Friday, 13 April 2012


I can get very prickly about language used towards me. I swear like a motherfucking cunty sailor, when left to my own devices, and when I'm stressed it gets even worse. I can swear fairly aggressively at people when I need to as well.

Here's the thing, though; I am of the opinion that swearing is a great stress relief. Honestly, it does the soul good to release a torrent of semi-taboo words, particularly when it's inventive. I will never be Malcolm Tucker in terms of bile, but that's the way of these things, what with life not being scripted just yet.

Certain words, though, are less good. They're innocuous words in their own right, but it's the way they're used. In many ways, you see, I'm lucky; I'm white, British, essentially middle-class. A lot of innocuous words slide right over me. There are words used towards me, though, that drive me mad. Babe. Girl. Queen. Honey. These words are okay out of context, and indeed used at me are still okay too, depending on who it is who uses them. My mum called me 'love' is okay. My husband calling me 'honey' isn't insulting, as I know the context.

Strangers, though? Oh, that is not cool. I went to the recycling centre to do a massive recycling trip at the weekend. I drove, as Mr DG doesn't have his license, and frankly I tend to keep on top of the recycling more than he does anyway. It was a Saturday, so it was busy, something I was expecting. A council worker was at the gate, and motioned for me to wind down my window.

“It's quite busy,” he told me. “That going to be a problem for you, girl?”

I prickled. “Excuse me?”

“It's busy, will you be alright girl?”

I don't want to be called madam at the recycling centre. Good grief, I work in a periphery of the building trade, I speak fluent builder. I know that the meaning behind the words wasn't insulting – there was a kindness there, in fact. What made me prickle was that he'd seen me driving, assumed I would panic (I have been driving for over seven years now!) and referred to me as 'girl'. He certainly wouldn't refer to Mr DG as 'boy'.

I get this in work a lot. One customer called me 'babe' that often I very politely flipped out, and pretty much shouted back “MY NAME IS ACTUALLY DISORIENTATED GRADUATE THANK YOU” although I didn't shout all I wanted to shout, which involved me howling that I didn't appreciate being named after a child and also that I didn't need to have any feminine specific names thrown at me in a professional context.

Obviously directed insults are a different thing. Call me a bitch, a slag, anything like that to my face and I have a comeback. Call someone else a racial term around me and hell, I'll do some shouting there too because I find those words despicably insulting. But call me babe, girl, anything like that, I don't know what to do, because those words are more insidious. They belittle me, put me in my place, make sure I know who I am. It's not deliberate, it's just one of many subtle ways that society conspires to make sure we're stuck with who and what we are, and as a rule it's not done with any great malice.

If anyone has any suggestions about how to deal with this (I can hardly shout my name at everyone who does this) then I'm appreciate them.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I wish I had some good advice for this situation! It drives me up the wall too. It makes me feeling powerless because the people doing it (particularly if they are acquaintances) think they are being friendly/affectionate so calling them out on it makes me feel like a horrible person.

    I generally make a "scrunchy" face, if I know the person, and say something like "eurgh, don't call me that, I really hate that word for me" (if it's babe or similar). For strangers, it really depends on the situation. You can try for icy detachment or a polite variation ("Excuse me, sir, I must have misheard you - my name is [whatever]"). I used to think it was funny to call them the same thing back and see if they liked it, but the reason they didn't like it was OMG I'm not a GIRL, ICKY! which isn't cool. There's no time to go all feminist-scholar on their ass, which is probably good because often that just alienates people anyway. In short, I dunno. I feel your pain, though ...