Something I didn’t bring up in my recent post about chivalry are two words: Sir and Ma’am.
Now I don’t know about you, but I was raised that anyone older than me was addressed as a Sir or a Ma’am. I grew up and I still call pretty much all grown ups (and some children, because it amuses me) Sir or Ma’am. When I need to get someone’s attention it’s, “Excuse me, Sir!” or “Hello? Ma’am?”
But somewhere between my youth and now “Ma’am” became a dirty word. It became an attack on women, something that made a woman feel old and aged out. Sir, meanwhile sailed ahead and continued to be a word of respect.
And I wonder why that is. Why did Ma’am get the shaft, so to speak? Why and how did women learn to recoil if a child called them Ma’am. We hear “oh no! I’ve just been ma’amed!” And then immediately women search for why a person would have called them such a thing- because, GASP, only old ladies are Ma’ams. To call a woman a Ma’am means that you view her as old and so basically when you say to a woman, “Hello, Ma’am” what the woman hears is, “Hello you old bag”.
I like the word ma’am. I like that it is an abbreviation of madam (that makes me chuckle). I have always only attached kindness and respect to the word. Which makes me realize that somewhere some jerk or a group of jerks took a piss on the word and made it something to run from.
It’s because of this that I grapple about whether or not I will teach W to use Ma’am and Sir. At the end of the day I’m pretty sure that I’ll teach him the words in kindness and as a sign of respect. It feels incomplete to not teach him how to use these words properly. (it’s just nailing down what is proper now!)
I was following up with a comment from Joy from The Other Shoe and she had some thoughts on Ma’am that she has allowed me to share:
I am new to the South, and I think another alternative is to always use
someone’s name. I am teaching [my son], now that he has a good grip on please
and thank you, to say “Thank you mama” or “Thank you daddy.”
Obviously that doesn’t always work, like when you don’t know someone’s name,
and I think it’s a bit heavy handed for my son to call ME ma’am, but any
woman outside our home, you betcha.
I am also big on “yes” not “yeah” as a sign of respect and good manners.
I suppose getting “ma’amed” is a problem, but I like the respect a lot, and
I’m past the point of being offended by it. And doesn’t it suck that “ma’am”
is supposed to connote aging, while “sir” is always neutral? Apparently we
can either be young or we can be respected, but not both.
So is being offended by the word Ma’am a generational thing that our generation can now put aside? What do you think of the word? Do you use it? Will you teach your child to use it?