No, My First Name Ain’t Sweetie

As a known, strong and continued Obama supporter, I would just like to say:

Not cool. Not fucking cool at all.

[The video on the linked page is no longer available. This one should work fine.]

First of all, good for the reporter for calling out Obama’s totally inappropriate and disrespectful word choice.

Secondly: WTF Barry?

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been called some sort of “cute” feminine pet name by a man. As someone who spent a long time in customer service, including 10 months at a hardware store, it happened a lot. Customers, coworkers, bosses and totally random guys have all done it. Sweetie, Honey, Darling, Dear. Over and over again. Often, in the same tone that Obama used — totally absentminded, as though they didn’t even realize they were doing it.

But I noticed. The reporter here noticed. The fact that he (maybe) didn’t notice doesn’t make it okay, nor does it make it any less sexist or condescending.

I’d like to prevent this from going where I think it’s going to go: someone calls Obama a sexist pig and says that this is proof of why Clinton should be the nominee, someone else then calls Clinton a racist and says that her racist campaigning is proof of why Obama should be our nominee, and then we all end up yelling, getting our feelings hurt, hating each other and looking like assholes. I’m not posting this so that we can do that — I’m posting it because I think that we can and should criticize candidates who we otherwise support, and that this criticism is what forces them to be better.

And personally, I think there’s more than enough to discuss here without going down that road. I also know that I’m also being incredibly optimistic in suggesting that. But here’s something else to talk about:

When in this situation, what do you do?

I always cringe. Not knowing what else to do, I used to smile tensely. Then, I started refusing to make eye contact with them. Once, a guy — who was about my age, btw — called me “doll.” Since it was an overtly feminine word and one that he couldn’t mistake for actually being affectionate towards him, I decided to see how he liked it and called him “doll” right back (he didn’t like it). I don’t work in customer service anymore (or at least not currently), but towards the end of my last stint, I would just stare them blankly in the face. I figured that if they were going to make me uncomfortable, I could do it right back. Staring and waiting for them to break eye contact first is a great trick . . . I don’t know if they necessarily always got why I was displeased, but I do know that they rarely fucked with me again. I think that once or twice I pointed to my name tag and said “My name is Cara, you can call me that.” If I’m on equal footing with the person — in a social situation, not a boss or customer, and so on — I will simply tell them flat out that they are to call me by my name and nothing else.

I can’t say that I’m incredibly certain about the effectiveness of any of these tactics. So, what do you do? Do you have a trick (or know someone else who does)? And have you ever had a man in your life who referred to women in this way, and found a way to effectively get him to stop?

As for Senator Obama, I obviously really, really hope that it doesn’t happen again. But I won’t hesitate to call him out if it does. I did already use his website to write a very polite note of concern. I’m sure that it can’t hurt for you to do the same.

UPDATE: Obama has apologized to the reporter. My apologies for missing this, and a big thank you to Jenny Dreadful for pointing it out.

cross-posted from Feministe

0 thoughts on “No, My First Name Ain’t Sweetie

  1. Jenny Dreadful

    Obama apologized for this recently. Of course, it’s not up to me to accept his apology, but in my opinion, he seemed sincere. And he said it was something he was working on, so that’s something.

    I get the sweetie or honey thing from lots of people, mostly older people, and its probably split pretty evenly between men and women. It doesn’t offend me, but then, I’m not a reporter interacting with a presidential candidate. It seems obvious that that level of informality is inappropriate in this context.

    I can definitely understand being irritated by the diminutive nickname thing, but I’m not personally offended by it, depending on where it’s coming from. Like I said, I usually get it from older people and I generally find it kind of sweet.

    In a lot social interactions it’s the man who’s using “sweetie” with his waitress or retail clerk or whatever, and the fact that the power dynamic is off and the terms of endearment aren’t used by both parties makes it seem kind of skeevy. When I was a server and someone spoke that way to me, I would usually just do the same thing. “Honey, could I get you to freshen my coffee?” “Sure thing, darlin’.” and so on.

    I really think that a lot of people, especially older folks, just do it to be sweet, and I, personally, would feel crappy about correcting them.

  2. wheresthebeer

    In the interest of fairness, mention of his apology should be made in the post itself, not just comments. As Jenny Dreadful said, you don’t have to believe the apology. (I happen to believe he is sincere, but reasonable people can disagree on that.) But it should be in the post so that you are presenting the full story.

