Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Responses to "Don't Ma'am Me" (Tweetscript)

Yesterday's post on gender titles sparked some interesting comments on Twitter. As promised I collected them here. I tried to follow a conversational format, but that's a bit harder to do on Twitter than in a regular chat so it jumps around a bit. Still, it should make for an interesting read. Think of it as a Twitter-transcript, if you will.

Responses are marked by :: and my statements are highlighted in this (somewhat) orange color. I've also linked the initial Tweet to the associated Twitter handle.

Some notes on the exercise and transcript: This was my first attempt at having a multi-person conversation on Twitter, and I'm surprised that it worked so well—not surprised that it worked, but that so many different voices chimed in, particularly when comments on the actual post tend to run low. Twitter lent itself nicely to this exercise though and I think the required brevity was actually a bonus: participants who wanted to say something had to be as direct as possible. In some ways, it probably kept the discussion going because there were relatively few digressions. I feel even more strongly now that this can be a valuable tool in the classroom. It was a royal pain to generate this transcript though—these types of records will be valuable to continue discussions in the future, and to help review the discussion so hopefully there is an easier way to do this. {Edit: A hashtag might have been useful, but the responses still would need to be sorted to help enhance clarity. The benefit to the hashtag is that all the responses would have been collected—providing a respondent used a hashtag.)

Feel free to add your thoughts below.

@anthinpractice: The Politics of Polite - on titles and being called ma'am: (NYT) [Original Item]
@jessogden: love this, hate ma'am. RT @anthinpractice: The Politics of Polite - on titles and being called ma'am: (NYT)

@aeromenthe: RT @anthinpractice: The Politics of Polite - on titles and being called ma'am: This is 7% why I want to get a Ph. D.

          ::@aeromenthe: @anthinpractice I prefer ma'am. But I guess I'm still used to being
          devalued for being a young woman instead of an older one.

          ::@anthinpractice: @aeromenthe I'm so not ready to be a ma'am. I'll stick with Ms.

@anthinpractice: [AiP] Don't Ma'am Me: (FYI @aeromenthe @jessogden) #anthropology #language #gender [Response]

          ::@eileenguo: @anthinpractice Working w/ military's changed my mind abt ma'am.
          It's respect...or just mil's obsessions w/ titles. #language #gender

          ::@Wolowic: @anthinpractice If Ma'am=Sir, is there a male equivalent for Miss?
          Nope. So I'll take Ma'am even if I don't like the "sound" of it.

                    ::@anthinpractice: @Wolowic I see your point, but it is only just Sir in that
                    case. Why is there a need to differentiate thru the ages for women?

                    ::@Wolowic Should perhaps only be one option so that it can't be tied to age
                    and is just matter-of-fact.

          ::@Wolowic: @anthinpractice For me Ma'am also equals age :( But it's nobody's
          business if I'm single, which is the reason for Miss. How about Madam?

                    ::@anthinpractice: @Wolowic Madam was a suggestion in the Times article
                    too! I think I could live with that. Very sophisticated. :)

          ::@prancingpapio: @anthinpractice I think of Ma'am as a more polite way to address
          the female race, whereas Miss is more formal

                    ::@anthinpractice: @prancingpapio How are you differentiating b/t formal
                    and polite?

                    ::@prancingpapio: @anthinpractice In the context or situation I guess. Like
                    calling a guy "Sir" and "Mr."

          ::@cpikas: @anthinpractice being called ma'am doesn't bother me at all - i was in
          the military... coupla times the guys slipped and said "mom", lol

          ::@Frnnr: @anthinpractice Ma'am sounds old. Miss sounds childish. Ms/Mrs+surname is
          okay for school, not uni. I force my students to call me Fran
                    ::@Frnnr: @anthinpractice At school I was taught Miss/Ms/Mrs+surname. My UK
                    stu's just shout out "Miss"! Is this normal or lazy? I never found out.

