Call me…?

I went to bed early tonight after realizing i was writing gibberish for my Tuesday Democrat column. i had finished a wonderful historical novel earlier, hoping concluding it would inspire me to write well. It didn’t.

As i was readying for an early bedtime, i checked my email and Facebook page to see if anything interesting had popped up or if someone had asked for a response. On Facebook, i found a post from a dear friend. She is super intelligent, well-thought, wonderful fun, and passionate about equality.

The post bothered me. i woke up after about an hour and couldn’t go back to sleep because i kept thinking about the post. So here i am, after midnight, puzzling.

It was a video of a woman telling of being insulted in a bar because she was called “pretty” and “girl” by a bunch of guys at the bar who, in my experience, are nearly always clumsy and inappropriate when trying to meet people of the other sex in that environment. Many are just downright rude and on the make. So i could understand why she might be repulsed.

i must confess i did not watch the entire video. So i may be jumping the gun here, but i just couldn’t make myself listen to this…er, person complaining about what people called her. Apparently, being told you are pretty is an insult, and it’s even worse to be called a girl.

My friend surprised me as her comment on the video was to the effect being called “lady” is an insult.

The exchange took me back to the early 1990’s and Detroit. i had been selected to be a facilitator for a marketing blitz for a new line of Chrysler cars. We had gone through each session of the two-day program and had begun what in the Navy we called “murder boarding,” i.e. a facilitator would present the session to his or her peers and afterwards be critiqued. The idea was to catch mistakes and lessen the chance of those mistakes happening with any of the group.

The group consisted of twenty-four of the distaff population and three men…er, persons of masculine gender. One of these came from Spokane, Washington; another was a super car salesman…er, salesperson from Los Angeles, and then there was me. i wasn’t quite ready for what occurred next. i had already become aghast earlier when a colleague with my Navy background insisted we could not call those easel pads “flip charts” as it was an insult to Filipinos. i told him i didn’t believe it, that he was just looking for insults, and i didn’t give a flip.

This person from Spokane did a pretty nice job. The critiques from the group pretty much confirmed his performance when a very fit young person of opposite gender (she ran survival leadership training for executives out of Seattle) stood up for her comments. i later was told this critiquer (sorry, but i’m trying to not offend anyone), complimented the presenter, but then added, “But you made one terrible mistake.”

“What was that,” this critiquer was asked.

“Several times, you addressed your audience as ‘ladies and gents.’ It is an insult to call me ‘lady.’ You are just asking for trouble.”

A smaller person raised her hand. “Excuse me, but i like being called a lady. I take it as a compliment.”

Another person responded, “You can call me ‘lady’ but don’t ever call me ‘woman.'”

And so it began. These twenty-four people all had a different idea of what was appropriate or insulting and none appeared to agree. The raising of hands ceased. The voices became louder and shriller. Soon, there were individuals, red in the face, shouting vehemently at each other. Not one of these people seemed to agree on what they should be called. It was not pretty.

The person being critiqued backed up against the front wall in attempt to make himself invisible. i slid down in my seat trying to disappear. i looked over and the usually bellicose super salesperson was also sliding down low, out of target line.

After what seemed like several days to the three other non-participants but was likely not more than ten minutes, the lead trainer returned. This person was a rather large person of the same gender as those arguing.

“What’s going on,” the lead demanded. It took a few minutes to quieten the group down and get a response. The three of the other gender knew better than to provide any explanation.

When the cause was determined, the lead said, “This is crazy. If you unintentionally insult someone, you can always tell them you are sorry. Now, let’s get on with it.”

Now fifteen years later, i’m being told i can’t call those of the opposite sex anything. i have always called women for whom i have the utmost respect “Ladies.” It was my highest compliment…i thought. Now, i find out it’s an insult. I also am required to not call any female (are “woman” and “female” acceptable?) “girl.” i quite frequently use this term as one of encouragement as in “you go, girl.” i use it for all ages with the intent of being friendly and positive.

Groups keep telling me what i can’t call them. Often they use the terms among themselves but it is insulting if someone outside the group calls them such.

Most people who know me agree that i am for total equality. i was a champion of the Navy’s women-at-sea program when i was executive officer of one of the first ships with women as part of the crew. i believe that indigenous tribal people, many of whom are family and close friends, should be treated respectfully, equally and have their property rights accepted without encroachment, private or government. i strive in my own way to acknowledge people of other ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference as equal.

i hate biased, racist, bigoted, narrow-minded idiots.

But i am getting tired of people telling me i can’t use words.

i am or have been called paleface, cowboy, redneck, honky, rube, shorty, goober, SOB, asshole, twerp, goofball, dweeb, junior jock, mister, master, monkey, turkey, jackass, all Navy officer ranks up to commander, and a whole bunch of other things.  i don’t think i’ve every been called “lord,” but i have been called “gentleman,” and “gent.”

i do not object.

i will take those names in stride as i will assume the person calling me one of those names has no ill intent. If they do have ill intent, then i will confront them and deal with them personally, privately. If people are out of line in their name calling of other folks, i will step in and correct it if possible.

i have been lumped together with people because of the way i look, the way i talk, and whatever group with whom i am classified. That is wrong. Flat wrong.

The sad thing is so many people, so many movements, get so wrapped up and upset with words, even with no idea what the person mouthing those words really meant. As the Virginian said to Trampas in Owen Wister’s novel when the the villain called him “son of a bitch:”  “When you say that, smile!”

But for now, i guess i’m just going to have to start calling everyone “Hey, you.”

Now, i am going back to bed. i have a column deadline midday tomorrow, but now i am tired.

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