Ma’am vs. Miss

by | Oct 21, 2007 | Uncategorized | 120 comments

What is the appropriate age for baristas, video store clerks, and waitresses to start calling a woman “ma’am”? Please tell me, because I would like to know. I have become semi-obsessed with this question over the last couple of months. It’s possible that people have been calling me “ma’am” for years and I never really noticed, but all of a sudden, this summer when I was on the East Coast I started to feel middle-aged when every service professional addressed me in this (now) most dreaded way. I decided that this was perhaps an East Coast suburbia thing, that in Rhode Island, at age 34, I am presumed to be a mother when I’m out shopping at the grocery store or running errands, and therefore “matronly.” If there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s “matronly.”

I haven’t been keeping count exactly of what I’m being called, perhaps a good sign, that this self-conscious obsession is waning. I can say unscientifically that since coming home to San Francisco I’ve been called “miss” a couple times, “young lady” a few, but mostly “ma’am.” My friend Sara tried to convince me that being called “ma’am” is a sign of respect, entirely appropriate for someone of my age. I guess at the core I have some resistance to my age, then. But for some reason it’s not bothering me as much lately. I would like to say that it’s because I’m becoming even more supremely self-confident and not vain. I don’t think so. I think it’s something about SF. That I can be “ma’am” and still a kid here, in a way that is not possible in a place where 34 means settled down and with child. Not that I’m opposed to that state, but that’s not where I am right now.

I just want to be clear, too, that I’m not opposed to all language indicating the adult state of a female human being. In fact, I like the word “woman,” and even prefer it to “girl.” I just really don’t want to be “ma’am.” “Ms.”–that would be weird, it’s not going to work as a form of address. “Lady” sounds a little rude and weird. What else is there? Suggestions, ideas? Am I the only one who feels this “ma’am” revulsion?


  1. Marianne

    It started happening to me in London after I turned 30. It completely freaks me out. I don’t think I suddenly started looking so much older, I mean how can these people all of a sudden just ‘see’ that I must be old enough to be in the ma’am category??

  2. Jessy Randall

    You are definitely not alone. I hate being ma’am-ed. It happens to me more often when I’m with my kids, but it’s starting to happen even when I’m on my own. I’m 37. I suppose it’s related to the problem of Miss/Mrs./Ms., too. I hate being called Mrs., it gets my feminist ire up. What is so hard about Ms.? And then there’s being called Ms. and then your first name … ugh.

  3. Ilene

    I think it can be a cultural thing, too. I look nothing like a ma’am but I’ve been called it by students and when I’ve traveled to Asia.

  4. Remy Kurzweil

    This ma’am thing is driving me to the bloody brink.
    I’ve noticed that living in global (cheaper, but not for long) Queens in NYC with its predominately working class and international bourgeouis (sic) population, and mostly patriarchal conservative cultural roles with reference to gender and age, has had a definite influence. It’s certainly not the East Village, for example, where as a black-lipsticked retro Goth, I am rarely ma’amed. I always want to ask the usually well-intentioned person, especially when she is a female who is older than I am, “Exactly how _old_ do you think I am?” I’ve noticed that if I am in a particularly bad mood, I might actually counter with something like: “Ma’am? My mom is ma’am, my grandma is ma’am. I’m a ‘miss’.” I always wind up feeling like the non-neurotypical nut job that I am, that is, vastly inappropriate in public, and hating to return to the store or restaurant or whatever. The person usually apologizes and seems generally clueless. I try to act normal and friendly. It does no good at all. But, if I say nothing, I feel worse about it.

    Where I live, if you’re not pushing a baby carriage while studying for the Regents, or buying a brassiere, or hanging on some idiot’s arm, you’re probably using a cane or purchasing a blue rinse for your hair not likely to be sold at Ricky’s.

