Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
Just Don't Call Me Dearie
September 5, 2003
Sue O'Brien, editorial page editor of the Denver Post, and one of Colorado's truly outstanding women died last month at the young age of 64. I met her only once, but she made a lasting impression. We were to meet here in Grand Junction for coffee. I dressed up a little to meet a celebrity, which for me simply means pressed slacks and a clean shirt. She showed up in jeans, a denim shirt and boots and a huge smile and said, "How about something to eat?" We ended up in a local coffee shop for two hours of fascinating conversation about politics and journalism and our kids and anything else that we could think of. And we maintained a now and then columnist to columnist email correspondence until her untimely death ended it.
Among the many pages of tribute to her, the Post reprinted the column she wrote in March of this year on her 64th birthday. The headline read, "Just don't call me dearie." She wrote that she might as well accept the prerogatives of aging, but there are a few conditions. "That folks don't call me dearie. . .And that they don't call me by my first name without being invited."
The use of women's titles is an interesting one. There are the ones used as a matter of courtesy, there are the ones used as profanity and there are some very old words that are again being accepted and used by women.
If you see the name, Mr. Jones, all you know is that he is male. But Mrs. Jones is usually adult, is married or widowed, and has chosen to use the Mrs. title. Ms. Jones is a more or less independent woman using the title popularized in recent years, and you do not know her marital status. But you do know that Miss Jones is female and unmarried.
I don't know the entire history of the title Ms. , but it got a major push in 1972 from Ms. magazine and the whole feminist movement. As women began to go into business and the professions, they needed an impersonal title. Ms. was it. Many women still prefer to use the traditional title, Mrs. but Ms, is now used quite universally.
Do you call a woman you have just met by her first name? In my mother's generation and in mine, you did not. This was a matter of respect and tradition, Today we use first names a great deal more. After all, we have Cher and Madonna! More traditional women, however prefer to use the title. Personally, in spite of my generation, I like being called by my first name.
Even popular profanity uses women's titles. I am not an expert in the subject, nor do I intend to be, but the profane words the guys like best refer to women, mothers specifically. This being a family newspaper, I will just mention that they refer to the mothers of those being sworn at.
Then there is "ma'am." It is used very little now except in the military and in the deep south. Generally I don't like being called ma'am, but there are a couple of exceptions. A neighbor's daughter lives in New Orleans and visits often. She speaks to me as ma'am in a voice so smooth and full of southern courtesy that I almost purr. And one of my male friends can say "Yes ma'am, and make me feel honored. Maybe we should consider bringing ma'am back.
And there are other names women have accepted in recent years. I am a member of Great Old Broads of the Wilderness and have no problem being called a Broad. And the Greek stories of the progression of women -- maiden, mother, crone -- have been revived. There are organizations of older women proudly using the name "crone."
You are invited to call me by my first name, a broad or a crone. Just don't call me dearie. And we'll miss you, Sue.