Another year. Another's Women's History Month. And still no
alternative for "Ma'am" - three letters and a squiggle that I loathe
beyond measure. The "polite term for women" that so does not describe
the spiritually youthful, if age-accomplished, Me.
Oh, ladies, chicks, and dames of the HuffPo! Am I only XX chromosomed here who hates being Ma'am-o-grammed by cute young guys behind
On the East Coast, where I used to live and perhaps you still do, is
"Ma'am" not the antithesis of hotness? Would it be wrong to surmise
that the closest male equivalent word, for sheer diss-you-ness and
feel-caught-short-and-essentially-like-crap-ness is, "Honky"?
In the West, where I live now, men swear on their boots,
guns and Stetsons that M'aam is a term of unbridled respect, the
grammatical Her of Sir. This may be true, historically. But when the
grandfatherly guy at PetSmart M'am-ed me last week, intentions be
darned! His words felt like hell.
Why is Ma'am such a personal wham? What's in a word,
anyway? Let's be honest: everything. Ma'am is a contraction of Madam,
my logical mind knows. That fact could be reassuring, if I were
French or brothel-managing.
Ma'am is a palindrome -- a lovely and rare linguistic thing. But if
someone's going to palindromitize me, I'd prefer to be addressed with
the more universally-exultant, Wow.
Why does our culture lacks a suitably kick-ass word for
kick-asss women of a certain age? Young women of comely looks are
called babes, a term that almost makes make me yearn for Ma'am-age,
when I consider it calmly. And yet, the infantile appellation of
feminine youth does point to one font of truth.
As any double-X-chromsome bearer over the age of 30 knows, it takes
time to run a company or fifteenth marathons - to feel truly at home
in your womanly skin in a full range of sizes. Post-babitude
means Mensa-hood and Momhood, scientific sequels in the lab; a
knowing sense of humor. Given all that, however, how can the English
language lack a fabulous, multi-fem-faceted term for the hard-won,
wonderfully natural, genius, and wise beyond measure womanly Plus of Us?
In my penultimate phase of City Life, I enrolled in
several courses that would have been called "women's consciousness
raising classes" in the 1970s. This being the early '00s, they were
called a range of other things.
Our teachers, women well past the age of Babes, searched for positive
words which with to anoint us. We were (sequentially) Goddesses,
Sisters, Divas. As a child of the late '60s, raised in open classrooms
where individuality held saw, I was surprised to find myself being
commanded to refer to all women in one way.
Diva-hood, Goddessness...all of these spelled Ma'am to me. In fact, they
made me feel bitchy. Which made sense. Having read my Bullfinch in my
babe-alicious days, I knew just what a grump a true goddess could be.
At the same time, I am a hopeful woman by nature. Like
love, a true new name popped up when I stopped looking.
Like love, it popped up in the least expected of places,
A month ago, my three year-old dog went blind in her right eye. A
cataract, unusual for a canine babe of her age, had gone from 10% to
full overnight. Luckily, our town receives visits from God, in the
form of a puppy ophthalmologist, once a week. A week later, my dog
was on the table. Three weeks later, she climbed a mountain, fully-
Delighted, I shot a digi-pic of her gazing happily at the
camera. Then I drove to the local camera shop to make a thank-you
card for her vet. I dropped off the image, and my name, at the
digital print counter.
Living in The New Age meets the Stone Age Rockies, I can't say if
what happened next was typo or serendipity. But when I picked up the
photo, my name was written on the label was written "GLASSWMAN."
I'd never thought I'd be happy to see a W inserted in my Self in this
day and age.
And yet there I was, with a goofy grin on my face.
The irony! The brilliance! The social commentary! Wman - the word had such welcome zest, truth and zing.
I won't know if this new term is my true replacement for Ma'am until
some young guys tells me, "Thank you, Wman!" from his register.
But for now, I'm delighted by the gift.
As Helen Reddy never said: "I am Glasswman, hear me giggle!"
But that's okay. Here and now, an honest laugh trumps Ma'am.