Sunday, February 16, 2014

The sisterhood of ma'am

At a certain point in my life, I went from miss to ma'am. Because I was living in France at the time, it went by the more charming name of "madame," but the gist was the same. The world started to see me as a woman, not a girl. While I could selectively interpret the world's reaction, focusing on the rare recent instances (OK, instance, singular) of being mistaken for a high school student, it is what it is.

Ever since this transition, I find that I'm approached all the time by women of a certain age. What age? Older than I am, but not elderly. These women tend to be (as much as I can tell) of my own heritage, but not always - yesterday the woman was (as much as I can tell) East Asian. On the street in a city (New York or Philadelphia), in grocery stores. They make all manner of small talk with me, as if we're neighbors in some shtetl of yore.

I know we must allow for all possibilities, but I'm quite certain that these women are not hitting on me. They're not nervously or aggressively approaching me, just letting me know, if I happen to be standing near them, how disappointed they are that the doughnut place has run out of their preferred flavor, but that the flavor that's left is too rich.

And I don't think I'm doing anything to invite their attention. I'm not someone who's generally big on small talk with strangers - some combination of my personality and the training one gets if one begins taking public transportation to school alone at age 10. I don't emit 'friendly' to all, just to this one narrow demographic of middle-aged women, who will just kind of sidle up to me and start chatting. It didn't used to happen, but now that I'm a ma'am, it does.


Jennifer said...

I think this may be less an issue of becoming a m'am and more an issue of how you carry yourself, coming from teaching. I discovered that once I became a librarian, I carried myself in a different way in public. I became... approachable? I find that I am the person people stop on the street for directions, or to talk to randomly in the grocery store, etc.

Glove Slap said...

When I was an exchange student in Germany, I turned 18, and the bank I was using informed me that from now on, they and everyone legally must stop calling me Fraulein and call me Frau. I thought this was absolutely right and awesome and a great solution to a problem. It didn't matter how old I LOOKED; I was FRAU. Respect!! It changed how I saw myself. I felt stronger, formidable.

I am now 39 and have become one of those ma'ams who talks to, and who is approached by other ma'ams of all kinds of races, nationalities, socioeconomic groups and even languages. Sometimes Spanish-, Creole- or French- speaking ma'ams approach me in the grocery store, bookstore, park, etc. (I live in NYC) and I sometimes comment, unasked, on the bakery we're in or the movie I see them considering or the lovely scarf they're wearing... I know just what you mean.

I'm not a teacher. I think ma'ams just approach each other because we know we can. Or maybe we would approach everyone, but only with other ma'ams do we feel safe and comfortable enough.