“How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.*
The plumber called the other day to make an appointment to fix some pipes in my “old” condo. Obviously, he just assumed because I live in a senior community that I was old like my pipes. When we agreed on the date he said, “Okay Dear, we’ll be there right on time.” Somehow this caught my attention, because his dear came across as conciliatory. I told the technician to inform his scheduler that I was not a doddering old fool. I preferred to be called by my name. I am sure that this was an over reaction on my part, however it is a habit that is all too common amongst young service people. Just recently, a waiter called me “my dear” on at least 5 different occasions during my meal.
Dear is a word almost always reserved for women. But not always used as an endearing term. Amongst partners, it is often used as a pacifier.” Yes, dear, I’ll get right to it!”
Dear denotes something special, precious or loving. But it is a word that is prone to inflection and can have a cutting edge to it. Surely the plumber who never met me, didn’t love me, so why did he call me dear?
Sweetheart is another of those words that when used by a customer to a clerk, boss to helper, can be taken in a deprecating manner.
“Look, sweetheart, I said I wanted that report done now!” Whoops! No sweetness in that remark.”
Throughout the years women have accepted the use of diminutive terms such as good girl, sweetie, and dearie in the office. For me, it simply wasn’t worth losing my job or making an issue out of it. In fact it was expected. We didn’t find our public voice until much later. Somehow it took the NOW in your face types to get the point across. (This is another discussion)
I think that when I hear the “dear” thing it sounds like this to me:
“Listen, Old Lady, don’t get in a tizzy, we’ll be there on time! Not to mention that we know that you will be waiting to stand over our shoulders telling us what to do.”
I do get it. Old people, women in particular are seen as kitchen dwellers. We, (older women) are ilk to this guy’s mother. It is impossible for them to see beyond our aging façade. They cannot possibly know that we were once in the work force.
In my younger days, I worked on construction sites. It was my job, in part, to supervise the placement of finished product in new homes and build-outs in commercial rentals. I am used to being around contractors, having been married to one and being the mother of another. I enjoy shoptalk. But nevertheless, I find that the males do often not take me very seriously in my family or the men on committees at my condo.
Another ‘guy’ who may have been an engineer at an electronics company has more credibility than me even though he never built anything in his life. I still feel as though I am ‘dearie’ when I try to enter into discussions about construction. At the design level, my advice is heeded. In truth, I am just as happy to turn over the blueprints and the toolbox to the “boys”. They are still of a generation that is used to gender roles. Boy’s build, girls decorate.
Women can get by with more. We can assert our knowledge, or play dumb if we prefer to stay out of the way. But I will not be put-off by a dude with a truck who thinks he can get tell grandma that she needs a new condenser for the AC when in fact it only needs a cleaning and new filter.
I have a friend who is a vice-Commodore of a yacht club. She tells me that some of the men refer to her as Sally, even though her name is Meredith. Merry can beat women twenty years her junior at tennis. She has been ‘a-sea’ for many years and would not have earned her title had she not been able. However, there are the few old timers who would still diminish her with a deprecating term.
As soon as we begin to show ‘visible signs of aging’ it is assumed that we don’t know anything. It is worse for older men because they are used to being identified by their jobs…. and being a “used to be’ is very hard on their egos. So when a plumber with 5 years on the job comes to the door of a 50-year veteran, there is bound to be a little shoptalk. It’s okay except when the older guy tells the young guys the way they ‘used’ to do it.
Men get into it with the term pal. “Hey pal, didn’t you see me in your rear view mirror?”
We know they are not pals. The word is usually dragged out a bit. “Hey, paaal,” the very sound of which raises the hair on the back of most manly necks. Eyes bulge and fists clench. A ‘hey, pal’ is tantamount to a challenge.
So, the next time, some hunky type calls me dear in that demeaning manner which is reserved for older women who need help crossing the street, I plan to put on my dumb face, look into sweetly into his eyes and ask “have we met before paaal? I don’t recall.”