“Hey honey! We run this amazing company and we’d love to collaborate with you.”
“Hi sweetie, gorgeous profile, would you like to be our brand ambassador?”
“Hey, wanna join our group of badass bitches?”
A quick recap of messages which I receive via my social channels. The first time, I opened a message starting with “Hi sweetie!”, I had to read it twice. It came from a woman I had never met before. It was obviously a message she sends to hundreds of people in search of possible collaborations. I was startled. I am a grown-up woman, why would you call me sweetie?!
Call me old school, but when I address strangers, and potential business partners in particular, I believe in a certain etiquette. I address them with their surnames and call them Mr/Ms, or if they have a title, I use that. I would not want to start a serious work relationship with somebody addressing me with “hun”, “sweetie” or the German equivalent “Meine Süße/Liebe”. I have always hated these cute ways of addressing me. Not even my parents or grandparents ever used these terms. And if a guy ever tried to address me that way, he got an annoyed face at best. (Or a reconsideration of the date at worst.) There are rare exceptions with some friends where I do not mind “hun” or “darling” because it comes from a good place. But in a business environment, I do not appreciate it.
Social media may have broken down communication barriers. But this does not mean that we have to act as if we were best friends and use condescending language. And I do mean condescending here. What many women do not realise is that if we call each other “sweetie”/”hun”/”darling” or even “b*tch”, how can we demand men to take us seriously? I would feel embarrassed, if I addressed business owners, doctors, professors, board members with “sweetie” – just based on the fact that we are both women. If I do not even like to be called that way by those close to me, why would I feel comfortable if strangers do it?
Throughout my career, I have realised that men apply certain strategies to “disarm” women through communication. When I started my career, men often used “cute” ways of addressing me to stress that they thought I was inexperienced or incompetent. The problem with this strategy is that it is very hard for us to fight back. Because a confrontation about it would just enforce the image of the “little irrational girl”.
I have encountered it multiple times in meetings, during negotiations or simple discussions where men did not agree with me. “Sweetheart, I would like you to understand…”, or the German equivalent: “Meine liebe Liz, hier must du verstehen…”. The German sentence is even worse and it would, for sure, never be used to address a man. With this sentence, the “powerful man” emphasises that he explains the world to the “inexperienced, stupid little girl” who looks up to him.
Maybe some women mean it in a good way, but they fail to see the power of language. If we say things, we may do them too. If women address each other in a “cute” way, we implicitly give men the permission to talk to us the same way. It is so tough to be taken seriously as a woman, why would we want to appear “cute”? To avoid that men feel threatened by us? Women are many things, but we certainly are not cute puppies who give unconditional love and do not talk back.
But there is something even worse than the “cute” way of addressing each other. I am part of many Facebook and other online interest groups to connect with likeminded women from all around the world. Unfortunately, there has been a trend of calling these groups along the lines of “like-minded bitches”, “badass wenches”, or “boss b*tches”. I cringe when I hear friends greeting each other with “Hi b*tches”. At first, I thought it may be an attempt to ridicule the use of these terms. Instead of men using them on us, why do not we use them ourselves? But, frankly, I just cannot deal with it. I do not want to be called that way. If this makes me uncool, I can live with it.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the term “bitch” as “a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman”, as an informal and offensive generalized term “of abuse and disparagement for a woman”, or as someone or something “that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant”. Do you see why I refuse to be called that way?
Studies show that women in the workforce are already seen as “more difficult”, “unpleasant”, “unpleasant to work with” compared to male counterparts. The higher we rise up the career ladder, the more this image is enforced by society and the media. Why would we jump on this and even reinforce this ourselves? We then implicitly agree with the perception that women can only be successful if we really are “malicious, spiteful and overbearing b*tches”. Just because a woman is successful in her career, does not make her a “boss b*tch”, it just makes her a “boss”.
I believe that women need to lift each other up. This starts with language. I want my peers to be taken seriously. Addressing them in a “cute” way, will not help them gain recognition. It will most probably undermine what they have achieved. Calling them with an offensive term is not “cool” or feminist, it is just careless at best, stupid at worst. And there is an easy alternative: just call me by my name.
Have an empowered week ahead!