                    ::@anthinpractice: @Frnnr I wish I had been able to get them to just use
                    Krystal - they were very, very resistant. Did you threaten bodily harm?

                    ::@Frnnr: @anthinpractice No bodily harm (yet), but the issue of
                    titles+gender makes a good anthro lesson. First names are becoming norm in
                    my dept.

          ::@gatedialer: @anthinpractice I'm a Texan and "ma'am" is the norm for addressing
          women. "miss" is (cont)

          ::@primate_refuge: @Frnnr @anthinpractice - The dated fascination of definining
          females by marital status should die out. First+last names= egalitarian speech

                    ::@anthinpractice: Can we make this happen? RT @primate_refuge ...
                    defining females by marital status should die out. First+last names= egalitarian

                    ::@primate_refuge: @anthinpractice It happens here at Friends of Animals and
                    Primarily Primates. Dear Jane Doe or John Doe.

                   ::anthinpractice: @primate_refuge Meant that as a question for the group :)
                   But that's a good start. I've seen that w/other orgs. It's a conscious decision

          ::@carlacasilli: @anthinpractice To me, ma'am = older. It's funny how Madame
          shortened (from French) to ma'am causes such discomfort when it's meant kindly.

                    ::@carlacasilli: @anthinpractice If we acknowledge its history
           would we feel better? We're stuck in a world where
                    older ≠ married

                    ::@anthinpractice: @carlacasilli That is def one of the issues. The other is
                    that older is somewhat less valued by many mainstream sources and this tends
                    to highlite (con't)

                    ::@anthinpractice: @carlacasilli that for women in particular, who are already
                    battling any number of other obstacles.

                    ::@carlacasilli: @anthinpractice Yr point that sir is non-changing yet women
                    seem to progress from Miss to Ms to Ma'am is insightful. Societal choice?

                    ::@anthinpractice: @carlacasilli Prob a bit of both? May have to do with the
                    place of women in society & the roles & expectations that were 
                    once tied to them.

                    ::@anthinpractice: @carlacasilli And possibly ideas of appropriateness. E.g.,
                    what can a young miss get away with that a ma'am cannot? Behaviors,

                    ::@anthinpractice: @carlacasilli Ms. is a fairly recent addition - meant to add
                    ambiguity to the whole married/unmarried issue of identification.

                    ::@carlacasilli: @anthinpractice I've defaulted to Ms. for as long as I can
                    remember (even while I was married) but it doesn't seem to have taken firm

                    ::@carlacasilli: @anthinpractice I actually believe that its adoption has been
                    hindered by the United States' changing perception of feminism.

          ::@absurdintellect: @anthinpractice I see no prob with ma'am, but privately I always
          expand it to "madam" in my head, think "brothel" and snicker.

         ::@comestibles: @gatedialer and @anthinpractice In modern Germany "fraeulein" is
         only used for little girls, a grown woman would be insulted

                    ::@anthinpractice: @comestibles @gatedialer And yet it's largely acceptable
                    to call a grown woman "Miss" here, and not expect her to object.

Update: Some additional Tweets came in that I thought I'd add:

@cass_m: Nice reference. Being called Ma'am acknowledges my maturity as does using Sir in speech. Why do women want to stay kids? 

          ::@anthinpractice: @cass_m You nailed it: We're an age-oriented society and Ma'am
          isn't a comfortable exp for some.

@kiratt2: @Wolowic: @anthinpractice is there a male equivalent for Miss? Yes, its Master if you can believe it.... 
@kiratt2: @cass_m points on on the blog that Master has been
          outdated and removed from speech, proposes that the same should happen for Miss

          ::@kiratt2: @anthinpractice Yikes! then so am I-I still use Miss and Master when
          addressing envelopes to youngsters.Does that make me old or old school?

          ::@anthinpractice: @kiratt2 So you're the reason this practice persists!! ;)

          ::@kiratt2: @anthinpractice AIR being thrilled 2 get a letter addressed 2 Miss. When
          does Miss stp making u feel grown up & srt making u feel insulted?

