An Idea that Swept the Nation

I will open this article with a question to the female population of the United States, regardless of age.

Have you noticed that more men now refer to you as “Miss” instead of “Ma’am?” Well, I take full responsibility for this little shift in our culture. That’s right! I started the trend, “Don’t call me Ma’am” some years ago, and my concept went viral.

don't call me ma'am
I know that some of you will thank me for putting an end to a cultural habit that makes women feel older than the pyramids. I’m also aware that others (dare I use the term reactionaries?) will hate me for killing an ancient tradition. But so what! I have long since learned by experience that I can’t please everyone all the time! (Try reading some reviews for my books and you’ll see what I mean.)

WHAT EXACTLY HAVE I LIBERATED WOMEN FROM? This is a good question, and here are some examples to illustrate the changes that have come about because of my interference thanks to my intervention.

RESTAURANT WAITER — “Do you want the diet menu, Ma’am?”
CAR MECHANIC — “That’s a lot of smoke, Ma’am. It’ll cost $1000 to fix.”
POLICE OFFICER — “Ma’am, are you aware that you were traveling fifty in a twenty-five mile an hour zone?”

SAME RESTAURANT WAITER — “Miss, can I tempt you with our chocolate desert special? It’s free!”
SAME CAR MECHANIC — “It’s just a radiator hose, Miss. No charge!”
SAME POLICE OFFICER — “You have a nice day now, Miss, and drive safe out there.”

See what I mean? Big difference, right?

WHY DID I DO IT? I admit it was out of selfishness. I simply didn’t like being called “Ma’am” and I wanted to see the ancient custom left in the twentieth century where it belonged. So I took positive action by planting one little seed that grew and grew. Little did I know at the time that it would start trending and catch on like wildfire.

HOW DID THIS ALL HAPPEN? As historical evidence I offer below the actual conversation which launched the campaign that went viral, and forever changed a nation. Let this publication exist as a permanent window in time for future generations. Here I give you only facts.

It was New Years Eve, just before the turn of the new millennium. I was at the register in a local grocery store when I became engaged in the following conversation with a new bagger.

“Paper or plastic, Ma’am?” he asked me cheerfully.

“Paper,” I replied. He was smiling, and I smiled back. I thought he looked like a decent kid, and part of me really did believe that what I was about to do was a public service to all women everywhere. It was in that spirit that I decided to share an insider tip with the young and impressionable bagger. He deserved to be enlightened.  I leaned over the check shelf and said to him in a hushed, non-threatening way, “I guess no one told you yet. Women don’t like being called ‘ma’am.'”

He looked surprised, but more importantly, interested. After all, he was new and eager to learn. “But . . . my manager told me . . .”

“He’s mistaken. If you don’t know a female, the safest thing to do is address her as ‘Miss,’ not ‘Ma’am.’ It makes old women feel younger, and little girls feel important. And the rest of us just expect it. Trust me it’s better.”

He kept bagging but I could see his mental computer recalculating with the knowledge I’d just shared with him. At that moment I knew he would tell his boss, and his bagger friends, and they’d tell two friends, and so on, and so on. I felt content, that I’d done a small but positive thing that would ripple out with good effects into the new century.

paper or plastic
As I slid my ATM card through the terminal to pay for my groceries, the young bagger leaned over the counter and said quietly, “Thank you. I’ll mention it to my manager.” And just as he put the last bag in my cart he asked me in a clear and slightly louder than expected voice, “Need help to your car, Miss?”

I swear several women turned toward us, and smiled pleasantly.

And today you’ll still find that oddball guy who occasionally calls you Ma’am. But that’s okay. We understand that there will always be people who are slower to change their ways even long after the world has changed. It’s like 1995 all over again with the kid in the neighborhood who kept getting the Flock of Seagulls haircut when everyone else had moved on. We tolerate the slow changer because we instinctively know they don’t adapt well to change. But in time they all come around.

Christina Moss
©2013 Christina Moss. I’m the author of five science fiction & fantasy novels: Intwine, Insight, Incircle, Inviral, and Vampire of My Dreams. Leave a comment and follow me here by subscribing to my blog. Also check out the LINKS page on my website to follow me on Twitter and more:


7 thoughts on “An Idea that Swept the Nation

  1. Thanks for your services to womankind. Perhaps next you could deal with the words “for your age”. Because one of these days, when someone tells me I look good for my age they’re going to discover that I also pack a pretty mean punch … for my age.

  2. betsy says:

    Um….you should not come to the South then. ‘Cause we still use “ma’am”, “honey”, “sweetie”, and “baby” all the time. To each other. 🙂 Woman to woman.

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