"I was ma'am'd yesterday." I heard a woman's voice behind me at the checkout say.
I turned slightly, feigning interest in the magazine rack and the latest in celebrity news as I discreetly side-eyed the two women having the conversation. (Masks make discreet staring much easier.)
The woman speaking, and her friend, were both in their late 30s/early 40s if they were a day. They certainly looked to be 'adult' and odds are, that between the two of them, there was probably a child or two and possibly a husband. Surely, at that age a women would not expect to be called 'miss', I thought to myself.
Somewhere along the way in our youth-obsessed and ageist culture we have lost the concept of simple respect.
Ma'am, by a collection of definitions is: 'a respectful or polite address used for a woman, any adult woman, any married woman or woman with a child'. As a child growing up in northern middle-class America we were taught to address adults as 'sir' or 'ma'am' accordingly unless you were asked by them to use their name. It was what you did, and according to my friends from the South, still widely expected and accepted. If I am addressed by 'miss' now, I find it slightly condescending unless the vocalizer of such title is at least 80.
'Miss' brings up images of a young pre-teen. 'Miss' is innocence, possibly a bit of ignorance simply from not having experienced life yet. 'Miss' is dad picking you up from babysitting, first kisses, and summer afternoons spent dreaming of what life will be. 'Miss' is ducklips and crazy filters as she explores who she will become. 'Miss' is something a 30 plus year old woman should be happy to have once been and happy to have grown from. 'Miss' is now your niece, your daughter, your granddaughter. 'Miss' is who looks up to you for guidance.
'Ma'am' is the abbreviated version of madam. How elegant is that?
'Ma'am' has done things. She has experienced things. . .good things and terrible things. She's been devastated and risen again. She knows the value of things. She has had hopes and dreams dashed and gone back to the drawing board to start again. She is power. She is woman. She is invincible. Her presence commands respect. She is ma'am.
This fear of being referred to as old apparently concerns males as well. Overhearing a cashier telling a man to 'have a nice day sir', he promptly turned around and near shouted 'Don't call me sir!' I wanted to intrude and politely ask if he would prefer 'dude'?
So, if you are a woman, be it of 25 or 85, and are respectfully referred to as ma'am, either offer your name or take a moment to respect how far you have come from your days of 'miss'.
Madam Jody Johnson