Friday, February 24, 2012

Misses, Elles and Chiennes

Hitler in drag, with a streak of vanity that dwarfed her Cadillac El Dorado...
Wrists jingled with gold bangles that matched the large dangly things hanging from her ears...
Half the Neiman-Marcus cosmetics counter resided on her face, while her perfume occupied half of Gardena for thirty minutes after she passed through...
"Bitch On Wheels" is not an overstatement...

Picture a Filipina Dolly Parton with perpetual PMS who took no shit from nobody, and you got a good image of Miss Cortez.

The only teacher I ever had who I can honestly say hated me. It was personal, and I gave it right back. That just made hate burn brighter, but I survived seventh grade despite it all... And the many visits to the principal's office, and a couple meetings with the Pastor... (In catholic school, the parish pastor was Lord of All, Master of the Realm, far up the food chain, and only got involved in school issues when all else failed. Instances as such were rare to non-existent. Such describes the situation that concerned me. Fortunately, he was a 'student advocate', dedicated to the cause of Catholic education*... and he liked me.)

That said, she was also one of the better teachers I ever had, wholly dedicated to her ministery. I learned a lot under her lash, though much of it wasn't in the lesson plan...

Given who and what level of respect she commanded, often times others would address her as Ms. Cortez.
This was a mistake only made once. She was a Miss, and insisted on it. She hated feminism, feminists, and all they stood for. She expected her doors opened, her chair pulled out/pushed in, her cigarette lit, her dinner paid for...

As she explained to the class: 'Miss' meant a lady was young, fresh and available to suitors. Only a stupid broad (her term) would use 'Ms', and risk not drawing the attention of her future Prince Charming. (She found him that year: The math nerd who taught the class next door; got hitched and dropped several babies over a seemingly short period of time.)

This 'lesson' would come full circle soon enough.
My freshman math teacher was Ms S- (and kinda cute for a 30-something). One student made the goof of addressing her as 'Miss' and was promptly corrected "It's Ms S-".
The student then asked "why Ms and what's the difference?"
I shot out: Cause she don't want a man. Haven't you learned anything from Miss Cortez?
Ms S-, taken a back, stared straight at me... "And what makes you say that?"
The class erupted, the turmoil allowing myself and Ms S- to avoid any further delving into the topic.

A few years later, a close family member met Ms S- at a birthday party for a mutual friend (all lesbians in attendance). She asked me if I remembered a Sharon S-. Well, yes I did, and fondly so.
'Did you know she was...?'
I had my suspicions, and explained the story. Didn't matter none to me. She was cool, and her and I got along fine.
Whatever it was, but I think she felt 'outted' by my outburst.
For the next three years she remembered me in the halls (out of hundreds of former math students), and took the time to say 'Hi' and chat a bit. Like she was trying to be 'OK' with me.
Ms S- liked me. And I liked her in return. It was personal.
A dramatic reversal of the 'Miss' just a few short years earlier.

This was the late 70s, early 80s. Attitudes were not as they are today.
Personally, it really, really didn't matter to me.
But the under-current of fear, especially working in a Catholic high school... I can see now why she treated me as she did (with extreme kindness).
And why, out of potentially thousands of former students, she remembered me.
I could have cost her her job. I feel bad about that.
No, seriously.

These memories and lessons came to mind recently after reading this article at MailOnline.
France is bidding adieu to the term ‘mademoiselle’ – on the grounds that it is ‘sexist’.
The Gallic equivalent of ‘Miss’ will be abolished from all Government documents because it suggests that a woman is available.
Kinda funny that with all of it's economic problems the French politicians love these important, republic threatening cultural diversions as much American politicians do.
Prime minister Francois Fillon has also banned the phrase ‘nom de jeune fille’, meaning ‘maiden name’, from official paperwork because it is ‘archaic’ and has ‘connotations of virginity’.
God forbid anybody thinks there might be a virgin in France. Cant have that, now.
To the delight of feminist campaigners, an order issued to all ministries and regional authorities on Tuesday said ‘mademoiselle’ must be replaced with ‘madame’ and should be not interpreted as an indication of marital status.
I studied French in high school, and always thought 'mademoiselle' had certain musical charm to it. Too bad they want to ditch it.
'Mademoiselle harks back to the term 'oiselle', which means "virgin" or "simpleton".'
I call bullshit there. 'Mademoiselle' means 'Chick'. Even I know that.

Whatever, it's their country, their language. They can do what they want with it.
As for me, I will continue on as I always have and call "Miss", "Ms" and "Ma'am" as I see fit.
It goes like this:
Younger than me, like in her 20's, she's a "Miss".
My waitress is almost always a "Miss".
Unless she's older than that, then she's "Ma'am".
Any woman older than I is "Ma'am".
Unless she's clearly trying to hard to look younger, then I call her "Miss" and watch her face light up. (Some gals are silly that way.)
Position of authority over me is always a "Ma'am".
Unless she serving me beer, then she's a "Miss".
Heavily tatted, peirced, dike-looking serving me coffee and omlets in Portland is a "Ma'am" (Sorry, I just can't call "Miss" on that.)