    It also seems that our culture and etiquette has changed in just the last 2 or 3 years partly due to rapidly developing technology–people seem more self-absorbed and superficial in general, and broadly speaking, appear to be more conventional, less original. It’s harder to be yourself in public without garnering negative attention. If you can’t be who you are on the streets of Manhattan, where else can you go? “Be” meaning expressive of self in creative couture, cool hair, etc. I dread getting on the subway. It’s as if I have no representative generation. High school kids. Sad-eyed, middle-aged ladies smiling at you as if you’re either quite the cute youngun’ or worse, as if in some sort of collusion: welcome to our world of invisibility, limitation, powerlessness, and sagging skin as their uninvited spreading hind quarters and oversized plastic handbags take up their seat and half of yours. And, in case you see me as cruel or self-indulgent, recognize that I fear a meltdown as I see myself gradually aging out of my identity as obviously young and full of infinite potential. It is all very painful to look at what society considers to be the norm. I feel alienated surrounded by “ladies” definitely not leading the purported “examined life.” We all get older, sure, but, I do not wish to join the world of the dreaded Ma’amBots. As far as I’m concerned, any age is premature to consign oneself or be consigned to this hellish nineth circle of Ma’am.

    Please don’t judge me, this is mostly impressionistic and not meant as a sociological putdown of any imaginary population or demographic and BTW thanks for reading!

    Has anyone noticed these kinds of things in New York (any NYers with equivalent experiences out there?), the East Coast and environs? Is it easier going in SF or LA, suburbs, Northern Ohio, upstate NY? What about recent social trends encouraging the more frequent use of the term by employees in the service sectors? Please respond with personal experiences and/or ideas.

    • Yui

      I am 23 and am repeatedly called m’am wherever I go. I live on the west coast (San Diego to be exact.) Not sure what to say to that – I don’t like the term, but usually if someone gets on my nerves for saying that I’ll say it back and analyze their reaction to see if they were being passive agressive. If they don’t react I know their boss probably instructed them to call any 18+ year old m’am to be polite. If their faces fall, I know they meant to cause offense and their insult has been returned lol. Hang in there, no one likes being called that, I’m not sure why people still use that term.

  5. admin

    Wow, this is amazing to hear your responses so far. The Ma’am thing has been driving me nuts, too, obviously. I never thought of talking back and asking, How old do you think I am? I guess I was afraid of the answer. I will have to think about how I could use that tactic myself. I’m going to think more and write more about this for sure.

    • Adrienne Yoder

      I get called this at the age of 26 I hate it !!! No one should call anyone this I feel like

    • Emma

      I just stared reading this thread after feeling incredibly bummed out about being “ma’amd twice in the space of a few days. I’ve always been a “miss.” I still get carded even though I’m in my thirties, but suddenly I feel like I must look like an old lady overnight. Uff. Not fun.

  6. Kay

    I’m one of those women who’s passed the Invisible Barrier from “Miss”-dom to “Ma’am”-dom, without my consent, will or understanding.

    I think the annoyance comes from several levels:

    1. I don’t think anyone has the right to make assumptions about me, including my age/marital status, by calling me Ma’am.

    If one is going to defend the Ma’ammers on the grounds they are only Ma’amming “older” people, who are THEY (the Ma’ammers) to judge who is older than they are? In addition, if that is the rule, then very subcontext of the Ma’am is automatically “I’m younger than you are,”. And, YES!! I’ll say it, when one is in their 30’s and you get Ma’ammed by a woman in her mid-20’s, it can be a little punch in the gut. [And, why should one only respect older people anyway??]

    I mean, I can SEE she’s younger than I am…duh…I don’t need her to re-inforce the obvious by calling me Ma’am.

    2. This obviously touches on another point, which is the more embarrasing. Ok! I’m not 25 anymore. But, I don’t feel any different on the inside, why do I need to have STRANGERS point this out to me – the fact that I am aging? Yes, I am getting older and I’m sensitive about it. Whether I “should” be sensitive about it or not is another issue. The point is that I still feel attractive, and therefore am really perplexed when I get called Ma’am. It’s a real let-down.

    3. There is an inherent sexist component to this, in that while men do have a “Sir” (which some men too don’t like, for their own reasons), there is no TRUE and COMMOMLY USED equivalent to the “Miss”.

    So, what women go through is as I mentioned above, The Invisible Barrier. All our lives it is , “Can I help you Miss?” “Over here, please Miss.” Then BOOM!! Poof!! You’re a Ma’am one day for some strange reason (or, like I like to say…an old Botox-deprived hag..ha ha ha ha ha).

    And as for those who would defend the Ma’ammers on “it’s just a term of respect” grounds…well.

