You know what I hate? Pet names. I hate them with a flaming passion. Call me honey, sweetpea, baby, sugar, etc. at your own peril, unless you know me very well and you’ve received special dispensation. My friend Peaches, for example, is allowed to call me “sugar.”
You know what I hate even more? Complete strangers who think it’s acceptable to use pet names to refer to me. TSA agents. Waitstaff. Random people in my proximity in public places.
WHO YOU CALLIN' “BABY”?
I realize that some people are into pet names; I know that in the South, for example, there’s a long regional tradition of using pet names, and a lot of my Southern friends use them reflexively and are used to encountering them. And you know what, more power to you if you like pet names, as long as you don’t try to force them on me.
Here in heathen Yankeeville, pet names are Not A Thing; sometimes I hear people in a relationship using them, and they always nauseate me, but you don’t hear them very much except from older adults and dudes.
To me, pet names sound patronizing. That might not be the intent when people use them, but they make me feel about two feet tall: worthless and pathetic, something that needs to be patted on the head and tucked into bed with a hot water bottle. They feel demeaning, and it’s especially frustrating to encounter them in environments where I’m trying very hard to be treated professionally and with respect. Or when I’m trying to get business done.
For me, and maybe I’m alone in this, pet names carry a sense of proprietariness, of ownership -- “You’re mine, and I have my thumb on you, and I’m going to reinforce that by using a demeaning name.” If you don’t know my name, that’s cool -- not everyone walks around with a name tag all the time. You can call me something other than “sweetpea,” though.
You can call me sir or ma’am if you really want some sort of title to use, or you can skate around the name issue entirely; the waitstaff at my favorite restaurant, for example, all manage to provide perfectly lovely service without using a title if they don’t know my name (and let’s face it, most of them do at this point).
AGE IS NO EXCUSE
I don’t care how old you are, it’s not cool to use a pet name in reference to me unless you know me. (My landlord calls me “kiddo,” which I find hilarious.) I don’t care if that’s the way your generation grew up; you don’t get special old person dispensation points. It’s still offensive when a 70-year-old man calls me “honey,” because I’m not part of that generation, and my personal connotations with pet names aren’t those of his generation.
And I suspect that most older folks aren’t going around deliberately trying to grate on people’s nerves -- it’s just that no one has bothered to tell them that some of us young ‘uns aren’t cool with the pet names. It’s like everyone is tiptoeing around not wanting to upset grandma or assuming that older adults are incapable of learning things, like people freeze in time at age 40 and don’t progress; tell that to Rita Levi-Montalcini, who just died at age 103. The noted scientific researcher published her last paper at age 102.
As for you young dudes using pet names, I see what you’re doing there. You might think you’re being sneaky, but you’re as transparent as a layer of cling film on a batch of cookie dough in the fridge, except that what lies beneath you isn’t sweet sugary goodness, but a layer of bitter sexism. It’s your casual little way of asserting dominance in a sexist society; you might not even be consciously aware of it, but that’s exactly what you’re doing.
I hear it in your tone when you call your female co-workers “sweetie,” whether they’re below your pay grade or far, far above it. I’ve heard it in your tone when I’ve been that co-worker; when I was a young stage manager, male actors used to pull that shit all the time, with little smirks on their faces.
“I’m not your baby,” I said one day. “I’m not anybody’s baby. And you’re going to do exactly what I just told you to do because I’m the boss of you.”
Deal, I added silently in my head.
NO, I WON'T JUST DEAL, THANKS
There seems to be this attitude that people are just supposed to deal with pet names -- they’re just endearments, people don’t mean to be rude, don't make such a fuss. I feel like this attitude is part and parcel of all the other things we’re supposed to “just deal with” that stack up over time and add up to one big fat sexist sandwich.
Yeah, one nurse calling me “hun” in pre-op isn’t an international incident. It’s not even something I’m going to get particularly pissy about it (thank you, Valium). But when it happens every day in a wide variety of settings, those little acts of everyday sexism start to grate on me. And yeah, I start to fight back, because it’s not just about the obnoxious pet name, but what lies beneath it.
It doesn’t mean I have to be nasty about it; if it’s someone I interact with on a regular basis, I’ll correct with my name. And if it’s a one-time interaction, I have no problem parroting that pet name right back, because sometimes the best way to show people that their behavior is irritating me is to reflect it back on them and see how they like it.
Because I’m not anyone’s baby, and I don’t have to be if I don’t want to be.
If you hate pet names, how do you deal with it when people bust them out?