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August 25, 2007 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Riffing on a previous question, how do you deal with men who refer to you as 'Young Lady'?

I'm 31. Yes, I am a young lady as far as my age and gender goes, but it seems to be shorthand at car dealerships, Home Depot, auto parts stores, banks, etc when I am asking for something that I do know something about. Usually I blow it off or don't respond, but I'd really love to just cockpunch them. In most cases it's men who are 50+. How do I make them take me seriously and understand that 'Young Lady' is like patting me on the head and telling me to get back into the kitchen. Yeah, I've had a few to drink. Thanks.
posted by pieoverdone to Grab Bag (55 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Never post when you've had a few to many drinks.... :-\

I'm over 50, and I don't think I've ever referred to someone in a professional situation as a "young lady"...

that said.

If I were to refer to someone as a "young lady" it would be a term of acknowledgement (young) and respect (lady). When you hear the term, especially used by someone in the 50+ age range, cut them some slack, you probably remind them of their daughter.

Now, if, during the sales process, they treat you like an idiot, go ahead and cockpunch them, that's a whole different ball game (no pun intended).

/I've only had a couple of glasses of wine....
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 PM on August 25, 2007

I walk out. I've walked out of car dealerships, car repair places, computer & electronics stores, I have asked home contractors to leave my home immediately. For the record, I am a year older than you, and I also work in IT/Ops (saw that in the other thread, not a stalker!). I might say something along the lines of how they lost my business for being condescending, or that I am a big girl, and not only can I handle myself, but I can do it intelligently. There has been more than one time that this happened with my husband around... if they say something to him, he'll flat out tell them they were being an ass.
posted by kellyblah at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

My dad does this often and we (his kids) all cringe. Thing is, he means no disrespect (quite the opposite), it's just that the honorific vocabulary used by his generation is a bit different.

Certainly there's a lot of baggage that comes with certain phrases, but I'd suggest you not assume the worst of intentions on the part of those who use these phrases unless their other behaviour is blatantly creepy.
posted by randomstriker at 6:17 PM on August 25, 2007

Without attempting to be confrontational here, after reading kellyblah's answer I have to suspect that there is a generation gap factor here.

I don't think that the term "young lady" in and of itself is demeaning, especially when used by someone who is my age. I was raised to believe that the term "lady" was respectful, the modifier "young" is only a term that perhaps expresses relative age.

Maybe things are different now (ok, of course things are different now), but in my opinion, the use of that term alone does not mean someone is being condescending or sexist.... There may also be cultural/regional/age factors that define what that term means.... don't jump to conclusions as to the quality of the individuals character based on that phrase alone......

again, see how the rest of the transaction goes and decide based on ALL the factors..
posted by HuronBob at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2007

In my 20s, I definitely walked out of car dealerships for just that kind of treatment. One guy asked about my jobs and I told him I had two and he said "Busy girl!" all patronizing-like (among other sexist things he said). I knew if I was a guy he wouldn't have said "Busy boy!"... and it really worked my last good nerve so I told him I'd changed my mind and walked out. All the way to the parking lot, other members of the sales staff trailed right behind me pleading with me to stay and apologizing. I explained very plainly that the guy's comments had really made me uncomfortable and I didn't want one of their cars any more. It was a bit of a scene. I'm pretty sure the guy learned his lesson, if only by losing a commission.

Flash forward a decade or two and nobody calls me a girl anymore unless they're just trying to butter me up. So don't worry, it'll fade. And then you'll miss it.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's crossgeneraltional cultural differences.

The Southern woman way to handle this is to look over your glasses (if you wear them) and say, slowly, "I beg your pardon?"
posted by konolia at 6:25 PM on August 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Learn to raise just one eyebrow. Use it gratuitously.
posted by anaelith at 6:27 PM on August 25, 2007 [6 favorites]

And HuronBob, I totally understand what she's feeling because I remember it vividly. You're an adult by law, but you're still close enough to childhood that your youth is evident, especially to older people who admire it. But the thing is, you want to be respected as an adult, you don't want people to just see you as a girl. Even though the people are trying to be kind and complimentary towards you, you just don't want to be a "young lady," you want to be treated as though you are a grown woman.

