This old-fashioned term brings to mind women of the past, in long flowing dresses, politely having afternoon teas or delicately walking adorned with hats or bonnets and a gentleman at their sides. That’s not what today’s women are all about.
Dictionaries support my mental vision of the word “lady.” Merriam-Webster: a) a woman having proprietary rights or authority especially as a feudal superior b) a woman receiving the homage or devotion of a knight or lover. Oxford Dictionary: a) a woman of good social position, b) a courteous, decorous, or genteel woman. I am not decorous nor particularly genteel.
Labeling us all the time as “ladies” is still overused in public life. Servers will say to women dining together, “Hello, ladies.” Or “What can I get you ladies.”
How an individual is addressed can create an interesting discussion. Maya Angelou objected in 1989 to being called “Maya” by a 20-year-old black woman, according to a recent AP article. “I am not Maya. I am 62 years old,” she told the young girl. And she was right – given her background (and mine), when I was in my teens and twenties it was impolite to call an older person by his or her first name without permission. And given Angelou’s southern background, I can understand why she objected.
Calling women “girls” is equally disparaging. I am no longer a girl. I was a girl in K-12. Calling men “boys” is demeaning, especially for blacks in the South.
In California, first names have been in for a long time. I waited in line at a cell phone store the other day and when it was my turn, the staff person said, “Hi, Diana. How can I help you today, Diana.”? But I’ve accepted that as a West Coast habit.
And while I am on this rant, I also have always objected to being addressed by my marital status. I was “Miss” and then married and became “Mrs.” Socially okay, but then professionally? Why should my marital status make a difference? Why should I be addressed either “Miss” or Mrs.,” as teachers frequently are? Men, single and married, are only and always addressed as “Mr.”
Call me “Ms.” That’s just fine. By the way, when I was first married, my husband was an ensign in the Navy. I didn’t have a name or a title. I was just labeled a “dependent.” Very degrading.
There are times, of course, when the female gender can be called “ladies, as when a speaker opens his/her remarks before an audience, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”
But all the rest of the debate and how refer to women becomes a dilemma. “Okay, how should we address you? What should we say,” some male friends of mine asked.
“How are you addressed in an email sent to several men,” I replied.
Scratching their heads, they said they never thought of it – but maybe it’s “Hi,” or “To all,” or even “Guys.” Guys is fine with me for men and women, since it has become a unisex word. “Hi” is good, too. Anyone have better ideas?