    -Is it respectful to make judgments about others?
    -Is it respectful to make assumptions about strangers?
    -Is it respectful to make others feel bad?

    Those terms were created when people lived in small towns and everybody knew everybody, or it was easy to tell a woman’s status by her dress, or carriage or other indicators. These days, our society is too complicated to make such assumptions about strangers.

    All I need from personal interactions in public is a polite, “Can I help you with that?” or “What would you like for an appetizer tonight?” NOT, “Can I help you with that, Ma’am?” or “What would you like for an appetizer tonight, Ma’am?” Just having a good attitude in itself is respectful, along with being polite and efficient.

    And, I promise, one final note….most women I know…a good 4 out of 5 statistacally, actually cannot stand the term. So I ask them, “Well, then why don’t you say anything if you hate it so much? I do.”

    Answer, “Well, they’re just trying to be polite,”
    “I don’t want to start an argument,”
    “uh..I don’t know…maybe I’m embarassed,”.

    Well, I almost ALWAYS say, “Please don’t call me ma’am, or just ‘don’t call me ma’am’,” or I’ll make some joke about having been called Ma’am that makes it clear I was insulted, somewhat like the writer above, “Ma’am? Reeealllyyyyyy? Ok, so you think I’m old?” and put THEM on the spot. 99% of the time they “get” it, they know they’ve insulted your age. 10% of the time you need to “enlighten” them.

    But my overwhelming response is TOTAL understanding! Most clerks & salespeople (and even a flight attendant recently) completely know that women don’t like it!!! They almost always immediatly say, “Sorry,”. or, “Whoops!” or “I guess I could have left the Ma’am off, right?” or they joke back, “Ok young lady,”. Rarely have I ever had to explain why I don’t like it. Point is, if you don’t like it, say so. If you don’t, nothing will ever change.

    So get out there!! Be brave! Let people know we don’t like it! Ask them to end their sentences leaving the Ma’am out.

    • Evie

      “I mean, I can SEE she’s younger than I am…duh…I don’t need her to re-inforce the obvious by calling me Ma’am.”

      This! Exactly this.

      She’s basically saying “by the way, I noticed that you’re older than me!” In what universe is that polite? Shall we also guess people’s weight as an honorific? “Excuse me, 200lbs, I think you dropped something…”

  7. Amy Smith

    Let me tell you about the first time I was called ma’am – I was all of 21, in a head shop buying a bong when the kid behind the counter called me ma’am.

    That was mind blowing in and of itself.

    My French professor in college kept harping on how she thought she’d be called Madame instead of Mademoiselle the next time she went to Paris. And she was.

    Being called Ma’am (short for Madame)is a form of politeness, in my opinion, and doesn’t really bother me. Now, if you call me a broad I will probably get upset, but I have more important things to get riled up besides being called ma’am.

    I do agree that there is some type of construct in our society that makes people think that it’s okay to call me Ms. Amy and my male counterpart Mr. Smith – that I don’t get. Why are people more familiar with women and more formal with men? This especially happens in medical offices (where there are now laws in place about using names.)

  8. Deborah

    The first time I was ever called “ma’am” was in my mid-20’s, by a (male) teenaged checkout clerk. It surprised and amused me — I didn’t give it any thought.

    For the past few years I’ve been enjoying being ma’am-ed. Truly! There’s part of me that feels I’m being given the respect I deserve — not due to my age, but just in general. Maybe I’m delusional! But it doesn’t feel like an age thing to me. I wouldn’t have minded being ma’am-ed when I was five, frankly. 😉

    • Chuck

      I agree completely. I am a sir(I’m 60) and I call young men(teenagers really) sir. I just talked to a woman on the phone and addressed her as ma’am through out. It is just politeness. How am I to know how old she was or her marital status.

      It is truly rediculous to take offence at these “honorifics.” After all that is what they are.

  9. Stella

    This is a good topic and one people should start paying attention to, if just for etiquette’s sake. I am sometimes called miss and sometimes called ma’am. I am in my early 30’s and it shocks/suprises me to be called ma’am.

    I have thought about this alot and noticed a few things. One, I think that possibly my ability to buy nicer things or shop at certain places indicates that I am not a struggling youth. I’m guessing that some of it has to do with that. When you reach your 30’s you are more able to buy things and be in places that responsible, more successful adults would, therefore you seem older than the help.