(In other words, it's kinda like that whole Britney dilemma... although unfortunately she didn't handle it very well! Pass the Cheetos, y'all! Daaang!)
posted by miss lynnster at 6:32 PM on August 25, 2007

I give it the 20 Year Rule: in non-work settings, anyone that much older than me may address me in the manner he or she chooses because well...relative to them, I am young. And while I have few claims to lady-like behavior, I'd rather not resort to cockpunching and remove all doubt.

In work settings, however, when there's my money/credibility/career on the line? Game on.
posted by jamaro at 6:34 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

i hate to say it, but ignoring it is probably the way to go. the kind of people who say that sort of thing are not the sort of people who are going to be very receptive to reeducation.

if the mood is right, you might laugh and say, "young lady? where?" or "flattery won't get you anywhere with me, young fellow."

alternatively, you could just respond by calling the guy "young man."

"how can i help you today, young lady?"
"well, young man, i was wondering if you could direct me to the drill bits."
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:38 PM on August 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Miss Lynnster..

I've been reading these responses to my wife (who, compared to me IS a "young lady"), she suggested the use of the word "female".... I'm not sure about that, but I'm going to give it a try the next time the opportunity arises...

"Young Female".... hmmmm...
posted by HuronBob at 6:44 PM on August 25, 2007

How do I deal with someone who calls me a young lady? Well, I am about your age and this does happen to me sometimes too. Usually I try to figure out what the person's intention is in calling me a young lady--if it is because he is an older gentleman who thinks he is being flattering/polite, and is otherwise treating me with respect, then I just let it go. If it's part of a larger pattern of condescending behaviour, part of an attempt to belittle my competence or intelligence, then I inform the person that he is being patronizing, that I don't appreciate being patronized and that I am taking my business elsewhere.

You could also respond to someone who insists on calling you "young lady" by calling him "old man."

On preview: Ha ha thinking woman!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:44 PM on August 25, 2007

Well, young lady, you should just respond with "little boy" or "old man". Be prepared to walk away from the situation and find someone who will treat you with the respect you deserve for choosing to patronize their establishment. You're spending your money there, you should feel comfortable. Be able to explain yourself to their management in extreme cases to get them in trouble for condescension and disrespect.
posted by knowles at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2007

"how can i help you today, young lady?"
"well, young man, i was wondering if you could direct me to the drill bits."

Having worked at a hardware store, most the guys would think you're just trying to be funny and either laugh or make a smart remark back assuming that's what you were aiming for. Or not even notice your remark and just skip to the drill bits.

Anyways, from a guy's perspective, this is interesting. I had no idea that females found "young lady," to be offensive. Then again, I'm 25 and never had the need to use it.
posted by jmd82 at 7:06 PM on August 25, 2007

How do I make them take me seriously and understand that 'Young Lady' is like patting me on the head and telling me to get back into the kitchen.

By acting like an adult and not "cockpunching" them.

Just tell'em you find that condescending, realize that weren't trying to be that way and could they refer to you as Miss "your name here". In short tell'em to knock it off and attend to business.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:09 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

The proper counterpart/response to "young lady" is "old goat."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:28 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't think that the term "young lady" in and of itself is demeaning, especially when used by someone who is my age.

If someone you're doing business with chooses to call you "young lady" instead of simply "ma'am," that's probably highly correlated with them not taking you seriously.

I've been reading these responses to my wife (who, compared to me IS a "young lady"), she suggested the use of the word "female"....

No, try a simple "ma'am." Or Ms. Surname, and allow her to correct you to miss or mrs if that's her preference.

And yes, I'd also suggest ignoring it except for high-ticket items, and then to walk out (unless you think you're actually getting a particularly good deal).

And, if you're ever in a position to supervise people who talk to customers, to reinforce that your customer's age is not a suitable matter for comment, and all customers are simply ma'am or sir.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on August 25, 2007

I like being called young lady.
posted by astruc at 7:34 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe my perspective is different because I was raised in Texas, but it's not unusual for people to be addressed as young lady. It's not meant to be offensive at all. Men (and sometimes women) will use the term when they think ma'am won't fit because the woman is too young. They consider "miss" and "young lady" interchangeable. I bet if you talked to the guy that called you young lady, he would be very surprised that you found it insulting since it probably never crossed his mind that it could or would be taken that way.
posted by GlowWyrm at 7:36 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

At work, I ignore it, unless I can make a joke about it. The over-50's guys who say this sort of thing are in management and I am not; it's not worth it.

