Driving back from our InterPlay session at the women’s shelter, two friends told me something about myself that I hadn’t noticed. Apparently, I have a tendency to refer to women in a group as “gals.” So much for my belief that living in Texas for 20 years hasn’t affected my speech patterns. My African American friends warned me that, for some African American women the name “gal” could be an insult, like the term “boy” is for African American men. It has a remnant of slavery and the disrespect of not being recognized as a full-fledged adult.
Amazing. This would never have occurred to me if my friends hadn’t pointed it out. And it got me to thinking about other names or expressions, many of them regional. Just coming back from North Carolina, I remembered the waitresses referring to everyone, male or female of whatever age, as “ honey.” And since I’ve been sensitized to such expressions I noticed my dentist, who is nearly a generation younger than me referring to me as “young lady.” The first time I heard it I didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or playful. Now that I know him better, I’ve decided he’s talking to the younger spirit inside me, reassuring her that no harm or pain will come from his hand.
My dancing teacher always referred to her students as “ladies” and when I started teaching I adopted that same practice. I think we were both hoping this salutation might inspire civilized and respectful behavior. These days people juggle terms like “girl friend” or “boy friend” for people who have not been girls or boys for decades. Besides being careful not to culturally offend, perhaps we need to create some titles to fit our times.