Thursday, June 02, 2011

Societal Conventions, Single Mothers, and Old Age

Societal conventions are weird. And it's even more bizarre and confusing when they change constantly in our modern society, as tradition is disdained or new conventions are put in place.

I'm not an Emily Post type, but I see the wisdom in certain social graces. I don't worry whether my napkins are correctly sculptured on the table for company (or if we use paper instead!). I believe that thank you notes are a wonderful gesture of gratitude, but my ability to procrastinate means they don't always arrive promptly. My house has a high probability of not being dusted when you visit, but if your visit is scheduled ahead, it will almost certainly be vacuumed. My point in this paragraph is that I feel I'm pretty relaxed in the area of Emily-Post-esque conventions.

That being said. . . the societal conventions regarding what to call people have always amused and confused me to no end. I've waxed eloquent(?) on similar things before, though today's ramble has a different thought process.

I've heard that it used to be a minor insult to call a lady who was a stranger "Miss," assuming she was unmarried. But now ladies prefer being assumed "Miss" over "Ma'am", because "Ma'am" apparently sounds ancient. This could be because of our culture's obsession with youth (very antithetical to the Biblical view of youth and age) or a result of the feminist revolution. Since the middle 1900's we've thoroughly confused "Miss," "Ms.," "Ma'am," and "Mrs.," to the point where people mispronounce and misuse them all the time. . . "Mrs." should have TWO syllables, people!

Now whatever. I don't care that much. But it amuses me when I go to stores and observe what the cashiers call me. "Ma'am" should be a "duh" option, but recently I've been called "Miss" a few times. I don't care except without fail, when I shop I have two children in tow who look remarkably like myself (ie, my PROGENY). So my question to our modern society is this? Is it less of an insult to assume I'm a single mother than *gasp* an old married woman??? Our society is weird.

Am I knocking single mothers? Of course not. I have friends who are single mothers. They do a fabulous job and have more guts than I ever will. Some of them are in that situation because of circumstances totally outside their control, while others are prodigals "come home" so to speak. May God bless their sacrifice, and may I focus more on the plank in my own eye. (I have many planks.)

But my point is that never, ever in a previous society (as far as I can tell) has single motherhood been considered less of a shame or less desirable than being considered "old." (Or even considered to be "normative" in society.) What is so alluring about youth? What's so wrong about growing old? Maybe it's because I'm naive and 27 or something, but good grief. It's not like I'm quaking about turning 30. And I'm really looking forward to 50. The only thing I'm not looking forward to regarding old age is deteriorating health. But increased wisdom and experience? That is worth some creaking joints.

With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. Job 12:12


Kacie said...

I LOVE it when a person calls me "Mrs." when we are at a doctor's office waiting room or on the phone or something. I just think it's nice.

But I think the "miss" is better than nothing and perhaps people do that just because they don't really know about miss vs. ma'am vs. any other option. This isn't a generation that was really brought up on calling adults "sir" or "ma'am" so much, at least where I live. So maybe people just don't know what to even say, but they want to be polite, so "miss" it is.

I bet people aren't even thinking one bit about a woman's marital status. They are probably just calling the younger ladies "miss" and the older ones "ma'am"...maybe?

Susan said...

Yeah, I agree that there probably isn't a lot of directed thought going into calling me "Miss" as opposed to something else :-). Heh. That's an interesting thought about ages determining it. That wouldn't surprise me at all if some people thought "Miss" and "Ma'am" had more to do with age. . .

Eltinwe said...

I usually get called "Mrs." at the grocery store I frequent most. Maybe they check for a wedding ring. Maybe they just assume my children (who like yours, appear to be my progeny on the very surface of it, but who also look very similar to one another) are mine from the same father, and given the age gap, assume "Mrs." is safe. I don't really know. What I do know is that it's been some time since I was called "Miss" in any context at all, and I do not miss it. (Terrible pun intended. Apologies.)

Secondarily, the only place I expect to be called "ma'am" regularly is in karate. Still, if someone needs my attention, I prefer "ma'am" to, say, "lady" or "hey you", which seem to be the options!

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