Ma’am: Respectful or Insulting?

I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger exploded.

I remember exactly where I was when the OJ Simpson verdict was read.

AND, I remember exactly where I was when I was called ma’am for the 1st time.

I was in Toys R’ Us, after a very rough night with little sleep, and I asked a 20-something clerk for help finding a baby item. He said, “Right this way ma’am”.

I was like, what the??? It felt like I had just crossed over an invisible line in life and there was no going back. I had, quite abruptly, transitioned from a Miss to a Ma’am and I hated it. Or perhaps I just wasn’t ready for it? I was already trying to find my way in transitioning from being an independent, successful, working woman to a stay-at-home mom whose time was no longer her own. And jumping from a Miss to a Ma’am was simply more than I was ready for.

I turned 40 this year and the frequency of being called ma’am has increased, as has my dislike for the title.

So, I reached out to several of my girlfriends from around the country to ask their opinion on being called ma’am.

Julia Smolyanky, 46, is a Business Manager living in New York, NY. Julia does not care for the term. She said, “it’s too official sounding”. She said that it’s also “very harsh”, she would only use the word ma’am when she is “about to put someone in their place”. When asked what she would rather be called, she said, “lady or miss” would be more appropriate.

Angie Duval, 40, co-owner of Trendsetters Salon in North Canton, OH also does not care for the word. She said that it makes her feel “matronly”. She would prefer that something less official sounding be used. She likes something more casual that could apply to any age or station in life, like a simple, “hello, excuse me” or even “sweetie”.

Sarah Jacobs, 35, is a real estate agent from Cedar Park, TX. She said the term ma’am doesn’t bother her at all. She said “it’s a way of life around here”. She feels that the term is “100% respectful”, especially if you are speaking to someone who is older than you. She said that it can even be viewed as disrespectful to NOT call a woman ma’am.

After speaking with my girlfriends, I gave the whole matter a lot more thought. I completely appreciate that the word ma’am is used as a term of respect. And perhaps that’s what I take issue with, I may be 40 but my spirit is still young. I don’t know that I have lived long enough to be deserving of the respect that is inferred with the use of ma’am. My book is only half-written; I’m still learning and growing every day. I’m still trying to figure it all out. I have so many more chapters to fill and so much more life to live. I guess, when I am in my 70’s, and have lived a long, full life and gathered up loads of wisdom, it is then that I will embrace being called ma’am.

Written By Amanda Fowler
You can follow Amanda on Instagram at LifeInProgress40
Photograph courtesy of JM Photography
Ma’am shirt custom made at Etsy shop LuckyShirtClothing

21 Comments

  1. Debra Morris
    February 16, 2017 at 7:31 am

    I loved this! I remember the first time when someone called me “ma’am”, it just didn’t sit right with me. I remember the first time a young server at a restaurant offered me the “senior coffee”, it just didn’t sit right with me. I remember when the x-ray tech said ” I think we need to arrange for a second scan,” it just didn’t sit right with me. Then I realized it really doesn’t matter to me how I am addressed anymore.
    Just the mere fact that I am alive and well and embracing my age at this new age of “60” the new “40”….Sits very well with me!!

    Reply

    1. February 16, 2017 at 7:58 am

      I completely agree!! Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad you liked the post. ❤️

      Reply

  2. Debbie brandewie
    February 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I think that you don’t look like a ma’am. However in the south where I live now it is a very common way of addressing almost every adult person. Like a respect term .

    Reply

    1. February 16, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      Thank you so much! I definitely agree that it is a term of respect. But, I’d rather he called dear or something non-related to age. Thanks for commenting. I’m so happy you took the time to read my post. ❤️❤️

      Reply

    2. Vivian Perry
      April 14, 2017 at 1:51 am

      I also think of ma’am as a title of respect. I lived in the south. But in England it’ s the way to address the Queen.

      Reply

  3. Ann
    February 25, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Dont like “Ma’am”? How about “Honey” or “Sweetie” or “Dear”?

    You are older than you used to be. If you’re lucky you’ll continue to grow older. One day you may even become as old as me (71) whose style muse is still Debbie Harry. By the way, she’s 71, too. 🙂

    Maturity is an undeniable, desirable progression. Eventually, most of us embrace it. After all, it comes with so many benefits.

    Reply

  4. Kathy
    April 13, 2017 at 8:15 am

    This is the dumbest article I’ve ever read. Does anyone know what MANNERS are anymore. I’m from the South and proud of it. We call everyone Ma’am and children call me MISS Kathy. I call women younger than myself Ma’am.
    I guess those people offended by this are the same ones who are offended by people holding the door open for them!
    Unbelievable!
    Would you rather be called “hey you” and have a door slammed in your face?

    Reply

    1. April 13, 2017 at 8:33 am

      I’m approving this comment only because I find it hysterical that you’d call an article written by a lovely lady “the dumbest [sic] ever read” and then proceed to talk about MANNERS.

      We really do appreciate our contributors and we were hoping for respectful discussion.