If I'm buying something, I leave. I might explain why I'm leaving; I might not. It's not my job to re-educate the entire car industry workforce.

Aside to Brandon: It's Ms (not Miss) unless the woman specifies otherwise.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:39 PM on August 25, 2007

If you can't stomach being called young lady, do not move to the south, or you will spend the majority of your waking hours in an indignant state.
posted by jayder at 7:51 PM on August 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm your age, and I had this situation while interviewing a senior exec for a piece was writing. He was was twice my age and from a small town (not to belittle that, it's just the kind of place where people are a little rough around the edges, but a good place) He called me 'little girl'! (Um, I'm not exactly small, even for a grown woman).

Well, it was embarrassing, and I laughed it off, but then I thought it would be a good opportunity to establish some common ground with him and show him that despite my young appearance, I had a lot of experience in our industry. He definitely opened up to me the meeting ended very positively. Despite that weird comment, the whole interview was quite lovely.

However, the balance of power was definitely stacked against me. Obviously, where someone is trying to get YOUR money, you don't have to put up with any shit.

On the whole- I say humour the old, unless they're sleazebags and/or abusive. I have spent a LOT of time with men 50+ because of the industry I'm in, and I know that many of them are confused and awkward in how to relate to women of my generation and younger, but they mean well.

thinkingwoman is the greatest. She consistently knocks 'em out of the park with her AskMe comments.

/end of feelin'theMeFiLove derail
posted by solongxenon at 7:52 PM on August 25, 2007

Oh, I feel for you. What's even more infuriating for me is going to a department store and having the obviously teenage part-timer calling me "hun".

If it's annoying and patronizing enough, I just make my purchase elsewhere. But 50-plus gentleman? Echoing jamaro, let it go.

(Besides you know that in your head, you're thinking "middle-aged guy". You're just too much of an aware, adult woman to say say such things!)
posted by QueSeraSera at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2007

sorry, piece I was writing
posted by solongxenon at 7:54 PM on August 25, 2007

"Young lady" is how one addresses a minor who is misbehaving---and what ROU_Xenophobe said.
posted by brujita at 7:55 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You look them straight in the eye and say (coldly), "My name is Ms. Overdone, if you please."
posted by Violet Hour at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2007

It's not meant to be offensive at all.

Yes, because nothing that's commonplace in Texas could be even mildly offensive.

Why is the age of the person relevant? If there's any reason at all to call someone young something, it's to highlight their youth. In a business context, highlighting someone's youth is not complimentary; it's calling someone inexperienced and trying to a (very small) power relationship with the older person in charge.

Really, the best you can hope for is that the person calling an adult customer "young lady" isn't thinking about it at all, and the term is just so ingrained that it doesn't mean anything. If it means anything, it doesn't mean anything good.

Men (and sometimes women) will use the term when they think ma'am won't fit because the woman is too young.

But that's just it. People use "young lady" if the woman they're talking to is somehow "too young" to merit a standard term of respectful address. "Too young" to be treated as a full adult. "Too young" to be taken seriously.

I bet if you talked to the guy that called you young lady, he would be very surprised that you found it insulting since it probably never crossed his mind that it could or would be taken that way.

But by the same token, there are lots of well-meaning old people who sincerely don't understand why they shouldn't talk about "the coloreds down the street." It doesn't mean they're right; it just means they're easily confused.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

I agree with ROU_Xenophobe.

It's definitely a generational thing, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable, since in previous generations women weren't taken seriously or respected the way we should. So to me, using it necessarily goes along with a certain attitude about women that I disagree with.

And as much as I like the "young man" response (I LOLed), the truth is that "man" just isn't loaded the way "lady" is. If there was a word that implied all kinds of things about the behaviour of men and was used to cause shame, then that would might be an equivalent response. But there just isn't one. It's the way of the world.
posted by loiseau at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2007

When this happens to me I respond with the arched eyebrow, (thank you anaelith), "oh yeah, who are you calling a lady?" all mock insulted-like.
posted by picklebird at 8:21 PM on August 25, 2007

But that's just it. People use "young lady" if the woman they're talking to is somehow "too young" to merit a standard term of respectful address. "Too young" to be treated as a full adult. "Too young" to be taken seriously.

