This conversation shouldn’t have to happen, but when it does, this is how it should go.on May 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm
I was in the grocery store, waiting in line for the self-scanner, carrying my basket and a large bag from another store. One of the employees reached for my basket without asking, and said “Let me help you with that, honey.”
As usual, I bristled. I know that for some people, this is considered a standard friendly way to greet a woman, but I’m used to it being used in one of two ways: catcalling and other verbal harassment, or to condescend, especially to a younger woman, in a “oh you can’t carry that heavy basket, honey.”
Now, I was fine managing my basket, but since he was an employee, I was also appreciative that he was attentive enough to offer help. I wasn’t appreciative of the “honey” part of the statement.
I told him not to call me “honey.”
Now, usually, this is the part where a guy will put his hands up and say he was only trying to compliment you, or “whoa, back off,” as if you were the one getting in his business, or whatnot. Some guys will get actively hostile.
He didn’t. He said, “I’m really sorry. Please don’t crucify me? What would you like to be called? Should I call you ma’am?”
I was a little annoyed by the ‘please don’t crucify me’ part, but sort of surprised that he apologized so sincerely. I said, “I don’t mind what you call me, as long as it is not a diminutive or affectionate term.”
“I won’t use it again. I really didn’t mean it that way,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “And I’m not trying to crucify you either. It just really frustrates me.”
“I know,” he said. “That was a bad choice of words on my part.” It was pretty clear he was referring to the ‘crucify’ part, here. “I’ve been helping elderly women all day, and they like being called ‘honey,’ so it was on the tip of my tongue. I see you in the store a lot, and I want you to feel comfortable here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know you didn’t mean it to be offensive. But a lot of guys it just to be condescending.”
“Yeah, I know that,” he said. “I won’t say it again.”
“Thank you for apologizing,” I said.
“Thank you for understanding,” he said. “I hope we’ll see you again soon. Have a good night.”
This is obviously not exactly verbatim, but it is as closely paraphrased as I can make it. At no point did this man raise his voice, or act frustrated with me at all. Even though I am not sure I buy the part about him only calling me ‘honey’ because he’d been helping old ladies, he seemed to understand exactly why it bothered me, once I said something about it. And he expressed that he wanted to respect my boundaries. Part of it, I’m sure, was because he was an employee and I was a customer, but I’ve had other interactions with store employees over similar complaints that did not go as well, so part of it is also the individual.
I’m writing this down because I talk a lot about negative interactions with men over gendered language, and I wanted to point out that there are men who get it, and as respectful of women who communicate their boundaries. Even strange men, who aren’t our friends. Thanks, guys, to all those of you who DO.
Of course, I walked out of the store and got followed down the block by a guy who shouted “hey, baby!” at me (he stopped when I turned around and shouted, “don’t do that!” back at him), but, you know. Baby steps.