This is the way it is. If the PC police don't like it, they can kiss my ass.

* That every Catholic child, whenever possible, be able to recieve a solid education infused with Christian values so as to provide a sturdy foundation for good citizenship and sucess in life.


my name is Amanda said...

You are arguing in support of purposely offending women with terms they do not wish to be applied to themselves?

Aside from that, these anecdotes are quite generational. Nearly all my lady friends use "Ms," including the married ones. Oh, and including when they were in their 20s.

I would respond by fake-threatening to use the derogatory terms for unmarried men as a retaliation. But there aren't any.

Mr. D said...

I would respond by fake-threatening to use the derogatory terms for unmarried men as a retaliation. But there aren't any.

Of course there are. Loser, wanker, etc. They just aren't formalized.

Gino said...

amanda: puposely offending? no, Ma'am. i'm just being polite according to the cultural norms in which i was raised. havent had any complaints yet.

Mr. D said...

I try to keep it simple - sir or ma'am for anyone. Or dude. Dude is surprisingly useful.

Brian said...

Few things are more quintessentially French than micromanaging the language.

i'm just being polite according to the cultural norms in which i was raised.

That's a fine place to start, but sometimes politeness dictates an attempt to be polite by the cultural norms of the people with whom you are interacting. Particularly if you are in their country, or in some cases here, their part of the country.

That can also apply across generations, in certain scenarios.

A couple of examples:

1. I grew up with "ma'am" and "sir" drilled into my head. Hard. If my dad says my name, 90% of the time I'll still respond with "sir?"

When I moved out west (the first time), I got (metaphorically) beaten down for calling women ma'am. When I moved back to the southeast, I found myself code-switching depending on whether I was talking to fellow transplants (which I was, by this point) or the "natives".

Back out west to Seattle, no more "ma'am", except on the occasion when I am speaking with a woman who is at least as old as my mother.

Regardless of region, I don't know a single woman born since about 1970 or so that likes being called "ma'am" by anyone.

2. In the US, when you enter a business and aren't ready to interact with anyone (say you're just browsing), in most places clerks will leave you alone. Or if they greet you, you can just smile, nod, or otherwise non-verbally acknowledge them, and by doing so, signal that you aren't really ready to talk with them yet. And most of the time this is just fine.

When you enter a shop in France, you will always be greeted with "bonjour". And there is a very, very real expectation that you will respond with the same. If you fail to do that, don't be surprised if you get treated rather coldly when you do decide to speak with them.

It took me a good week in Paris before I figured this out. And therein lies a very easy misunderstanding, the result of which is both French shopkeepers and American tourists thinking the other group is generally rude, when in fact both are just operating under their own (slightly) different assumptions about what is polite.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I think I'd go to great lengths to avoid using "Ms." It's good to be polite, certainly. But who wants to be co-opted into someone else's "innovations"? That said, I wouldn't call Amanda Miss or Mrs. if she didn't desire it.

Gino said...

brian: i been out west since 67. Miss or Ma'am its always been with me, and nobody has attempted to set me right... cept Ms S-.

generationally older mexicans occasionally do call me 'mijo' though...still.
and had a few vietnamese call me brother. (its their cultural norm)

Brian said...

Yeah, I know...generations, though...

Also urban vs. suburban vs. small town vs. university community, etc...

My point is that etiquette isn't a fixed point. So it doesn't follow that someone else's different or evolving expectations are less valid than your own, whether you've been "corrected" or not.

my name is Amanda said...

I took a break from following blog threads, but just wanted to follow up.

"Miss" made me feel weird when I was a 22-year old college grad supporting myself (no help from parents) and living in the city (specifically, on a wedding invitation, it made me feel weird). To me, it sounds like something you call a 12-year old girl. If I wasn't married at this point, being called "Miss" at 32 (and even 29, Gino), would feel out-right ridiculous. Unless a very old person was doing the addressing. I mean, too old to correct, out of politeness. I really can't imagine many women from my generation enjoying being called "Miss," though I would leave it to them to discuss how they feel. I grew up in the South (until I was 10) and "Ma'am" was the standard address of respect. Now that I'm a bit older, I've gotten "ma'am" a few times, and though it's jarring to acknowledge that I'm not as young as I used to be (and apparently don't look as young as I used to look, which is whack, because I never liked how I looked until the last couple of years, but I digress), but I don't object. It still means respect to me. (And in the military, "Ma'am" is used for women, as opposed to "Sir" for men.) I would err on the side of saying Ma'am aloud (as I would say Sir), and asking about "Ms" on a person-by-person basis. Or erring on the side of Ms. I would write Mrs if I knew the woman used that for herself. Though in our current culture, such formality with the written word has become nearly obsolete. I didn't use Mr or Ms OR Mrs on any of my wedding invitations, for example, and that seemed normal to me (and no one made any comments about it).

Palm boy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, thank you for putting the work into it.