibly discriminatory. Women achieve adulthood and it's "Miss" right away until we're married and then it's "Mrs." And if you insist on "Ms." then you get that "you're a radical feminist type" look that dismisses any rational thought occurring in that pretty little head of yours. Hey, I like getting the door held for me as much as the next level-headed woman, feminist leanings notwithstanding. Not that I couldn't do it myself, but just that I don't have to. And isn't that loverly.
I could continue on a rant here about sexual identity being based on a woman's relationship to a man and the whole changing of the name thing linking up to my so far mild-for-me titles spiel here, but I don't really care enough to type that hard and it's already been done by people much smarter than me (yes, there are a few out there...somewhere). I've started watching reruns of MAD MEN on AMC now that the WGA strike has landed me in a television wasteland (I am NOT watching AMERICAN GLADIATORS, no matter what) and the 60s male/female social structure epitomized in that show fascinates me in a slightly appalled "how did my smart and sassy older friends survive this era without smacking their husbands upside the head on a daily basis?" way. It's also given me a revitalized heaping load of respect for and gratitude to those women who fought the good fight so that I could have my first class education and middle management job where no one grabs my ass in the middle of the office and expects me to thank them for it. But as more and more women of my generation are doing it all for themselves (and their children too, if they have them) , the concept of a woman's social identification being wholly dependent on her marital status (or, in my case, that hairline tattoo) intrigues me.
Maybe we could create our own modifiers. "Madonna" is dependent on a woman's fertile status, so I guess that wouldn't work as it'd be just more of the same. Maybe "Majestic One." Yeah, I could go for that. "Welcome to WalMart Majestic One." Or "Honorable Person" if you favor an Asian flare to your impersonal identifier. "May I take your order, Honorable Person?" I like in the third PIRATES movie where they name Elizabeth Pirate King and no one tries to feminize it to Pirate Queen. I love that she turns to Barbossa and says "King" to explain her actions with no apology. Personally, I'll probably stick to my usual "Goddess of All I Survey" moniker since it sums everything up so nicely for me.
But I'm still gonna correct that cashier next time .