  3. Wendy

    Oh, you have struck a chord with me. I am a physical therapist and have encountered a lot of this from male doctors…which just makes me bristle because I see it as a way of keeping women in medicine one peg below men. I ALWAYS correct them. Example: I was looking through a medical chart in the hospital and a surgeon came up behind me, leaned over my shoulder and took the chart, saying “Excuse me a minute, hon, I need to see this one.” I had never met this doctor (although I knew who he was). I turned around, stood up, and thrust my hand forward while saying, “I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Wendy , Physical Therapist. And you are?” He stumbled around with his words, seemed very flustered, but eventually took my hand, shook it and introduced himself.

    I think it is very important, especially in professional or work situations (and most especially in POWER situations like the one I gave as an example) for women to politely, but firmly correct this behavior. It may seem like a little thing – but it has strong implications. When I was a young PT and first working in hospitals, I was thrown when a doctor would call me honey or sweetie…but, now I see it as an insult to my professionalism and I don’t put up with it.

  4. Alexandrialeigh

    Maybe it’s because I’m blonde and short, but I get called Sweetie, Doll, Honey, Sugar, Darlin’…you name it. And it pisses me off, especially when I’m at work.

    Wish he’d never said it, but I’m glad Obama apologized for it. I agree with you that I hope this doesn’t turn into a finger-pointing war between the Clinton and Obama camps. That’s just what we need.

    BTW, did you hear about THIS?

  5. Paul

    Sadly it happens a lot to girls and women I’ve known – and being hostile back doesn’t work the way it should – it makes the woman look bad – especially if it’s some “kind old person” – for some reason older women do the “honey” thing too – and for some reason hostility and ignoring backfires a lot of the time – maybe Cara can explain that – i can’t

  6. Megan

    I worked in customer service for years and I used to get this sort of thing all the time from people of all ages and both genders. If it was someone older, I would usually just let it slide. And you can usually tell when that is just the person’s way of communicating and they usually call everyone by some pet name. But it pissed me off to no end when people my age (I’m in my early twenties) called me shit like that.

    Usually what I would do, particularly with men in their twenties or thirties who seemed to be trying to assert their status, was call them a pet name right back, the more feminine and ridiculous the better. I personally recommend “cupcake.” I’ve shut up several men with that one.

  7. dew

    I’ve almost never in my life been called any of these pet names by anyone other than grandmotherly Southern women. I’m not sure why. I pretend it’s because everything about me screams badass but it’s probably more the regions of the U.S. I’ve lived in and the work I do. I mean, you know my job; picture the people I spend my days with calling me those names. Not going to happen. I don’t really see other women called these names, either, really, not in my day to day life. Again, probably the region and the work environment. So I don’t really have a tactic, but the very few times it’s happened, I’ve reacted with such shock, since it’s such a novelty, that I know they realized it was inappropriate. Whether they thought that was because it really IS inappropriate or because I’m a psychobitch, I’ll never know.

  8. Feminist Avatar

    I come from a region where women, and sometimes men, are often dressed by these kind of names- ‘hen’ is popular for women as is ‘son’ for men (regardless of age). This usage is particularly popular amongst older people. But, I think you can almost always tell when someone is using it to be affectionate or even respectfully, and when it is is being used inappropriately or patronisingly. For example, when I worked in shops, older men would sometimes get my attention by saying ‘excuse me hen, could you…’, but this didn’t bother me. But I had a boss who referred to me in a similar way, but it was incredibly patronising, and it drove me nuts. I guess context is everything, and perhaps also that certain nicknames have different conotations than others (which can be regionally specific).

    I agree that if it bugs you replying with ‘cupcake’ is a great response.

  9. Pingback: Reality Based News Feed » Don’t you call me sweetheart

  10. Maud

    This really is something the Senator needs to “work on.” He previously referred to Sen. Barbara Boxer as “a cutie.” He did not address her that way, but called her that in speaking (positively) of her.

    She’s at least 20 years his senior, and very much senior to him in the Senate, not just in age. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t refer to Sen. Harry Reid, for instance, that way.

    I don’t think Obama is a member of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club, but he really needs to learn to separate the way he deals with women professionally from the way he deals with them in his personal life. It seems he tends to see them as women first, and professionals second. And, as someone who spent her working life in clerical jobs, professional isn’t the right word either, but I couldn’t think of the right word. It’s no more appropriate to speak to or of the person who does your data entry or performs some other service not generally considered “professional” like a child or your pet because she’s a woman.

