Here's part one of my discussion of the word "lady." Maybe read that first. Since that post last September, I've become more vocal about not wanting to be called a lady, but my female Midwestern friends (and male friends) continue to do it.
"Have any of you ladies heard about..."
"How are we today, ladies?"
Even though I've now lived in Chicago for 20 years (after growing up in California), I'm becoming less tolerant of this word. You'd think I'd mellow out, adapt to the culture, get over it. I don't know why I can't. Maybe it's because in my middle age I'm even less likely to behave myself, so being called a lady, with its connotations of good breeding, restraint and gentility, feels increasingly inappropriate.
I want no one to take this personally, it's just a general announcement: I am not a fucking lady, so please stop goddamn calling me one.
Here are some alternatives:
"Have any of you all heard about..."
"How are we today?" (How about leaving off the address altogether?)
It's also offensive when someone refers to a female who's over the age of 20 as a girl. If English speakers can accept man as an unmarked, ageless, universal term, why can't we do that with the word woman? Really, this is beyond my comprehension. Americans, especially Midwesterners, act as if woman is a rude word.
"Today I saw this lady..."
"She's a very smart lady."
"Who was that lady?"
"And then this lady walked in who I'd never met..."
Why the aversion to the word woman when we constantly use the word men? The answer is that our use of language reflects the sexism and double-standards of our society. Some of my Midwestern friends bristle at this argument, insisting that they don't use the word lady with any of the sexism of our broader culture. So what? Just because you don't have ill intent when you use a word doesn't mean that word isn't destructive. Countless people in past decades have had only the best, most innocuous intentions when using words like "cripple," "retard," "wetback" and even, as we know from Paula Dean, "n-----." Dean argued that when you're born of a certain generation in a certain context, "n-----" is a perfectly ordinary word that doesn't imply any negative meaning. Obviously, "the n word" is destructive and has a lot of negative meaning no matter how Paula Dean tries to spin it. My point is that thinking that you aren't using a word with any bad intent does not mean the word isn't still carrying baggage.
I recognize that for many people, lady is a perfectly ordinary word that doesn't imply any negative meaning. I just can't wait until we recognize the inequality that language can reflect and reinforce, specifically in the ways we refer to women and men.