Social Question

jca's avatar

Ladies: Does it bother you when someone of any gender refers to you as "a girl" or calls you something like "sweetheart?"?

Asked by jca (35976points) April 20th, 2015

Someone I work with told me it upsets her and she will correct someone when they refer to her as a “girl.” She is about 60. She pointed out that men don’t like being called “boy” and might say “I’m not a boy, I’m a man.” She also told me she went to a local government agency to deal with something and the lady at the window said “How are you today, sweetheart?” My coworker said she corrected the woman and said something along the lines of “My day will be much better when you stop calling me sweetheart.”

I will often refer to myself as a girl. I know “woman” and “lady” are more appropriate. I don’t call other people “girl” unless I know them (“OK, girls, have a good weekend.”). I don’t go out with bunches of women but I am aware that when women do go out in bunches, they might refer to it as “going out with the Girls.” Being called sweetheart by someone of any gender is not offensive to me.

Ladies, does it bother you when someone of any gender refers to you as a “girl” or calls you something like “sweetheart?”

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33 Answers

janbb's avatar

I’m fine with being called sweetheart, honey or dear. I don’t think I’m ever referred to as a girl but I do resent it when others call women office workers “the girls.” My mother who was a business owner also really resented it and would correct anyone who referred to her or their own employees as “the girls.” I don’t usually correct people though – my Mom had more balls than I.

anniereborn's avatar

Being called a girl does not bug me. Being called “sweetheart” and such is fine if they are quite a bit older than me. I find it kind of endearing then. Otherwise it feels condescending to me.

canidmajor's avatar

Context is everything. If these things are said in order to demean or infantilize I object. If not, I just don’t really care about it. I call everybody “Sweetie” if the context is not inappropriate. If something is said without rancor or an agenda I feel it’s pretty harmless.
I am around the same age as your colleague and I can tell the difference.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’m a guy, but I have to think regional culture must play at least some role in what is/isn’t acceptable. I know sweetheart, sweetie is common in the US South, and is meant to be friendly and endearing, not condescending or patronizing.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, it’s an ongoing symbol of the patriarchy. Men who would never refer to themselves as boys or other men as boys call mature women girls as a way to downgrade them.

I don’t like being called honey or sweetheart or baby by anyone other than my romantic partner. I prefer to be addressed as Ms. Mylastname be clerks or others who do not know me.

Jaxk's avatar

I like @gorillapaws am not a lady but I have no problem with saying my wife is out with the girls nor does she have any problem saying I’m out with the boys. Sweetie or sweetheart is quite different. I react harshly when called that. It feels very condescending.

janbb's avatar

I agree with @canidmajor for terms of endearment. If it is in genuine friendliness and not to patronize, I’m ok with it. But i am never ok with calling women workers “the girls.” However, if Humphrey Bogart wanted to say, “Listen sweetheart” to me, I would let him.

@marinelife I would never want a stranger to call me baby. Seriously?

trailsillustrated's avatar

No it’s common here to be called, girl, sweetheart, luv, darlin. It’s ok.

kritiper's avatar

Calling women “girls” doesn’t bother me, and I hope it doesn’t bother them. I mean no disrespect when referring to them as such. I refuse to call them “gals!” That sounds so demeaning and really rankles me!

Dutchess_III's avatar

It really depends on who it’s coming from and the circumstances surrounding it. A store clerk calls me “honey,” or “sweetheart,” I just think she’s nice person. If a guy said it to be condescending I’d be offended.

Coloma's avatar

Doesn’t really bother me but, as has been said, if it is a women I see it as endearing and playful, if it was a man calling me “sweetheart” I’d find it rather condescending.

Uasal's avatar

It definitely depends on the context. As I tell my small, words are not bad, but the thoughts behind them can be.

I’m guilty of calling everyone “sweetie” or some other term myself, in no small part because I have resting nice face and a hard time remembering names, so it fits my public persona. So, unless someone is being deliberately negative or dismissive toward me, I’m fine with it.

kevbo's avatar

I doubt most people mean “girl” as “child” but rather as “gal,” and “gal” seems to be out of fashion. The gender equivalent in this case is “guy” not “boy.”

When someone refers to me as a “man,” most of the time, I think that’s ill-fitting. I’m more comfortable with “guy.” “Man” is like Don Draper or someone who wears a beefy watch and/or a solo mustache. (I don’t). I’m too playful and casual for that.

I understand why some women dislike “girl.” It’s too bad sexism has made it difficult to negotiate.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“I know what I am, I’m a man, I’m a man and so is Lola!”

fundevogel's avatar

I agree it depends on context. Some people use such terms to assert themselves over women. It’s usualy older men, and though they don’t necessarily intend to offend they are infantilizing and it is offensive. I don’t have any problem with friends and family using such terms affectionately or in jest. There’s a grey area when strangers use it, some come across as friendly, others as overstepping their bounds.

tinyfaery's avatar

I am a girl, so that doesn’t bother me. Any type of sweetheart, baby, honey—I HATE IT. And don’t call me ma’m.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

In most cases I don’t appreciate being referred to as sweetheart, love etc. unless it’s my partner or someone I’m close to. However, I do think, especially for older men, the goal may be to appear warm and friendly rather than patronising – although I do think it is patronising. So if it was an older man, I might let it slide. If the person saying it is younger than me, then yes, I’d find it very irritating and would likely speak up about it. For instance, in a hospital or medical situation, I find applying such terms to older people disrespectful. Regardless of whether the person on the receiving end is male or female. And I have to say I cringe when people call me darl.

