I recently sent an email to two of my Penn State classmates, both widows and, of course, in their late 70s as I am. They are the ones shown in the photo in the posting on Don Walden last week. I addressed them collectively as “Ladies,” and got this quick response from one:
Ladies??? Roger—please! [We] may be a lot of things but I hope we aren’t ever “ladies” :-).
I vaguely remember some objection to the term “ladies” back in the 1980s when the women’s rights movement was just beginning. Maybe I am still insensitive, so I asked her for clarification:
Quick, quick, . . . I need to know what’s wrong with “Ladies.” I use it all the time at Longwood where I wouldn’t want to inadvertently insult anyone. Does it imply ladies of the night? Only a few today would recognize that expression. Or is any term used for a group of people who view themselves as inferior a pejorative?
Or here is another possibility: By grouping you two by gender, I am implying that is the most important aspect of who you are. I should have used “Classmates,” or “Seniors,” or “Wrinklees.” Well, after raising two boys, then seeing my three granddaughters, I can assure you, girls are different than boys from day one, no matter what culture raises them. Besides, a term grouping you with Bett [the other recipient; her name changed to protect my tranquility] doesn’t have many options.
None of the online dictionaries give any hint of disparagement. A typical definition of Ladies is: “A well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior.” That sounds like you, and even a little like Bett (sometimes).
How about “Ladies Room?” Is that acceptable? Most Asian signs say “Women’s Toilets,” which gets right down to it, but that is just the way someone has translated the characters.
My wife and her friends constantly refer to each other as “Gals,” which makes me gag, but that’s just me.
I don’t think women younger than 70 have any objection to “Ladies,” but I will be asking around. I am willing to call anyone whatever they want to be called. (“Equivalent Genitalia,” if that’s their choice.)
Maybe I should go back to “Youz bitches.” What do you think? Better than “ladies?” Yes? No?
I think I see a posting developing here, as long as no one takes it seriously. Once I get started on a topic, I go on and on, just like all geezers my age (and some geezeretts).
She replied back, explaining she was referring to the women of her garden club who were trying to distance themselves from the stereotype of the decorous garden club “ladies” of yore who idly dallied in their gardens, protecting their fair completions with gingham sunbonnets, snipping blossoms for their baskets while waiting for the house servants to prepare their afternoon mint juleps—but I think she was furiously back-peddling.
She did have one important observation that I had missed (she was the smartest one in our chemistry classes). “Guys,” she noted, has become a valid reference for females as well as males. “Guys” is now gender-neutral.
She is right, and I love it! We are all “guys.” It not only works well for mixed groups, but also avoids misidentifying the gender-benders. “Hi Guys! Welcome to the Peirce–du Pont House. Have you been here before?” (I’ll only use that with the younger visitors for now.)