So. After a lifetime of being told to respect my elders, authority, be polite to everyone, I had a … things that make me go hmmmm moment recently. Before I explain, I should also note that I pride myself on having spent most of my adult life promoting diversity in one way or another. I try to be culturally sensitive and aware.
Now, imagine the big lightbulb that went off when another League leader, someone I’d say is basically in my peer group even though she’s a Sustainer (life member) and I’ve yet to move into that member class, pointed out that one reason she doesn’t feel so comfortable at “Active Member” events is the ma’am factor.
Here’s the thing. There’s nothing like a well-intentioned, good-manners “ma’am” to put up a wall where there shouldn’t be one. I know this; I’ve been gently laughing off “ma’ams” sent *MY* way by rookies in the fire service for several years now. I don’t care about being one of the boys, but I also don’t want to be the (now former) chief’s wife in her ivory tower either. My standard approach is to sweetly interrupt the speaker who ma’am’d me with something like, “Oh, that’s not necessary! You get brownie points for good manners this time, but it’s just Chan in the future, please?”
But somehow, I wasn’t able to transfer my own discomfort to those situations in the League where a “ma’am” was innocently tossed out and see that it’s impossible to claim we’re all one League, one big ol’ peer group, when we’re ma’amming and such.
Keep in mind this isn’t church. This isn’t a professional setting. This is a civic group, where the President is roughly 20 years older than the youngest member, and we won’t talk about how much older the oldest member might be than said President.
Help me. How do we convey the message that ma’am is divisive within the confines of our League? And I should clarify… virtually every woman within ear shot of said conversation chimed in and agreed that a well-meant “ma’am” had made her feel… old at some point or another. Even the young, 30-something in the group had already had a few years’ worth of such experiences, because she works at UVA, and let’s face it, some college students think anyone over 25 is ANCIENT. Plus, UVA is a good ol’ Southern school, so I’d like to think manners abound and anyone of authority gets sir’d or ma’am’d…