I've heard more than a few young women complain about being called ma'am. "They called me ma'am! I'm not old enough to be called ma'am!" So I disagree with your comment. Sometimes it seems like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I think this is the situation with a lot of women. They are so on guard with where they stand/how they are viewed, especially in the business place (and a lot of times rightly so) that they are too easily offended. I remember getting annoyed when my accountant would put "housewife" down for my occupation on our taxes. I was going to school so the idea of her putting "housewife" instead of "student" annoyed me to now end. Sometimes we, myself included so I'm not pointing fingers, are just way too easily offended.
posted by GlowWyrm at 8:24 PM on August 25, 2007

I don't think that the term "young lady" in and of itself is demeaning, especially when used by someone who is my age. I was raised to believe that the term "lady" was respectful, the modifier "young" is only a term that perhaps expresses relative age.

And I was raised to not inquire or comment upon a person's age. If I were to address someone as "old lady" or "old man", I don't think that would go over very well or win me any sales.

Would a 30 year old male be called "young man", or simply "sir"? In the NYC metro area, calling someone young lady is not common, and is quite often coupled with other sexist and condescending behaviour. So yes, I think that my reaction is completely normal for my situations.
posted by kellyblah at 8:30 PM on August 25, 2007

It's really contextual with me. Most of the time I don't mind. I'm sort of happy people recognize I'm female, but I'm probably an edge case. If I am peeved, either because I think someone's being condescending or trying to work some sort of power angle with me, I'd be more likely to just sort of look at them and say "what did you call me?" in some sort of genuinely confused looking way, or laugh and say "oh, grandpa, I'm pretty much your age, but thanks for the compliment"

I honestly think there are people who use this sort of thing as a way to tell a woman she looks young (and therefore to compliment her) some who do it because it's polite/etiquette where they come from and a small set of people who do it because they're jerkish oafs with antiquated ideas about gender or trying to show me my place, etc. Basically I'd rather give a jerkish off a free pass than insult someone who was genuinely trying to be agreeable, so I almost always let it go.
posted by jessamyn at 8:33 PM on August 25, 2007

Sometimes it seems like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I think this is the situation with a lot of women. They are so on guard with where they stand/how they are viewed, especially in the business place (and a lot of times rightly so) that they are too easily offended.

If we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't, then clearly it is not our "too easily offended"ness which is the source of the problem. Rather, our offense is our response to the fact that the situation is structured in a no-win situation. Blame the unjust situation, not our varied responses to it.
posted by kch at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2007

Depends on the intent behind the remark. Some old guys are smiling sweet guys who refer to every young person as "young lady/man" or "my boy/my girl." These guys, while using the moment to establish their advanced age, are more likely being playful about it than anything.

But if someone's doing it to be condescending or pull rank, it's on. I have had to school a car salesman for calling my fifty year-old mother and I "girls" a half dozen times, most of which whenever we were asking about specific features like mileage, etc.

If you think someone's acting this way, I personally don't think there's anything wrong with making a small remark that shows you don't like it. For example:

OLD DUDE: Excuse me young lady, do you work here?

YOU: (looks around) Are you talking to me? Sorry, I haven't worked here since high school...that was, oh, a decade ago -1996!


OLD DUDE: Excuse me young lady, pass me one of those kleenex.

YOU: Oh, my name's Sarah, actually. (passes tissue) You're welcome.
posted by SassHat at 8:46 PM on August 25, 2007

I agree with ROU_Xenophobe, brujita, and loiseau.

While in theory I definitely view the term "young lady" as a pitiful attempt to assert a power differential, in reality I usually don't comment on being referred to that way unless there are other condescending behaviors involved. I'm fuming inside whenever I hear the phrase, but in the end I feel like it's not usually worth the effort that an attempt at "re-education" would entail.

I do try to be understanding of the fact that older men were raised in a context much different than I was, and while I absolutely do not see that as an excuse it's something to take into consideration.

