Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reject Sweetness

Act 24:  Speak up against backhanded sexist comments.

I am going to be judged for this. I'm going to be called inhospitable.  Un-Southern. Ungrateful. Allow me to explain. Yesterday morning, I stopped at a local convenience store to grab myself a cup of coffee. I was on my way to a meeting at our state capital and I actually traded in my regular blue jeans for some dressy slacks, a blazer, and even some pearls. A scruffy male cashier who appeared to be at least 10 years younger than me, waited on me. I smiled, handed him my coffee, and as I was digging through my purse he looked me from head to toe, raised one eyebrow and said, "That'll be $1.37 sweetie." I fumbled a few dollar bills together, handed them over, and stepped aside to let the man behind me through while I placed the remaining change back into my purse. A disclaimer, if I may -  I have lived in the south for over 20 years, and I've grown to become comfortable, even fond of, little old ladies calling me honey, and dear, and even sweetie.

But this felt different. And, I'm sure most women would agree, that this happens regularly, but we usually just ignore it, drop it.  Just as soon as we're done cringing.   You may be wondering why it is that this simple remark made my skin crawl so much.  First, this guy was significantly younger than me. It felt condescending and disrespectful.  Would he call his grade school teacher, "sweetie"? And he was a man, who obviously wasn't calling me sweetie as a term of endearment.  He clearly had no knowledge of my personal demeanor or whether or not I was actually sweet. Him calling me sweetie, and the manner in which he "inspected" me, felt like a backhanded attempt to intimidate, to keep me in my place. Like he was packaging me up in a cute little feminine box. Discounting the fact that I was about to attend a meeting where I would be impacting state-wide policies and legislation. Reducing me to a mere "sweet" little lady.  I was surely, (as most women are) ... sweet.

As the male customer proceeded to check out, the same cashier simply said, "That'll be $2.07." No descriptive adjectives in sight. Just straight up, basic customer service, the kind I would  have been thrilled to receive. As I turned to walk away I spontaneously blurted out, "I noticed you didn't call him sweetie. Don't you think he's sweet too?" And I walked away, not even looking back to see his reaction.  It didn't really even matter.  But what did matter, is that by speaking up, I was no longer giving a complete stranger free reign to reduce me to the most basic female stereotype.  Crazy as it may seem, I felt empowered, in control, un-silenced.   I certainly didn't feel sweet.

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