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Recently I was walking downtown with my friend and a young man passed us, smiled and said, “Hey, ladies.” I said hello back. I was pleased with the seemingly non-sexual encounter with a man. Or at least, if he did think we were pretty, he kept it to himself and out of his remark.
I expressed to my friend that it was refreshing to have a pleasant interaction with a man when out in public that didn’t leave me uncomfortable. She wasn’t left with the same understanding. “Why ladies? Why not just ‘hello’ or ‘hi there?’” I hadn’t seriously thought about that, since in my experience with men on the street, I am happily able to adjust the standards to what was an acceptable and respectable way to approach me. Sure, greeting me like you would greet anyone else on the street, gender not included, would be ideal, but my expectations are lower. As long as you (read: men) don’t ogle me or use sexualized terminology, I can exhale after I pass you on the street.
But why stop there? In a world infused with misogyny and patriarchy, what is my ultimate goal with Hollaback? What would public encounters look like, in my ideal harassment- and gender-based violence-free world? Should gendered nouns be left out of it completely?
If you think about it, it’s strange for a woman to address a group of men as, well, “men”, as men are the default. “Hello, men.” It has a strange ring to it. It sounds inherently sexual, as I’m reading it aloud in my head, because obviously if a woman is addressing a group of men she doesn’t know she interested in them sexually. A group of men are “guys,” a group of women are also “guys,” and a group of women with one man are “girls” and “guy.” Be careful not to lump the lone man when addressing the group as “girls.”
Is “ladies” too sexual? Is “girls” too demeaning to those who are female-identified above the age 18? Is “women” too stern? Is “folks” too PC?
I’d like to know your thoughts about gendered nouns (not gender slurs, such as bitch, cunt, slut, and all of those colorful words that have been shouted at us) in public interactions with strangers. I’ve only focused on a few of the main ones for the sake of brevity. What do you prefer to hear? What leaves you feeling icky? Would equal treatment on the street mean leaving gender out?
Share your thoughts below!
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