Far worse than being called "young lady" are experiences like not being waited on at stores (while men are waited on all around me), being told I should reconsider my career plans ("you know it's mostly men working in that environment, right? (which isn't true any longer...this is 2007, NOT 1957!!!)), and the many other ways in which I am treated due to my assumed age.

Telling me that when I'm older I'll wish people were still calling me "young lady" is annoying as well. Maybe it's a rare way to be in this time and place, but I like myself more with each year that passes. I plan to age gracefully rather than lament my lost youth. I also plan to enjoy the increased freedom I'll have from the uncomfortable knowledge that men are objectifying my body wherever I go.

OP, I'd suggest choosing your battles where this kind of sexist behavior is concerned, and put the energy into doing something more important than trying to change the proverbial zebra's stripes. If you do resort to violence, however, know that many of us feel like responding that way too. Feel free to land a solid punch for me.

For context, I am slightly younger than the OP...but I am NOT a young lady. More than anything, I am a human being.
posted by splendid animal at 9:10 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you have to look at the context. You're probably not really going to accomplish anything with someone 20 years older than you. If they are clearly being condescending, tell them.

It's probably that they think "ma'am" is not welcome in women of a certain age. I'm a woman and, when I worked in customer service roles, some women would freak out when I called them "ma'am". I'd get lectures about how they weren't running a brothel, how they weren't that old, how honorifics were outdated, etc. Or they'd look around and say (with real surprise), "You mean me?" I personally found calling someone "miss" offensive, so I refused to use that. But some people would insist that they were a "miss".

Likewise, "lady" on its own probably doesn't sound very endearing to the clerk's ears. So he throws in "young" to soften it.

Unless the entire interaction connotes sexism, it's probably not meant to be condescending. So I think you have to exercise judgment.

Now, if I'm with my husband or father when I'm making a purchase and the clerk directs all the attention to the male, I say, "Excuse me. I'm buying this. Not him." And once, I called Home Depot and demanded and received a 25% price reduction when their contractor left sawdust all over my floor (after my husband had said it was okay to saw inside) and then said, "Well, what does your husband think?" when I asked him to clean it up.

So consider what you'll get from your response.
posted by acoutu at 9:38 PM on August 25, 2007

With a lot of older guys, it's "young lady" is just a more homey, informal way of saying "ma'am". They won't use your first name without being invited. Unless they know your name, Ms. doesn't work like "sir." You can't just go around calling people "Miss" because they might be a Mrs. and get offended. Ms. and Mrs. sound stupid if not followed by the actual name.

I hate the way "ma'am" sounds, myself. Saying it makes me want to wear a cowboy hat and spit chewing tobacco. On the other hand, "madam" is even worse - makes me want to beat myself up.

Now, when a woman of a certain age calls me "dear" it drives me up the damn wall. I don't think they mean anything by it either, though.
posted by ctmf at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

For me to address a woman directly as "young lady" would feel inappropriate --- even if it were a child, I think I would say "ma'am."

However, I can imagine speaking to someone else about a young woman and referring to her as a "young lady."

Is that sexist? I wouldn't say it in a condescending way, but as an attempt to describe her --- in my mind, at least, it has exactly the same meaning as "young woman" and would be used interchangeably with that phrase.
posted by jayder at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2007

It gets better. Wait til you're not a young lady anymore and then have some probably-well-intentioned man call you "young lady." It happens to me from time to time and I thinkl it's a feeble attempt to oh, I don't know, comfort me because I'm not a young lady anymore? But it sounds so condescending that I just want to well, cockpunch sounds like a good option. And yes, what IS the deal with hardware stores? The last time I was in a male bastion of hardware, I totally got the condescension treatment, only from a male customer. WTF, guys? Chicks need hardware too.
posted by Lynsey at 10:17 PM on August 25, 2007

Just because someone doesn't think what they say is offensive, doesn't make it offensive.

Situational ethics here, pick your battles. Stand up for yourself but, as well, thicken your skin so when you fight those battles you can do so with a clear head and not exclusively from a point of emotion.
posted by edgeways at 11:25 PM on August 25, 2007

If a place offends you, don't do business there. If someone at your workplace offends you, explain why.

