Finally—a snappy answer when someone calls you “young lady”

It’s great to see Peg Cruikshank blogging for the Silver Century Foundation alongside Margaret Gullette and me. Cruikshank is the author of Learning to Be Old, among other important books, and her first post tackles what she calls the “Young Lady Dance.” What’s her response to being addressed as “young lady?”

“Why are you calling attention to my age?”

As Cruikshank points out, she has yet to be thanked for this excellent corrective. People tend to deny that they’ve done any such thing, or respond indignantly because, hey, they’re not biased—and, hey, it’s a compliment. I’ve had people insist that women love being called “young lady.” But it’s condescending even to women who actually are younger; it’s embarrassing for the no-longer-young who feel insecure about it; and for those of us who’ve stopped being embarrassed about being older, it’s infuriating. (Here’s my take on it.) 

Unless we call out ageist language, people keep using it. Tone matters.  Next time some clown calls me a young lady, I’m going to try a slightly gentler take on Cruikshank’s rejoinder: “Hmm . . . how come you’re calling attention to my age?”


12 thoughts on “Finally—a snappy answer when someone calls you “young lady”

  1. I am 57 and have slugged out working in a male dominated career. I am accomplished, educated and trained on current management techniques in a challenging career field. When store clerks and servers call me young lady I respond “Did you just cal me an accomplished 57 year old United Steates Marine Young Lady”? Works Every Time!!

  2. I’m in my mid twenties and hate being called young lady. It seems inappropriate, especially in a professional work setting (my situation)

  3. I HATE it! So demeaning and faux-complimentary–like I’m supposed to giggle and bat my eyelashes…..I always tell the guy (it’s ALWAYS a guy) that unless he’s 90 he’s not allowed to call me a young lady. I’m 71 and I know what I am and “young lady” isn’t it.

  4. A clerk in a local store calls elderly women, like myself, “young lady.” Finally, I told her that I cringed every time I was called that, and I told her why. I said that I am obviously not a young lady, and that calling me one says to me that what I am is not alright. I felt badly because I know I hurt her feelings. She thought she was being kind.

  5. I was shopping at a local department store when a young female clerk walked up and asked me, “Can I help you sweetheart?”. I’m a 60 year old, college educated, female and up to that point was feeling pretty good about myself. I ignored it only for her to call me “babydoll” next. That was it. When I went to pay for my items, I informed her it was rude to call someone you don’t know by those names and asked her to please stop it. What really shocked me though was there were three other women, close to my age, behind me and they also spoke up about how much they disliked those terms. I am a Southerner and a lot of people say it’s just part of our culture. It isn’t. True Southern mamas like mine taught their children to be respectful to older people and to say “sir” or “ma’am” not sweetie, darling, babydoll, cutie, or honey. I’ve read other articles where people say they don’t mind these terms, most of them are men, and if they don’t that’s fine. However, I do mind. It’s really okay to simply say, “May I help you?”. Short and to the point without making me feel like I’m about 100 years old.

  6. I don’t like hurting others, but I’m not about to be called a young lady at 64. So I make a joke out of it, to let the other person know how ridiculous it sounds to me by saying: “Thx, hon, but in my case the young lady ship sailed about 50 years ago…”

  7. You know it’s a shame feminism has become so arrogant & those who preach it so ignorant – and I say this as a fourth generation feminist whose great-grandmother was in the 1st wave & built herself up from uneducated & poor to educated multiple propery landowner on her own hook – that a compliment isn’t a compliment. What do you think a ‘lady’ is the local street walker? If the speaker is older than you they’re not gonna call you hey nag or hey you old bittie regardless of how justified it maybe.

    I’m a well educated woman with a lot of life experience – the sort of life experiences that have people commenting I should write a book when they hear it – and when an older man (or woman) refers to me as ‘young lady’ I take it as it’s meant to be a compliment. But then I’m not a knickers in a bunch modern “feminist”, who are really just embarassments to original feminism.

  8. I’m 52, and I cringe every time I get called young lady, and what’s odd is that it’s coming from middle-aged men. It’s patronizing. They might as well just pat me on the head while they’re saying it. My response is now, “oh, hello there young man,” which usually does the trick.

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