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A lesson for all ages: Sometimes the cutesy speak actually feels degrading

Jan Hearne • Oct 29, 2012 at 9:29 AM

It has happened twice now: A grocery-store employee called me “young lady,” and this week my dermatologist did the same.

I know they’re trying to be friendly and cute, but I am not a young lady. I was at one time, but I am not now, and I don’t wish to be addressed in what I consider a patronizing manner.

If someone calls me “hon” or “honey” or “sugar,” I am not offended. It’s part of our regional dialect, and I think it’s nice. But when men of any age call me young lady, it annoys the heck out of me.

My dermatologist began the annual checking of the skin (which I recommend to everyone) and couldn’t miss the half-dollar sized bruise on my left arm. “That’s what happens when you get into bar fights,” he chuckled.

He did not notice the withering glance I shot his way; he was examining the tops of my hands.

Years ago, when I was in my very early 30s, I met a woman who lived at Montrose Court. She was very attractive, probably in her 70s. I complimented her on something and she said, “You know, when I look in the mirror, I’m shocked at what I see. I feel 20 inside.”

I am beginning to experience the same disconnect. To be honest, when the doctor called me “young lady,” it took me a second to realize I was not the bell-bottomed, peasant-bloused willowy girl of my youth.

Sometimes I am that person, other times I am in my thirties. The image in my head is not what I see in the mirror, and so it is a shock to be greeted in a patronizing manner.

A friend recently posted an apology on Facebook, taking her cue from Dustin Hoffman, who realized when he played a woman in “Tootsie” how tough it is to be a not-so-pretty or young woman in our society:

“Now that I’m … uh … no longer young,” my friend said, “I want to apologize to ... the older individuals I knew and worked with when I was young ... Because you were not young, I treated you like a second-class citizen, and I now feel the same chagrin that Hoffman did in regard to his treatment of women who weren’t pretty. Forgive me. And thank you for seeing how shallow, how callow, I was and being nice to me anyway.”

Though I can’t imagine my kind friend being rude to anyone, I think her heartfelt apology can be a lesson for young and not-so-young people. There are still people decades older than I am who deserve my respect and attention.

And for those who work with the public, please don’t talk-down to us, no matter what our age.

My mother, who lived to be 89, hated going to the doctor’s office because nurses used baby-talk when they spoke to her. They saw an old woman whose body was failing, but they were dealing with the beautiful young woman who turned heads whenever she walked into a room, who grew up during the Depression and knew a thing or two about life.

Asking Mom “how are we feeling today?” in a sing-song voice was infuriating and demeaning. And so is calling women past 18 “young lady.”

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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