But don't assume every man who calls you "young lady" assumes you are an incompetent. Older men were raised to use that as a friendly, respectful term of address, and a lot of them probably mean to be only that: friendly and respectful.

If you have to say something about it, you could try telling him in a friendly and respectful and controlled manner (not a spiky and indignant manner, and certainly not in any way that makes them think you are acting like a huffy little girl) that it's time to update his business language skills. Let him know (without insulting him) that he sounds like something out of the 1950s, but that it would be easy for him to fix, and it probably would be good for his career.

The idea is to make things better, not worse, and better for everyone, not just better for yourself.
posted by pracowity at 11:30 PM on August 25, 2007

i was going to comment on how "young lady" didn't seem that bad, except since i'm not a lady i decided to keep quiet.

but then i realised i had faced something similar. here in chile i am sometimes called - despite being 40 - "joven" which means "young person", and it used to drive me crazy. i finally worked out a response which was to reply with "viejo" (old person). so an exchange would something like "buenos dias joven" "hola viejo"...

i was quite pleased with this until a really nice woman at work addressed me this way and i replied - by then, without thinking - straight back with "old lady". her face fell, i realised i had really hurt her, and felt extremely stupid.

since then it's not bothered me. i realised it was just a cultural thing (related, as far as i can work out, to how i dress). now in my case (gringo in s america) it's a lot easier to "believe" in "cultural differences", but i get the impression the same is true here (perhaps you would call it "generational difference" instead).

(having said that "busy girl" seems way too much)
posted by andrew cooke at 11:59 PM on August 25, 2007

While most strangers don't say it, I hate when people call me "girly." Even friends. Not as in saying "oh you love pink, you're so girly..." that wouldn't bother me. It's when they say "Hey girly, come here."
posted by IndigoRain at 2:09 AM on August 26, 2007

I only seem to get young lady in a pick up line sort of way (I guess I enjoy this, along with 'miss teststrip')... But I imagine if a bus driver or some other annoying context use came up I'd just ignore them, especially if they were asking me a question. Ignorance is blissful revenge.
posted by teststrip at 2:50 AM on August 26, 2007

I'm a "young lady," and it doesn't bother me at all, even in the rare instances when it feels condescending - I know who I am and if others need to project some sort of superiority that's their problem. I've survived terrible things in my life and I'm still here, and pretty successful in the areas which mean something to me.

I agree with Miss Lynnster - there's an age when perhaps it sounds a bit rude, but you'll miss it eventually. From an older person, I think it sounds polite. From a younger person, a bit flirty. And as a woman, I would say "young man" to a guy in the same circumstances. And most every language I know has a similar expression used for politeness.

To return to the original post - many older guys who work service or sales jobs were taught to use this expression from politeness. So take it for what it's meant to be. It may have an element of sexism, but it's harmless and only rarely intended to demean. It can sound a little patriarchally protective, but anyone put off by the archaic nature of chivalry amongst strangers is either too sensitive or has some other issues. I'd rather live in a world where manners are a bit antiquated than in a world where we address each other as "Comrade" - I've been there, and it wasn't very nice.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:12 AM on August 26, 2007

Context is everything. I've been called a young man in a condescending way and a polite way. Hopefully you can distinguish between the two.

If it is being said in a dismissing manner, please do call them out on it and/or walk out. If it's said politely, it's up to you if you want to call them out on it or take it on face-value.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:40 AM on August 26, 2007

This may surprise you, but people don't always treat men with all the respect and deference that they feel they deserve, either. Up until I was about 35 and all my hair had fallen out, I used to get called "young man" regularly in business by people over 50.

The phrase is a funny mix of respect and condescension, but I noticed that different people meant it in different ways. Sometimes it was intended to show respect despite my inexperience, sometimes it was a way of putting me in my place, and sometimes it was part of a general hazing to see how I stood up under pressure. It only rattled me when I already felt insecure.

