“What a cute outfit.” “Those jeans look cute on you.” Why do card-carrying AARP members talk to each other like that? A baby is cute. A teenage heartthrob is cute. I am way past cute. We must change the vernacular if we’re ever going to get the R-E-S-P-E-C-T Aretha Franklin demanded when beehive hairdos were the rage. We moved past those ridiculous styles eons ago. Why haven’t we moved past off-putting pre-feminist language?
Long after women raised the consciousness of the opposite gender’s teachable members, certain diehards – socially tone deaf or clinging to the last vestiges of Archie Bunker’s era – still address grown women as “Honey,” or “Dearie” when talking to perfect strangers. Those dinosaurs will fossilize before they get with the program. BTW. If a man calls me “Lady” he may get a surprisingly unladylike response.
Women are complicit if we don’t call out male offenders, or worse, use those outdated terms ourselves! Who hasn’t said, “I’m going to the mall with the girls,” or had the distinct displeasure of being told, “Hang on a minute, dearie,” by the woman answering the phone at a small business? Financial guru Suzy Orman looks into the camera and says, “Between us, girlfriend” but it doesn’t hurt her ratings. We’re a generation of change agents. Let’s change the way we talk among ourselves. Then we’ll be credible when we launch our “Stop Patronizing Patter” campaign.
Let’s develop a 21st century lexicon: How to Address and Refer to Women. Then we can launch a new consciousness-raising wave with an inflation-adjusted, repurposed “swear jar” to spur its adoption. At home, in the office, at stores and restaurants (especially delis or diners), anyone who calls women “girls” or addresses them as “doll,” “sweetie,” and other inappropriate terms of endearment will get one “Please call me (insert your term of preference).” If that fails, they’ll get a steely-eyed look that sends a behavior-modifying message: WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!
We’ve come a long way from the days when a man called his wife “the little woman” (even if she outweighed or outranked him), or bandied about bawdy barbs demeaning the female form. Or have we? USA TODAY reports that Hooters, “the chain renowned for perky, shapely waitresses in skimpy orange shorts and too-tight, extra-low-cut T-shirts, turns 30 this year.” Hooters spawned “breastaraunts,” a $2 billion category of eateries (Twin Peaks is doing great). Hooters is addressing “middle age” with a total makeover. The chance of changing its name? “Less than zero.” If the frozen chicken wings aren’t enough to turn your stomach, how about this? Efforts to attract female customers are succeeding. One 25 year old graduate student, the reporter notes,
“isn’t embarrassed to be seen there. She likes it, “because men come to Hooters.” Really? That’s where she wants to find her soul-mate? I’d like to get her in a room with former Playmate Gloria Steinem for 15 minutes.
Talking about re-education, let’s applaud Julia Roberts and other celebrities who choose to age naturally. Does anyone believe that Andy McDowell, the “face” of a popular cosmetics brand, relies solely on drugstore products to look great at 53? Methinks “pretty woman speaks with forked tongue” when preaching, “People put too much emphasis on age. You’re programmed to believe that a man can have wrinkles and he’s sexy but a woman has wrinkles and she’s old. I have to defend myself and all women my age and say: Yes, we’re still beautiful.” Chill, Andy. You don’t have to defend us. And since Botox and fillers don’t count as plastic surgery (wink) we’re guessing you may have had a little help the drugstore couldn’t provide. Why, pray tell, do older women have to be beautiful? FYI, most of us weren’t cover girl beautiful to begin with, and wouldn’t trade places with you!
Well-meaning people of both genders need new word choices that don’t offend, demean or stereotype. In the 70s the Gray Panthers anticipated this need. Forced to retire at 65, Maggie Kuhn and five “girlfriends” began advocating for women sidelined and short-changed by ageism. They grew into a formidable force that’s still going strong. I love the name they chose. Let’s build on that.
The Civil Rights movement gave us alternative language to replace negatively charged, hurtful language referring to people of color. That’s what women need to do now. Until then, we’ll have to work with what we’ve got. The dictionary defines “crone” as a withered old woman with synonyms that include “hag.” Oddly, the same dictionary defines “crony” as “a person often seen in the company of another” and suggests “chum, buddy or friend” as related words. So for now, see ya – I’m off to the mall with my cronies.