    Also, my day isn’t consumed with “how cute I look to go to the store” like it was in my early 20’s. I think being dolled-up constantly (even though fun) is mostly for people with the *time* for that… like teens and 20-somethings. I am usually rushing too, another indicator of less “youth freedom”. Lastly, most people find themselves living in more “civilized” areas by their 30’s… which, as you know, is for older people 🙂

    However, when I decide to look cute, dress up, be crazy, whatever… I do not get the ma’am thing. Which does say something… It does mean that I am being judged when people call me ma’am, which I definitely find distasteful. I prefer charm and etiquette to age-based “respect”. Only children should be encouraged to show people older than them respect. After teen years, something else needs to happen. That is my quick 2cents.

  10. Mark

    n. Used as a form of polite address for a woman: Will that be cash or charge, ma’am?
    1.a respectful or formal term of address used to a man: No, sir.

    As a store proprietor, I very occasionally tack on an honorific when addressing a customer. I generally use Ma’am or Sir with older people, but I can understand those in service positions using these titles on any man or woman. Although I sometimes, even at 47, must stifle the urge to look behind me when someone addresses me as Mister or Sir, I think it is pointless to possibly make someone feel uncomfortable by pointing out that you disapprove of their form of address. Accept it gracefully, or, if it is a person you will deal with frequently, introduce yourself.

    • Evie

      Why is it ok to make people feel uncomfortable by guessing their age?
      The way I see it, if you make me feel uncomfortable, I’m entitled to do you the same “courtesy”.

  11. Jennifer

    I wanted to ‘second’ Stella’s observation. I too have noticed that when I have taken the extra time to put on makeup, and do something with my hair, and have a ‘tighter’ shirt on – generally look more attractive – the Ma’am factor goes down exponentially. Rarely do I get Ma’ammed when I am dolled up. So, yes, this does say something to me. I’m not sure what it says, but I don’t like it.

    As for the store proprietor above, do you notice the amount of ambivalence about the term Ma’am expressed here, if not outright dislike for the word? If there is so much distaste, or just ambivalence, why use it in your store? Why even take the chance to offend people?

    You say it is pointless to make clerks feel uncomfortable by pointing out they’ve offended us? Why? That’s what Customer Service is about: Customer Service. Not Customer Take Our Shit Laying Down.

    And, there is nothing wrong with saying, “Will that be cash or charge?” Period. No add-ons are necessary, nor it appears, are they welcome.

  12. Greg

    I definitely have a different opinion of the “ma’am” issue. It’s certainly a regional thing, but read further.

    I currently live in the southwest but I grew up in the deep south. My parents are from the midwest. Neither of my parents raised me to address people with “ma’am” or “sir” since it wasn’t part of their own culture or upbringing. We moved to the south right as I was beginning school age. On one of the first few days of school, I remember being called upon to answer a question in class. It was a simple yes/no question and I answered “yes.”

    “What did you just say?!”
    “You go right to the principal’s office!”

    I’m serious. I was sent to the principal’s office to be disciplined because I showed disrespect to my teacher. All I was missing was the word “ma’am.” In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my teacher was in her twenties, maybe early thirties, certainly not her sixties or seventies.

    This was in the mid-eighties. And I mean 1980s, not 1880s. I’m only 28 years old now. To many people I know this seems totally baffling.

    As I eventually learned, in the South it’s expected that children politely address anyone older than themselves as “ma’am” or “sir.” It’s also expected that adults address anyone from about puberty onward as “ma’am” or “sir.” (Of course there are exceptions for things like close friends, but even then you’d be surprised.) I’m not making this stuff up. My wife is from a different part of the South, and she agrees with all of this.

    I’ve later learned that these polite forms of address are quite common in American military families regardless of geography.

    I’m currently working retail and most certainly address every single female customer as “ma’am” and every single male customer as “sir.” I don’t know if I could avoid doing so if I tried since it’s been so ingrained in my manner of speaking. In the southwest, there’s an interesting mix of folks from Texas, who expect ma’am and sir, and folks from California, who find ma’am and sir a tad pretentious.

