Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Young lady??"

I was waiting for the bus and struck up a conversation with one of those men who stands with a kiosk of brochures about God, life and whatever religion he is. He was an African-American gentleman who looked like he was in his late 50s or so, and he addressed me as "young lady." Maybe he was trying to be polite or meant it as a compliment since my 49-and-a-half-year-old gray hair is quite visible. But when the bus came and he said, "Have a nice day, young lady!" I couldn't let it go. 

I turned to him and said, "My name is Regina."

He said, "Nice to meet you, Regina."

I said, "I don't like being called 'young lady.'"

He smiled and said, "Well, when you get to be around my age, you'll appreciate it."

He was being so nice that I summoned all the niceness I could and said, "Does 50 count?"

He said, "Yes!" and then started laughing as if I'd made a joke. It was a solid belly laugh that lasted until I actually got on the bus and couldn't hear him anymore. I often say things in earnest that others find funny, so I'm used to it, but this surprised me. I was claiming my status as his peer, rejecting what felt like a patronizing expression. Why was that funny?

Well, anyway, I don't understand why middle-aged men address middle-aged women as "young lady." Do other middle-aged women feel respected when men do that? Does it make them feel young and pretty? Do men do that to express admiration or to help women feel like we're not over-the-hill? It feels to me like they're tossing us a bone because society sees us as ugly old bags. It feels patronizing to the point of being insulting.

But I'm afraid if I say what I really want to say, which is "Please don't call me 'young lady.' I'm not young and I'm not a lady," they'll think I'm making a joke and laugh. So what's the best way to handle it? Probably just by saying, "Please don't call me 'young lady,'" and leaving it at that. And maybe a withering look would drive the point home.

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