- Gender and Relationships
From Miss to Ma'am - When Did THAT Happen?
Millennium Ma'am (2015)
A memoir from 2005
One bright Spring day in 2005, as I was crossing Michigan Avenue, I heard a woman’s voice from behind me shouting “Ma’am! Ma’am! You dropped your scarf!” It wasn’t until I heard “scarf” that I realized she was talking to ME, and that indeed the scarf I’d worn that day was no longer around my neck. But I was mortified that she referred to me as “ma’am” instead of “miss”! When did I turn into a “ma’am”???
I think the first thing I noticed was that “Miss” generally doesn’t wear neck scarves – except the bulky type to keep warm in winter. She doesn’t wear the type of flat, rubber-soled, practical shoes like I was wearing. Generally, Miss is an obviously younger (under 30) woman – wearing stiletto heels, short, tight clothes, carrying a trendy, designer handbag. Though I was only 49 and one year away from my AARP membership, I was lucky enough to look 5-10 years younger than the age indicated by the birth date on my driver’s license. But like most women my age, by then I dressed for comfort rather than style and fashion – a sure sign of “ma’am-dom”!
My informal research on this topic included asking my friends and associates “When do you call a female “Miss” versus “Ma’am”? Most hadn’t given the issue a conscious thought. Neither had they noticed or remembered which term was used when someone addressed THEM. So my thought-provoking questions included: Do you call someone you perceive as younger or who is obviously younger than you “Ma’am”? Do you call someone who is perceived as or obviously OLDER than you “Miss”? One of the responses I received was based on culture/upbringing. “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” were used commonly and extensively in and by her family members. It was a sign of respect for one’s elder – related or not. (Note: “Elder” is a major component here!) By contrast, the women in my immediate and extended family – regardless of age - had a very distinct dislike for the “Ma’am” designation so it was banned from use. Apparently, I inherited that dislike. No matter how old a woman was, if she wasn’t an official “Auntie” by blood or marriage but close enough to the family to BE one, she was referred to as “Miss So-‘n’-so”. But never as “Ma-am”.
As the Journey Continues
Over the past 10 years, I’ve accepted that being considered a “Ma’am” is one of those stepping stones along the journey to maturity (senior-hood). But in my mind, the journey is right up there with keeping the gray hair hidden for a while longer. My contribution to the “Miss” versus “Ma’am” dilemma is to refer to EVERY woman – regardless of perceived or obvious age – as “Miss”. One reason is because it is MY preference to be called that. The other is because it makes my day when someone calls me “Miss” (or, OHMYGOSH – “young lady”, usually by someone who looks or whom I perceive to be old enough to be my father or mother. So when I have the opportunity to perhaps make some older woman’s day by calling her “Miss” or “Young Lady” instead of “Ma’am”, I do. And they enjoy it.
Aging is hard enough without others ‘aging’ you before your time. And I’m having difficulty realizing that the time has come.