I hear a lot of weird shit on the street. Many people, apparently, feel that they have license to say whatever they so please to me. Generally, it doesn’t bother me, but “sweetie”’ is where I draw the line.
The other day I walked to grab a coffee and held the door for a respectable-looking gentleman who was also leaving the building. “Thank you, sweetie!” He replied. I know he was just trying to be nice, but I am an adult leaving my place of work for a coffee break. In what way did it strike this man as appropriate to call me his “sweetie”?
That term, wonderful when used correctly, is strictly reserved for people who know and love me. Here it felt condescending, as if we had a false intimacy: it is absolutely not for strange men to use. Although in the grand scheme of things this particular incident isn’t a big deal, that one word that man made me feel a lot of things. The first was that even I, for a moment, forgot how old I was. I am a senior in college and on the cusp of adulthood, but being called “sweetie” swept me back to middle school. I then began to feel angry because I realized how easily any stranger could treat me like a child. I was also angry with myself for letting it affect me. Terms of endearment exist to evoke warm fuzzy feelings on both sides of the conversation, not to make the “sweetie” feel uncomfortable.
Casual sexism happens all the time. And yes, it was sexism. What would that man have said if I were a young man? He would have said “thank you” for holding the door open, because that’s all he actually should have said. Young men are to be respected, but I am to be coddled. I realize this is probably not what the man consciously meant when he called me “sweetie,” but that’s what it ultimately meant to me — I was seen as a sweet young thing to him, not a fellow adult enacting good manners.
Really, I would have preferred if he had just said “thank you.”
[Photo of sleazy guy via Shutterstock]
Contact the author at Mary.Odell@TheFrisky.com.