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That’s not my name.

May 13, 2009

I spent a winter in Washington, right after the 2006 midterms when the Democrats took back Congress and Nancy Pelosi made history. The group went together to Colonial Williamsburg, on what my roommate and I termed the National Sites of Historical Oppression Tour, where we talked about powerful White men. Our tour guide, a sweet older man who immediately made friends with Professor Schier, called the women “sweetheart” when we asked him a question.

“Sweetheart” is not my name. At least not to him.

Women get tossed a lot of diminutives. “Ladies” is the most cringeworthy for me. Being a lady means being polite, shutting up, and making dinner for your man.* I do these things, but I do not want it in my name; I do not want to be called by that expectation. “Girls” is troubling, too, especially for those women who are not, like my mother’s Thursday Night Ladies, more of the tenor of the Grown-Ass Woman’s Club than the Red Hat Ladies. They are successful, bright, fascinating women. They are not girls. We are also not “guys,” a convention of which I try, but mostly fail, to disabuse myself.

Why is it so odd to call us “women”? It was a word I had trouble applying to myself until last year. “Kids” felt safer, it zapped among synapses and spilled fluidly out of my mouth. I had to train myself to say “women.” I had to remind myself that we are complex and powerful and wise, not only chummy or sweet or wide-eyed. “Woman” connotes adulthood, real existence in the social world, self-determination, legitimacy. Other words attenuate those qualities, pat us on the head. We shouldn’t allow our mightiness to be diminished.

We are not ladies, girls, gals, bitches, sweethearts, chicks, or dolls. That’s not my name.

*Just for the record, I cook for my man of my own volition. He does not expect it, and he absolutely appreciates it.

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