  11. Jack Valentine

    Whatever apologies he can give, however innocent he can make it sound, he made that comment in a vulnerable moment–one where he hadn’t planned ahead of time what he was going to say.

    “Sweetie,” forgivable though it may be, is dismissive and sexist.

  12. Moody

    I get called hon every now and then. I find it to be a term of endearment. Although I’m a guy, so it has completely different connotations. I’ve even had a male coworker call me that and it was completely sincere.

  13. J

    Maybe this is because I didn’t grow up in the northeast, but it doesn’t bother me one bit if someone calls me sweetie, honey, dear, whatever. I find it friendly. A lot of people use affectionate names for people of either gender, including strangers, in the west and south. I tend to call men honey, darlin’ or dearie, even now that I live on the east coast, and I’ve never gotten a bad reaction fwiw.

    I would be offended or at least skeeved if a strange man used a name with sexual overtones, like babe or doll, but something purely affectionate just seems friendly to me. It implies to me that I come off as likeable, which I try to do. And I’d much rather be called sweetie than ma’am.

  14. Annabelle

    I see that a lot of people are finding this really offensive, but I honestly don’t understand why.

    I’ve been called sweetie, hon, darling, luv, and whatever else by men and women of various ages including in a professional context, and I call most people hon or sweetie (men and women of any age). I’ve never had anyone be offended, but perhaps they just didn’t say anything?

    And I agree, I’d rather be called sweetie than ma’am.

  15. lepidopteryx

    Whether I find such terms offensive or not depends on context.
    A member of my church exchanging pleasantries at the coffee hour – fine.
    A politician talking to a journalist – not appropriate.

    When I worked in customer service, I would sometimes get some variant of “Thanks, sweetie” at the end of a transaction. I didn’t really mind that, as long as the term used wasn’t too personal, except for the one time that it was accompanied by a pat on the head (I’m short). I responded by hanging my tongue out of my mouth, panting, and saying “Arf.”

  16. Judi

    I believe it was not a good answer “Hold on sweetie” but i’m not offended at all. My Grandfather often said to my friends, “BABY HAND ME THAT”, “honey chile where is the rest of your clothes”, and “Listen here now little lady”….look at some point, figure out when people are approachable, then figure that maybe they are frustrated getting comments tossed at them, and the reporter I’m sure has been called much worse by Men that meant to offend her…if you want to be forgiven, learn to forgive. that comment was not even worth the effort.

  17. Jenee

    It’s funny that I happened to read this today, since I just dealt with a customer (I’m a retail salesperson) on the phone today who kept calling me honey and sweetie and whatever else kind of pet name you can think of. I get it all of the time, and every time it makes me bristle all over. The customer who spoke to me this morning happened to be a young-sounding female and I was surprised to notice that I wasn’t really any less offended to be called that by a woman.

    I think I’m just upset by someone I don’t know calling me by such an intimate name. It feels the same way it would for some complete stranger to touch my arm when talking to them: inappropriate and invasive.

    Beyond that, unless coming from the elderly, it feels dismissive. The men who call me honey or sweetie are the same men who will make eye contact with me from across the store, then snap their fingers and point and the floor to indicate that they would like me to come over and answer a question for them. To me, they’re just different faces of the same coin, and I don’t like any of it. Unless the person is elderly, I resent being talked to like I am a child. Especially when I’ve never heard anyone but the elderly talk to my male coworker in the same manner.

    In spite of how much it upsets me, I don’t have a good way to deal with it. With customers, I let it slide. In other situations, I usually tell them/remind them of my name, and instruct them to use it.

  18. Cara Post author

    It feels the same way it would for some complete stranger to touch my arm when talking to them: inappropriate and invasive.

    Okay, can I just say that I hate when people do that? I mean, I’m really not a touchy person and dislike being touched more or less by anyone who’s not my husband, so when I total stranger does that hand on the arm thing it makes me feel uncomfortable beyond belief.

  19. brenna

    As a Southern woman, I tend to use “cute” epithets for people. It’s what we do. We also call everyone older than us “Sir” or Ma’am” excepting such use of epithets. I think this is an acceptable practice. Since I believe it is acceptable for me to do, I don’t see what makes it unacceptable for him to do the same. His penis does not change the rules.


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