Just don't call her sweetie: The fine art of name-calling

Sheila Taylor Wells

April 07, 1993|By Sheila Taylor Wells

WELCOME to spring, to all that's green, and, of course, to the robins.

Yvonne Hatton, my naturalist friend, tells me that robins can actually hear worms underground, and that's why they walk around with their little ears pitched at such an odd angle.

"Imagine," she says, "being able to hear a worm."

Imagine knowing something like that, and again, I thank those who pass on those nuggets, so we can get to know Father Nature a little better.

Yes, Father Nature. And that, finally, brings us to today's topic.

A reader insists that, as I occasionally refer to God as She, I must just as occasionally refer to Mother Nature as Father Nature, which of course I'm happy to do, even though everyone knows Nature's a girl.

Note: In jest and/or irony, and only then, it is permissible to refer to a grown female as a girl, especially if the speaker is a woman herself.

These inconsistencies are sometimes hard for others to understand, others being men. Well, others being those not me. I myself am very certain of my inconsistencies. On some matters, you'll not be surprised to learn, I'm unwavering and see with crystal-clear vision what others should do.

For instance, I've been spending a lot of time lately explaining to my new husband the differences, nuances and subtleties of gender-biased language and gestures. He is delighted to have my assistance. Truly, I can't tell you how grateful he is for my constant surveillance and supervision.

Here, for the edification of absolutely everyone, are a few rules I happily pass on in my unending pursuit of a better world.

1. Don't call anybody honey, hon, sweetheart, sweetie, toots, et cetera, unless she really is your honey, hon, sweetheart, sweetie, toots, et cetera -- "I'm crazy about you, my little et cetera."

(Editor's Note: Ms. Wells, a former columnist for The Sun, should know that rules 1, 2 and 3 do not apply in Baltimore.)

2. This means those whom you run into during the day's business: female waiters, office staff, other people's office staff, telephone operators, et al.

3. Don't use endearments because you don't know a name. For heaven's sakes, if you don't know her name, you don't know her well enough to call her babykins or honey pie.

4. One more time. If a female is old enough to work in an office, she's a woman, not a girl. And she's never, never "your" girl, or even "your" woman. Got that?

There now. Isn't that simple?

The New York Times said that Congressman Eric D. Fingerhut from Cleveland, who's unmarried, waited for weeks before asking a female constituent for a date. When she asked what zTC took him so long, he said he'd been scared. She had been a volunteer in his campaign, and he was nervous about "all this harassment stuff," he said.

Well, I think we can relax a bit more than that.

For instance, here's a man absolutely comfortable amid all this sexism business. In a Times piece on the influx of congresswomen, the naughty Texas Rep. Charles Wilson said he enjoyed having them around. "Besides, some of 'em are real cute," he said, then added that he still calls Congresswoman Pat Schroeder "baby cakes" -- "just to irritate her."

Loved it. I mean, you've got to consider the context, too.

Sometimes, I can easily differentiate the appropriate from the inappropriate, without being able to delineate clearly the sustaining logic.

I was trying to explain to one man why it is demeaning and not endearing to a woman waiter to be called "hon."

"After all," I said, "you don't call woman doctors 'hon.'"

Actually, I do, he said.

"And they let you get away with it?"

Nobody's said anything yet, he said.

Go figure; I sure can't.

Sheila Taylor Wells is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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