@aeromenthe :@anthinpractice I worked as a reenactor this summer and used madam instead of ma'am, young mistress instead of miss--def some strange looks.

          ::@anthinpractice: @aeromenthe Wasn't it obvious that you were in character? 

          ::@aeromenthe :@anthinpractice Unavoidable cultural connotations. Madam skews
          bordello, and I can't say "mistress" without sounding like an S+M sub.

@aeromenthe :@anthinpractice Great post! I'm glad it generated so much
          discussion--weird linguistic flux about Miss/Miz/Ma'am and out-of-favor Lady



  1. Good transcript. I think women should be happy to be called ma'am as a sign of respect but are not because our culture idolizes youth. For many women it seems looking young is their only success marker. While I wasn't looking Master became an archaic term for boys; girls deserve the same respect and Miss should be turfed.

    I also refuse to acknowledge or use Miss/Mrs. Men get Mr. and women get Ms.

  2. Wow – ma’am is a seriously complex and powerful word that evokes all sorts of emotional reactions.

    While it’s an all encompassing phrase that the service industry has adopted to address women from all age and class categories it also carries substantial baggage. Originally used as a form of respect for women of a certain age; an undefined age no one wants to admit belonging to - it’s a term that has definitely gotten a bum rap. I was in my early 20’s the first time I was hit with a ma’am.

    It seems to be a word that has evolved alongside feminism. In a pc world where no one wants to knowingly offend it has become one of the most offensive forms of address. Miss, Ms. Mrs….which one to use? Why not use ma’am as it covers all bases?

    Now personally, I like the British form of address, mum – which is considered, from what I can tell through popular culture, a powerful form of respect even bestowed on the likes of Royalty.

  3. Referring to myself, I "default" to Ms. as well - but it's difficult to get it used.

    I've noticed that Ms. is more of a written than spoken option. It tends to be said/pronounced/read as Miss, if anything.

    (Once, here in the UK, I was giving my details and when referring to myself as "Ms." was stopped. The older "gentleman" looked at me and said "Let's just put down 'Miss'. It sounds nicer." At the time I was too surprised by being contradicted to really react. Looking back, it was quite patronizing.)

    I can't recall ever being referred to as Ma'am (bear in mind, I'm in my early twenties) but I'm not sure that I would recognize it if it happened - that is, that I would realize I was being referred to.

    That said, I haven't tried to use "Ms" in spoken adress, either. (It is said "miz", right?)

    I find that - whether or not this is appropriate - I follow an "older than myself" rule. Working in the service industry in the US, I called men "Sir" - and addressed women with "Excuse me,". In the UK, I used "Ma'am" when working in a coffee shop but only for those obviously older than myself - and "Miss", if anything, when I worked in a night club.

  4. I agree with the point cass_m made - that women are uncomfortable with the maturity implied by ma'am.

    As much as I'd like to believe that we're upset at the sexism (being defined by marital status) I think the underlying problem is that men gain respect and status as they age in a way that does not diminish from their masculinity or sexuality - whereas women don't. Our social power, even identity, has much more to do with our sexual availability.

    That our femininity contradicts our authority - or, that we are willing to cling to the former at the risk of undermining the latter - is a shame...

  5. Your second comment resonated strongly with me, noellejt. I'm curious, did you say "Miz" to the older gentleman who corrected you? (Miz is how I would pronounce it.) His correction suggests that even as we try to establish our own identity, it continues to be informed, if not directed, externally.

  6. @Krystal D'Costa: Yes - I said it as "Miz".

    (I may have also written it on a form, but it was definitely said. Looking back, it's bothering me that I can't remember exactly where or when it was - either when I was setting up a mobile phone contract or at the post office. Unless it was a hospital or in the university... It was a face-to-face encounter and he was white haired - a large part of why I didn't contradict him, afterwards - and spoke with a country, rather than urban and presumably better educated, accent - which may have been a large part of why I "forgave" his prejudice.)