    To Jennifer, I will analyze your sentence:
    “Will that be cash or charge?”
    To a Southerner, that means:
    “Will that be cash or charge, bitch?”
    A polite Southerner would say:
    “Will that be cash or charge, ma’am?”
    And that is in no way intended to mean:
    “Will that be cash or charge, old crone?”

    So please don’t think everyone who calls you “ma’am” thinks you are approaching senility. They might just come from the South or from a family with a strong military history. They’re just trying to show common courtesy.

    So, here’s this transplanted Southerner’s response to:
    “What is the appropriate age for baristas, video store clerks, and waitresses to start calling a woman ‘ma’am’? Please tell me, because I would like to know.”
    “About 13.”
    “Are you joking?”
    “No, ma’am.”

    • Amber

      For me, I always wear make up, and cute light blonde hair and dress in fitted jeans and tank tops, wear lip gloss, and doll up and get ma’am’ed out of my skull all day. The ONLY times i start to get called Miss more is when i go to the medi spa and get my cheeks done with fillers, and my very slight forehead lines done with botox and do botox under the eyes for a softer look but I am not all wrinkled up. I am in my 30 so dressing cute does not help me, I am never frumpy. and some times for some reason if I wear wavy or curly hair or short hair I get called ma’am but straight long hair stops it too.

  13. Allyne

    As a southerner, I started getting “ma’am” consistently from age 18. The first time that I noticed it, it was coming from on older gentleman, and that definitely floored me a bit, but now I’m quite used to it.

    I have since left the South for San Francisco, and in a retail setting (thrift store) I once had a young man freak out about my calling him, “Sir.” If it’s a regular, I will use his/her name, but to me it seems impolite to leave off any sort of address.

  14. elle


    That would be cool IF everyone from puberty on WAS addressed as ma’am and sir. I would actually have NO problem with that.

    But the reason people are complaining, is because up North, people are judging women by how old they look and calling them ma’am. Oh, you’re 30, well you’re a ma’am. Oh, you’re 25 or you’re hot to trot in a tight skirt, well you’re definitely a Miss hot stuff!

    Now here’s my story:
    I agree. I’m 44, definitely in the ma’am category, but no matter, it annoys me still. I think I started noticing people call me ma’am more when I was 36 and a gained a lot of weight, which I have sense loss. I have always looked at least 10-years younger than I actually am. Even now, I have been alternately called miss and ma’am. Often dependent upon my style of dress for the day.

    Anyway, my cousin introduced me to a friend of hers, he was about 15 years younger an adult. He laid the ma’am on me, even though he was given my name and he is dating my cousin. Not my daughter! I was snappish with him the second time he called me ma’am. I said my name is Elle. My tone carried a parenthetical insult apparently, because the guy looked hurt and astonished.

    My boyfriend said I didn’t have to be so rude. But WTF? Grown people who have been given my first name have no business calling me ma’am. Now, if he was under 21, that would have been different. Somehow being called ma’am by a kid doesn’t bother me as much. But what I would prefer is that the insulting, sexist, ageist term ma’am be put to rest.

    Since there is no equivalent of the honorific ma’am for men, that makes it sexist.
    Ma’am is not the opposite of Sir, because Sir does not assume age or marital status. All men are Sir.

    Ms is a perfectly acceptable honorific that is equivalent to Sir. I have started using that to address women. I think I may even start correcting the ma’ammers and telling them to call me Ms (Miz). We should all do that. Start a revolution!

    Or, we could just take a cue from the South and call every woman 13 on up, ma’am. Either would be OK by me.

  15. B

    It’s so nice knowing that other women share my pet peeve. I hate being called “Ma’am,” even though I know that person addressing me is trying to be polite.

    I understand regional differences, so I have no qualms with that.

    I live in Portland, OR, however. So when a person — especially a woman who is visibly OLDER than me — addresses me as “Ma’am” or “Mrs.” (when I don’t have any wrinkles or a ring on my hand), I become livid.

    I suppose it depends on context. When I help out at my parents’ store, customers often ask me if I’m on summer break from school. Or, as Stella above points out, people call me “Miss” when I put more effort into my appearance.

  16. Bobbo

    Stop using your upbringing as your lame excuse for calling women, “ma’am.”
    Listen to what people want to be called, and not selfishly what you prefer to call them.

    You hit the nail on the head by stating that you commonly refer to older people with the ma’am and sir addresses.

