Every time I get called Ma’am, it’s like getting slapped in the face with a dead fish.
For years I’ve tried to adjust to strangers calling me Ma’am. I’ve tried to ignore it. To acknowledge it and let it roll off of me. To accept that in a cisnormative society I’m perceived as a masculine female or as a butch lesbian. To accept that some people must use only Sir, Miss, or Ma’am in their jobs. To accept that other people can’t imagine any other alternatives, even when one is standing right in front of them.
I’ve tried to listen to the tone of the Ma’am. To guess the intention. Is it friendly? Is it innocent? Is it automatic? Is it sardonic? Is it because they don’t know what else to call me?
I wish it didn’t bother me. There are far worse things going on in the world than the cashier at Whole Foods calling me Ma’am. Or the bank teller. Or the staff at the front desk of the gym. Yet each Ma’am smacks me in the face.
I don’t know if calling me Ma’am counts as a microaggression, but it feels like one to me. Columbia Professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Microaggressions are “different from deliberate acts of bigotry because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.” Microaggressions “include statements that position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same.” Continue reading