Question: How do I ask not to be referred to in this way?

someone asks…

Lately, some of my coworkers, when addressing another female coworker and I, have been addressing us as “ladies”.

Some days I don’t even notice but other days it gets on my nerves. I’m not really “out” with my gender and don’t want to be. How do I ask not to be referred to in this way?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on May 30th, 2014 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 4 comments »

4 Responses to “Question: How do I ask not to be referred to in this way?”

  1. Andy

    I work in a male-dominated industry and have had the same experience. What I usually do about it is wait until I’m the only “female” in the group (so I don’t insult any of the handful of women I work with) and when someone says “ladies first” or “ladies and gentlemen…” I say something like “What ‘ladies’?” or “Where? I don’t see any ladies in this group?” Also, if someone calls me “ma’am” I say “Don’t call me “ma’am”, I work for a living.” It’s a phase I picked up from some servicemen I’ve known. They use it when an enlisted person mistakenly calls another enlisted person sir/ma’am. My coworkers take it as a joke, but they rarely call me ma’am or lady. Hope this helps.


  2. Anonymous

    Andy — this is exactly what I do.

    I’ve also observed that if I’m on my own in their group guys can treat me as an individual and interact with me according to my character. But if there are any ‘other’ women around then these kind of generic things take hold like addressing groups collectively as ‘ladies’.

    I also try to distance myself from the very few and always rather conventionally gendered female colleagues I have as a software developer. I do this partly so as not to get this generic ‘polite’ treatment, partly because I don’t relate to them, though they automatically assume I will.

    I was thinking about how strongly I don’t want to be categorised with women and realised femininity is kind of my kryptonite.


  3. Anonymous

    I work in a male-dominated field where we all wear the same uniform. I’m not out as non-cis, but I’m “obviously” female (my chest size means that binding is entirely useless). I don’t wear makeup or jewelry, I have short hair, I cuss like a sailor, I run away from conversations about shoes and babies, I point out hot women, and I’m really hard to offend (in fact, I’m probably lucky nobody’s called HR on me).

    I respond to “ma’am” with a laugh and “Don’t call me ma’am; I’m not a girl.” (It’s amazing how often I’ve said “I’m not a girl” with great seriousness, only to be heard as “I don’t participate in girly things”. Whatever; I get to say it and mean it.)

    Sometimes a group of us will come into a room and we’ll be greeted with, “Hey guys! And girl” or “Hey, gentlemen! And lady” which is incredibly awkward. I smile and say, “Don’t worry about it. I’m totally one of the guys.”

    My coworkers have all stopped calling me ‘ma’am’; in fact, just yesterday a person I rarely see said it and said ‘sorry’ before I even realized what he said. As someone who is not a girl but is assumed to be one, it’s a relief to have gotten rid of this small thorn; to not have “girl” shoved in my face every day.


  4. Briar

    Another approach could be to call it out from a feminist point of view. The term “ladies”- particularly when used in the workplace- has strong themes of sexism and misogyny attached to it. Using your female coworker as an example, a man calling her “lady” is a tool for him to other her. He most likely does not refer to his male coworkers as “gentlemen.” He probably just refers to them as people. By emphasizing the fact that she’s a “lady,” he is enforcing that fact that she’s different from him. (And happens to be part of a group that society- and thus him- deems lesser.)

    It might be easier for you to express to him that you are somewhat offended because of feminism rather than gender stuff (or not. The patriarchy is strong and stubborn).


Leave a Reply

Can I show your picture? If you have a Gravatar associated with this email address, it will be displayed as your photo. If not, I'll just put a picture of a fork next to your comment. Everybody likes forks.

Be nice. Judgmental comments will be quietly deleted and blacklisted. There's plenty of room for those elsewhere on the web.

For legal reasons, you must be age 13 or older to post a comment on Genderfork.

You can use some HTML tags for formatting, e.g. <em>...</em> for emphasis (italics) or <strong>...</strong> for strong emphasis (bold) or <a href="http://(url)">...</a> for links.

Back to top