Same ideas apply to the use of girls rather than women. In some situations it wouldn’t bother me, in others it would. I’m not a girl, I’m a woman.

fluthernutter's avatar

Everything in context.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t mind girl. In my experience people from NY tend to use girl, especially my generation and older. However, my sister, who still lives in NY, feels girl is condescending. I do my very best not to use girl, unless I know the person I am with is most likely ok with it. I still use girlfriend also, for my close friends, but that is falling out of favor I guess now that there is so much more awareness about lesbian couples.

In the south girl has all sorts of history. Women in the south do use girl with each other, but I think they are careful to be aware of race when doing it.

Sweetheart kind of rubs me the wrong way, but as long as the person’s behavior isn’t condescending in other ways the use of such words I would likely ignore. Sweetheart, hun, and alike, usually are regional habits of speech with no bad intentions. I’m less likely to be offended, and more likely to think the vernacular of the area or person sounds unusual to me. I guess I associate thosebwith social class also, but it’s not always the case.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

It never ends, always something for someone to get bent over. Don’t refer to an Asian person as Oriental, don’t call Native Americans American Indians, don’t refer to Back, African Americans as Negros (and certainly not colored),
Heaven forbid you call a gay person queer, (though I have heard a few use it to describe themselves and other gays), Latinos are Hispanic now. Man, you need a score card to keep up, and still it won’t matter because some are scoring it like basketball and others like American football; I am about to use ”hey you” for everyone and let it be at that.

canidmajor's avatar

It does seem to never end, @Hypocrisy_Central, that’s true, but because this stuff is constantly brought to our attention we, as a social culture, are learning from it how to get along better with each other. So many ways of address are used to diminish, intimidate, disrespect and belittle, I can’t but think that it’s a good thing that people want to be mindful of the sensitivities of others.

As a Black/African American man (which do you prefer, by the way? Most of my Black friends prefer “Black” as they find “African American” to be unwieldy to say and over general) do you not find that the elimination of certain pejorative terms to be a good thing? As a woman of a certain age, I like better that strangers are more mindful now than they were in the 60s and 70s about how they address me.

Mariah's avatar

I’m at an awkward age where “girl” still sounds okay for me and “woman” sounds a little weird to me in some contexts. I don’t mind it much unless I detect that somebody is using it to purposefully put me down.

Same with pet names. They can all be okay in context. I can usually discern from tone and/or relationship whether it is meant in a harmless or in a malicious way.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Unless one is familiar with the person it is inappropriate as it implies that one has a personal bond with the other and is comfortable with them. Acceptance should be mutual not one sided.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@canidmajor As a Black/African American man (which do you prefer, by the way?
What I prefer won’t readily happen, I would go with American of African descent, but that is too long for many (I guess) to deal with. Absent of that, I would go with Negro, however people seem to think that is more demeaning than Black. But even Black can be looked at, as demeaning, Black Plague, Black Hand, Black Fever, Black Water, Black Queen, etc. many evil and sinister things are referenced as Black. So, you can’t win, if I just ”hey you” everyone they can’t put any racial spin on it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah When I read your answer it occured to me that the word woman still sounds weird to me and I am in my 40’s. It’s weird for me to use it for myself and other women, but I do use it, because it is the expected term.

Uasal's avatar

I like “American of African descent.” Likewise, I’m an American of Irish descent. My dad was born in Ireland. I was born in New York. He is an Irish-American. I’m an American of Irish descent.

OpryLeigh's avatar

No. I like terms of endearment so being called sweetheart or love etc doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

janbb's avatar

@OpryLeigh I always loved it when I was in England and shopkeepers would call me “love.”

OpryLeigh's avatar

@janbb Love is used a lot here, it’s not so much a regional thing. In the south west, where I am from, we also use lover, lovey, babber, babs and sweets as terms of endearment. Some of the northern terms are quite funny to. I’m sure @ucme will be here at some point with his northern-ness!

junglegirl's avatar

Sweetheart, honey, I’m okay with it depending on the use. I once had a clothing boutique. Whenever I had a dispute with the mall owner… he would demean me calling me sweetheart and honey in conversation. As if I was a dumb girl. That was awful and annoying.

janbb's avatar

@junglegirl Yes, it seems that many of us agree. It can be used to denigrate or demean and in other contexts just be a friendly gesture..

junglegirl's avatar

@janbb understood, as I have gathered. I was giving my opinion and a personal story relating to the question.

janbb's avatar

I wasn’t criticizing you in any way; I was agreeing with you! Your example was a perfect illustration of denigrating use of the terms.

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