Wednesday, 8 February 2012

why are they calling me ma'am?

What's going on? I thought this was Australia. Since when are women here addressed as ma'am? I've heard it twice in two days.

Urban dictionary defines ma'aming someone as using this term when the woman thinks she's too young to deserve it
to call a woman "ma'am," especially when she is (or thinks she is) way too young to be considered one.
(some twenty-something): oh my god, that waiter just ma'amed me.
(a friend): ha ha, you got ma'amed by a guy twice your age!
Well, that might be an American definition of this new verb, but my personal Australian definition of ma'aming someone - ie using the word inappropriately - is to use it anywhere, anytime, in Australia.

As far as I'm concerned ,
it's sexist,
it distances the speaker from the woman being so addressed,
and it's not Australian English.

The first occasion was when a guy came to our home to give us a special electric plug that's supposed to save energy by turning our television off standby.( And that's another story.) I felt that if he addressed me as ma'am one more time I would have to throw him out of my loungeroom. So I'm a woman. Does that mean I'm incapable of understanding technology? I can't put my finger on the reason why, but the word had a demoralising effect on me.

And the second occasion...

Today, an older lady, probably in her late seventies, tripped and fell down in a local nursery. Two young men looked after her, but I stayed to help, as it's good to have another woman with you when you've lying flat on your back in the middle of a busy area where trucks and cars are driving around you. The youngsters were kind, if a bit taken aback by having to care for the woman instead of hauling heavy bags of sand and mulch. They got her up on a chair, gave her a cup of tea, fed her a lolly for the sugar input.

And then they started to call her ma'am.

To me that was the point when they stood back from her psychologically. They had done all they could and she seemed okay to them and that moment of togetherness was past.

I hate the word ma'am and I'm going to challenge anyone who addresses me that way.

Like Senator Barbara Boxer did.


proud womon said...

i know exactly where you're coming from - i've noticed it creeping into the aussie vernacular too recently...

and thank you for sharing the video, loved her retort!!!

parlance said...

proud womon, to me the problem is that there's no respectful word for addressing a woman, because of the historical tendency to define a woman (womon) in terms of her relationship to a man.

Mary said...

Parlance, I have also heard men referred to as 'sir' and when I hear it actually spoken it takes me aback. I don't think it is especially sexist, I just think it is a different way of trying to be polite to a stranger. But is does sound so false here in Australia as it is not in common usage.

parlance said...

Mary, perhaps I'm just being an old fogy, and should get used to this new usage.

But I still don't like ma'am or sir.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the U.S. I despise being called ma'am. When someone does so, I call them ma'am (or sir) right back, only I make sure I emphasize the word. :) Makes me feel ever so good to do so.

parlance said...

Hi, anonymous. I love your attitude. I'm not sure I'd be game enough to try your technique, but I will stick up for myself if it happens again.