Men get treated with disrespect or even outright challenges every day. How they respond is up to them. If you feel that political considerations mean that "young lady" is somehow unacceptable in a way that "young man" isn't, then you're just perpetuating the stereotype that women are easily offended and need to be treated with special care. You want respect? Deal with the person in front of you with grace and good humor.
posted by fuzz at 3:50 AM on August 26, 2007

Depends on the intent behind the remark. Some old guys are smiling sweet guys who refer to every young person as "young lady/man" or "my boy/my girl." These guys, while using the moment to establish their advanced age, are more likely being playful about it than anything.

But if someone's doing it to be condescending or pull rank, it's on.

This is a sensible reaction. Knee-jerk "OMG he called me 'young lady,' I hate him and I'm outta here!" is not.

Yeah, I didn't like being called "young man" when I was a young man, but I got over it. Seriously, context is everything.
posted by languagehat at 7:24 AM on August 26, 2007

I usually just get ignored in places of business, especially if I'm with a man. They talk to him and act as if I don't exist. Last night a waiter was looking at my male dinner companion while I was ordering my meal. Sadly for him, I was the one who was paying and leaving the tip.

Part of it may be that I'm extremely petite.
posted by desjardins at 7:32 AM on August 26, 2007

OP, while your feelings are legit, not all of these types of utterances are the same, nor do they warrant a homogenous response.

Best advice, IMO, is to learn to recognize relevant, intentional, condescending behavior and discriminate it from unintentional, generational, inarticulate, shy, clumsy behavior. Some people are creeps; some are just not good at interaction for their own set of reasons.

Armed with discrimination, you can choose from a variety of response options, which can range from ignoring it, using it as an educational opportunity, being assertive about your preferences, or being hostile/actively aggressive, depending on the demands of the moment and the importance of the interaction.

Once you are a master of this, you'll be competent in adult human behavior, and until you do, you might not get many recognitions of your adulthood, nor will you likely deserve them.

It comes with the territory of being human. Managing conflict is a learned skill. Coldcocking someone will rightly land your ass in jail, and knee-jerk sour responses will get your equally deserved treatment in kind.
posted by FauxScot at 7:36 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another thought: The day will come when you have lost touch with the ever-changing culture and are unaware of the latest fashions in how cool people interact. You will inevitably wind up addressing someone, entirely inadvertently, in a way that makes them bristle. Treat the out-of-touch people now in whatever way you would prefer to be treated when you become an out-of-touch person.
posted by languagehat at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

After reading all these responses, I think the best overall response is just to tell anyone who uses this or any other generic address that bothers you what you'd prefer to be called. As in:

Someone: Blah blah blah, young lady.
You: Oh, you can call me [whatever].

The advantage to this is that it can cover all sorts of intents. If someone's being truly condescending or misogynistic, then you can say it very pointedly, getting your reaction across while also giving him no excuse to continue (because he has something else to call you). If it's an innocent flub by someone who means well, you can say it friendly, mostly just introducing yourself, while still letting him know in a polite way that you'd prefer not to be called that.

It's easy to say "oh, most people don't mean it that way," but there's still something wrong with the idea that a term with such gender/power implications can be considered so innocuous. Still, you don't want to be a jerk about it if the other person isn't. You can react without overreacting by tailoring your response to their attitude without totally ignoring it.

What I haven't figured out is how to react to those over-50 men who seem to intentionally provoke just for their own entertainment, nothing else. Do you ignore, because what they're looking for is the reaction? Or is it really the silent discomfort that gets them off? I don't know.
posted by lampoil at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Pieoverdone: How would you like these men--such as myself-- to address you? It seems ma'am, miss, ms and definitely young lady, will all get furrowed brows and are dangerous territory.

I've tended to avoid it all.
"Hi, could you point me toward the Depends aisle?

Really, what would you prefer?
posted by artdrectr at 1:17 PM on August 26, 2007

I knew this one would be fun....

It would be great if the OP would let us know what she garnered from this and how she intends to respond in the future...

as for me...it's just "hey, you" from now on! :)
posted by HuronBob at 3:47 PM on August 26, 2007

I really would prefer that people avoid it altogether, it's usually not necessary anyway. "Thank you, have a nice day!" sounds just as nice to me as "Thank you ma'am, have a nice day!" And some people go waaay overboard with it, too, like a substitute for name repeating when they can't get you to give them your name. It's smarmier than the MS paper clip.
posted by anaelith at 6:57 PM on August 26, 2007

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