Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sweetie, Dear, Mommi


Today's NYTimes has a front page piece about the indignity foisted on persons in the over 60 demoograhic by calling them knee jerk endearments like "sweetie, dearie and hon." To which I personally but with very little rancor "mommi" which the Hispanic coffee vender calls me. Maybe because it's not my culture and I don't understand all it's nuances, he doesn't sound belittling when he says, "Good morning, Mommi, black no sugar." Names have never been exchanged and if he said "ma'am" I'd feel like some ersatz dowager.

However the "dearie/sweetie" thing is pervasive in senior care centers and many other places, it can be waiters or store clerks or, too often, doctors and nurses. Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale believes it's worse than insulting, it's insidious and leads to a "negative image of aging." Well, leave it to the researchers to be the last to know. The only time I say "sweetie" is to very small children or domestic animals that weigh less than fifteen pounds. The word is infantilizing, including when a husband calls his wife by the name.

Adding insult to injury, the Times article quotes Bill Bonner, and Idahoan with white hair and neat white beard [by no means the Santa sort- his pic is in the paper] who takez serious umbridge when asked "Who did you used to be?" And I don't blame him, as he says you should not be subtle when answering such stupidity. His answer is "I am a human being who cares about others." That is somewhat too subtle, I think, for the kind of boobs who would ask such a question. But outright belligerence would be dumb, too. One simply needs to say, "That is an unkind question." It might be a little wittier to answer the question with a question of the "Do you mean am I the guy who won the Nobel prize in physics in 1973?" or something along that line. Well, each person needs an answer that fits the situation and it's better to have one semi-prepared. Or at least be prepared to meet rudeness with a dignified counter of some sort.

But the point made by Dr. Levy is that there is plenty of agism in the world; we should recognize it's subtler forms but not let them define us. We're old enough to know who we are and I'm really not a "dearie" type, never have been and don't aspire to be, let along a "sweetie". I won't argue with Ma'am or Lady unless the tone is tells me I really ought to shock the pipsqueak with, "Who you calling lady in that &*&^&&* tone of voice you %^mf^$#$ runt.?" Well, no -- that's not my style either.

Let me tell you this article was a much better read than the much lager one about the magic shrinking act going on downtown on Wall Street. [And in case anyone is wondering, the orchids above are from a street fair yesterday.]

1 comment:

magikquilter said...

Haven't had that happen to me yet...my thing is when older men call me young lady!!!! Am recently turned 53....what is it with that I wonder?

I am at present finding ageism against the younger generation, my son was once assaulted by an over eighty year old man with a walking stick because he did not move fast enough out of his way. Nobody did or said anything. Can you imagine if my son had assaulted the older man what the public response would have been?