A Rose by any other Name

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 Cartoon on pronounswaitresses 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.

4 thoughts on “A Rose by any other Name

  1. Sheila–this is great. I’ve noticed I can be offended by almost any appellation–what a great trait! But as a young feminist in my 30’s, I really did not appreciate the “Sweetie” and “Honey” and “Now Dear” coming from my older male boss. The condescending tone didn’t help.

    But the years went by & most men stopped doing that…at least out loud! But lately, young waiters have started calling me “Dear” and I’m again very uncomfortable…this time because it seems overly familiar.

    It was a point of honor in the 70’s so refer to ourselves as “woman”–not girls or ladies or gals but women. Not in my late sixties, I’m back to talking about my girlfriends. Of course, calling my 75 yr. old sweetie my “boyfriend” never feels quite right either. My “paramour”? Nope….so the conundrum goes on.

    The whole topic could be a fun one to do a spotlight dance/talk on! Let me know if you do. Love, Bev, aka Verlene, aka Loretta (speaking of names)

  2. Beverly talked about your blog, so we used it in our Friday movement group. We made a dance story with honey, ma’am, sweetheart, dear, bitch and girls. Thought you’d be pleased to know you inspired us.

  3. Peg, You have made my day, in fact, more likely my week. I love the idea of playing with the names we call one another. Seems better than getting annoyed or mad about it. Sheila

  4. Great to hear about your reactions to the names we get called, especially by people that don’t know us personally. Don’t want to be too sensitive, but names and titles do matter.

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