      Reply

      1. Amanda Fowler
        April 13, 2017 at 9:46 am

        Hi Kathy! Thank you for the honest and direct feedback. I appreciate you taking the time you read my thoughts on the matter. Thank you for reading and sharing. Have a beautiful day. ☀️☀️

        Reply

  5. Kat
    April 13, 2017 at 8:55 am

    I’m almost 71 and hate the term ‘maam’. It is the most patronizing term and almost always comes from young store clerks and parking garage attendants of any age. Miss is fine with me. I have made it my calling to gently advise those using it to stop it already. Invariably they say someone else told them to use it. I understand that those from the deep south have been trained to use it, but I’m from Canada. Stop it already!

    Reply

  6. Amanda Fowler
    April 13, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Hi Kat!! Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Have a wonderful day. ☀️❤️

    Reply

  7. Nana
    April 13, 2017 at 9:54 am

    I’ll be 65 this year and I don’t care if I’m called miss, honey or whatever as long as the person addressing me is kind and respectful. We need to be less sensitive -maybe the salesclerk or whoever has had a rough day. If they are grumpy I tell myself they may have a child on drugs or their husband just left them. I think if we are less sensitive to what others say to us and more sensitive to how we speak to others we will have a better life and a better world…

    Reply

  8. Resa
    April 13, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    The other day, a sales clerk bellowed “YOUNG LADY” at me across the counter so loudly that I jumped back a step. I’m 50, not hard of hearing, and not a “young lady” to a 20 something. I feel that addressing someone old enough to be your mom or grandmom as “YOUNG LADY!” is insulting and ridiculous. In my perfect world, they’d just say, “hello, how may I help you?” If they absolutely must tack something onto the end of that, I’d prefer ma’am or miss to “YOUNG LADY!”, honey, sweetie, dearie, sweetie pie, or darling. At least ma’am and miss are mean to be terms of respect, even if they are a bit stuffy and old-fashioned. Terms of endearment from utter strangers seem condescending and absurd. It’s perfectly possible to make people feel welcome and be upbeat without the fake familiarity.

    Reply

    1. Victoria Morosky
      April 15, 2017 at 9:03 am

      I was guilty of the “Young Man” and “Young Lady” thing, until it happened to me! Probably in my 50’s, and I was made aware of how icky it feels. So patronizing! More recently, the waitress at a restaurant was serving a large group of ladies, myself included, who ranged from late forties to early eighties, and she young lady’ed each and every one of us. Ugh!

      Reply

      1. April 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm

        I find that people do this because they mistakenly believe I’d like to be 20 something again.

        For the record: I would not.

        – Jessica

        Reply

  9. Olive
    April 13, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    It’s a term of respect. An acknowledgement of being an “elder”. I was first referred to as Ma’am in my late 30’s, and it shocked me. I shortly came to realize that I was not being condescended to, I was being respected. “Sweetie” and “honey” is far more offensive to me. Ma’am, to me, is respectful.

    Reply

  10. Victoria Morosky
    April 14, 2017 at 2:20 am

    At the age of 65 I feel I’ve earned the “Ma’am.” I don’t mind it at all. Men are routinely called “Sir” and don’t appear to have a problem with it. I despise “Honey” “Sweetie” and “Dear.” To me it’s what you call toddlers and yes, little old ladies. And even that is patronizing! I apologize!

    Reply

  11. April 14, 2017 at 8:29 am

    How about “mi’lady”… it’s age-neutral and would make me feel like royalty. Seriously, we need to work on our self confidence so it doesn’t matter so much. And when I was recently called “miss” (I’m 66) I had to hold back a snicker.

    Reply

  12. Glenda
    April 15, 2017 at 4:50 am

    It appears to me that it depends somewhat on which part of the country you live in as to how you feel about being referred to as Ma am. In the south it is a term of respect. We were raised to say Ma am and Sir and were disciplined as being disrespectful if you did not address others in that manner. I am 66 and still use those terms to ALL individuals regardless of age (unless I really want to show disrespect 🙂 ). So please, if you are in the south or are conversing with someone from the south, don’t be offended but accept it as a term of respect. Until now I had no idea that my respectful address could be considered offensive. I did read somewhere that a person was offended by being called “Honey”, another term in the south that is not meant to be disrespectful. Wish everyone could just accept that sometimes there are differences in the way people are raised and not be offended by so many things. There are a lot of wrongs in this world to be upset over that are truly important. Much love sweetie!

    Reply

  13. Patricia McCleskey
    April 15, 2017 at 8:25 am

    I think that if you view aging through a cloudy, negative lens, you will be offended at the terms you associate with it, especially if they are applied to you. Perception is everything.

    Reply

  14. Amanda Fowler
    April 15, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Hello all of you lovely ladies! Thank you all for reading my post. I’m happy that it has sparked a conversation and I LOVE reading all of the various viewpoints. All of you have had some great thoughts on the matter. Thanks for sharing. ❤️❤️

    Reply

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