    No worries, I always set clerks, etc. straight. I will retort impolitely just as they did to me.

    I love the honorific “bitch,” as I have earned that title, and am proud to say it! 🙂


  17. dondig

    What’s the matter with Miz (Ms)? Easy to say, already in wide usage with business correspondence (where no one can see the woman and judge whether she looks middle aged or has a wedding ring). I hate ma’am too. Mostly because it’s insulting and sexist. And I do feel people are judging me by age and/or attractiveness. Men receive no such treatment, so therefore, by definition ma’am is SEXIST.

  18. ggg

    I was working on a writing project and came across this page searching for “miss vs ma’am” in google – mostly because I wanted to know if there *was* a difference (and if the character I had saying it would make a distinction – for reference, the character is a police officer speaking to a woman in her late 20s.). I’m kind of surprised to realize that it can be seen as such an upsetting and divisive way of referring to someone.

    I am being completely honest when I say that I did not know there was such a difference in connotation. The denotations are, from

    ma’am: Used as a form of polite address for a woman

    miss: used by itself, as a term of address, esp. to a young woman

    Now, not to get too nit-picky about the definitions, but “ma’am” does not discount any age of woman – it just excludes (and only by not mentioning) children. By the same token, “miss” is used “esp. to a young woman,” but not exclusively. I can swear that I’ve heard both used both ways, to women of all ages.

    No one ever said to me “Look, son, of a woman is young and pretty, call her ‘miss,’ but, if she’s older and matronly, call her ‘ma’am.'” Seriously. I had no idea. It sounds weird to me to maybe call a young girl, preteen, ‘ma’am,’ but for whatever reason it seems natural to me to call anyone older than 12 “miss.” I do remember being taught the differences between “Ms.”, “Mrs.” and “Mz.” – but we were never taught “miss” and “ma’am” in school.

    I am from New York City and hear both usages all the time. I honestly don’t think most people really think about the differences in meaning. I had to look it up.

    I understand now that some may find “ma’am” offensive, so I’ll try and remember to use “miss” more, but perhaps those who have taken some offense should note that it may not always be an act of age-ism, sexism or any sort of maliciousness that led those to refer to you as ‘ma’am,’ – it may have just been ignorance to a common connotation.

  19. Evelyn

    I have been called ma’am just right now,
    when did that happen?
    AND I AM ONLY 25!

  20. Siren

    Ugh, I’ve resorted to saying in a much louder and sarcastic tone: You’re welcome, MA’AM! or if someone says you’re welcome Ma’am, I’ll resort to: Thanks so much for your welcome, MA’AM! This is a cross-the-country and probably the world “trend”, which I despise to the enth (fill in your own number here) degree. I mean it’s not bad enough when they do it to me, but one time it was done to my 16 year old daughter, by an OLD (and I mean decrepit) man. I once was in a store where two elderly ladies (over 80 – is that the point where someone actually turns into a Ma’am?) called a very young 20 something year old clerk Ma’am. I approached said clerk to give her my condolences and voice my opinion on the term Ma’am. A few times where I work I was approached by people inquiring as to where something was located, Ma’am. This not being my position in the company (ie to help people find things, whereas my superiors get paid a hefty salary to do so), I pretended not to hear them. When they pushed the query by getting in my face, I quite bluntly told them I don’t answer to Ma’am. Again, like most of you have stated on here, these people were most likely clueless as to the reasoning behind my stance. Being clueless does not absolve one from wrong-doing. Ha ha. I refuse to take a light-hearted stance on this subject. Perhaps a law needs to be passed. Oh, and to all those women out there who think this is a sign of respect, quit deceiving yourselves.

  21. Siren

    Oh, and we women who hate the word Ma’am should coin a word which in essence means old man, and start using it on all men, see how they like it when the shoe’s on the other foot. Webster’s, are you listening?

