Thursday, September 17, 2009

The lady is not young

I have reached the place in life where strangers, always men, feel called upon to hail me as "young lady." Not incidentally, this always comes in a loud, confident voice.

"What can I do for you, young lady?" (Club car attendant on Monday's train)

"Why, hello, young lady! How are we today?" (Random pasty young man encountering me in the post office parking lot last week.)

I've noticed and abhorred this practice all my life. It's insulting to address an aged woman in public by calling attention to her advanced age. It's demeaning. I've always assumed it's some men's way of announcing that now that a woman is past the age of potential sex object, she has neither dignity nor agency and must immediately be notified of that fact. Or perhaps these men think aged women lose their minds along with their figures and will thus be thrilled to learn that someone doesn't realize they're old.

In any case, as a price of having the good fortune to survive to an advanced age, I find myself the irritated recipient of these public insults.

I've been thinking about what parallels I might draw, and the only one I can come up with is height. My vertically blessed friends tell me that they're occasionally hailed as "Stretch": "How's ya doin, Stretch?" Or this charming conversation-opener: "How the weather up there?" I've always sympathized with this one, and always loved my grad classmate Bill Turner's response. He kept an index card in his shirt pocket, where he could readily pull it out when needed. One side of the card said "6'4" and the other side said, "The weather's fine, thanks."

I'm considering having a pack of business cards printed up. I'm thinking they should say something like, "Why, how very observant of you to notice my wrinkles. You're right; I'm not young, but I did already know that. So did most other folks who look at me. So you can give it a rest now. Have a nice day, you officious jerk."

Good idea?


techsophist said...

Your cards are a fine idea, but the text may be too long for the attention span of the readers. How about...

Not young.
Not a lady.
Neither are you.

At times, being a lady is overrated. :-)

cbd said...

When I worked at a grocery store in Florida, most of the help addressed all women as "ma'am." Except those who were angry, indignant, rude, etc. Those women were called "lady," as in, "Look, lady, I just sell the bananas, I don't grow 'em."

Joan Livingston-Webber said...

I like a short text-card idea. "I am young enough for you to buy me an ice cream cone."

rebecca said...

Hahaha! I love the ice cream cone idea. And true, about the lady/ma'am thing. "Lady" is usually kind of an insult, or can be really creepy, as in "hello, ladies," purred by some sleazebag at a bar.

Hmmm... I've never really thought about that, before. Is there an equivalent for men? Like a term of respect that is really never actually respectfully-meant?

PS Thanks for the link. :) I'll return the favor when I remember how.

Wonderlich said...

In a newspaper interview, Annie Proulx confessed that one of the privileges of a woman's advanced age was that she was rarely notice. For her to NOT attract physical attention was, she found, an advantage for a person who enjoyed eavesdropping. As I recall, Proulx described stopping at a coffee shop by the road, enjoying her cup unnoticed, while a young couple in a nearby booth openly discussed the details of their participation in a crime. She said that her invisibility exposed her to rich narratives and confessions worthy of a police detective or a writer.