  22. Sara

    Interesting topic. Like many of you, I have lived in the southern states… started off there…. went north… then came back. The first time I remember being called ma’am was when I was 26 working with young teenage girls. This was definitely a sign of respect from the young person. After a while, I just got used to it and didnt really hear the difference to ma’am, miss, or no title whatsoever. However… now I am living in Costa Rica and here you can be called “muchacha” (I hate that and thought that was realy disrespectful until I was told it is normal), senorita, senora, dona or my favorites: reina, mi amor, corazon, etc. I would love if everyone referred to me as reina… but sadly, I seem to get senora most often. It never bothered me until recently… when a friend from Colorado (who happens to be the most age obsessed person I have ever met–she is 34 or 35 but thinks she looks 21–she doesn’t!) started talking non stop about the senora /senorita conundrum. Now, like some of you… I am terrified this means I look like a withered old grandma. I am actually going to canvass Costa Ricans about when you should use senora and not senorita…. From the very little I have asked so far… this seems to be the least controversial use of senora and senorita. Senorita… unmarried and no children. Senora… married or have children… The more controversial responses: senorita = virgin… senora = has had sex. Senora = I only use it if a woman has earned the title because it is a sign of respect. Strangely enough, this was a reaction…. senora is a sign of respect …. so a woman can be married and have kids and still be senorita just because you dont respect her… wow!

  23. Fancy

    I’m 28 and I don’t like maam either. It’s very bizarre. I started a new job, and another worker who is 23 asked me how old I was, and she said, “You look younger than me!!” I get that all the time. So if that’s the case, eventhough I’m 28, I look 22 or 21, but people are still calling me maam.

    I noticed that it mainly comes from cashiers at the mall or grocery store.

    And I have the same experience of not being called maam when I make a effort to wear a cute outfit,etc.

    It’s sexist, because people are judging a woman based on her age, how old THEY think she looks and they don’t do the same with men.

    I’m going to do the same thing that the person a few posts above me did: When people call me maam, I’m going to call them maam or sir right back, and see how they like it!! 🙂

  24. Mmermaidia

    I agree Maam is sexist. i am 28 years old and all of the suddent maam has been showering me anytime I go into a store. it really infuriates me because i consider myself still young and i feel like people are judging me. i live in nj, near new york city, and i think this is part of it. i still get called miss, but maam more lately. it also urkes me how much it urkes me. i decided to say something now, “please dont call me maam, it makes me feel old”, with a smile. this seems to work and the person gets flustered. it just is rude and i wouldnt call a woman maam even if she was fifty, miss works fine.

  25. Violet*

    I feel the same exact way. I am originally from up north and was never used to the notion of ma’am use. I moved down south and came to notice it more and more. I am 24 and look even younger and still get called ma,am. The fact that I work in an airport where a uniform is required denotes that it may be a sign of respect on the most part, but even shopping I get far more ma’mas than misses. I am thrown off everytime, and over analize the fact that maybe they see somthing I do not. Either way I make sure not to use the word myself. Even saying it feels unflattering to me. I don’t care how old a woman is. Ma’am makes it sound as if she’s no longer a woman but just woman like. It’s not pretty.

  26. Leeola

    I totally agree that “ma’am” is a loaded word. I don’t care if it was ORIGINALLY used to denote a married woman or was used as a term of respect or not, most women no longer see it that way. Most of us find it insulting because it seems to annnouce that we are “old”. I love the suggestion on here that that next time we are called “ma’am”, especially by a twenty-something year old(I’m 37) that we just call them that back in return. That should get them to think twice about referring to anyone else as “ma’am” again!

  27. katie

    I *hate* ma’am and either ignore someone if they try to say it or will say that I’m too young to be called that. I’m 31 but look, feel, and act like I’m 20.

  28. ihavethesolution

    Several young women in their 20s on this thread have been saying that being called ma’am makes them feel old. I wonder why that should be? Is it because, wow, people use ma’am for women they think are a certain age? It is associated with middle-aged, dowdy women, and that is the fact. That’s why young people in their 20s say they would never call women their age ma’am, but they would have no problem calling someone older than they are ma’am. According to the definition of ma’am: polite address for a woman, it’s mostly being used for women of a certain age. The age varies. It may be 30 or 40 or more.

    My question is this: if ma’am is indeed just a polite address for a woman, why do women who are in their twenties (and sometimes 30s) not using it for women their own age? I wouldn’t mind being called ma’am if the young lady who comes in the bar after me is also called ma’am since she, by definition, is also a woman if she is old enough to drink, correct? But this is not happening.

    If this term was applied equally to everyone who is an actual woman (18 and over)then I wouldn’t have a problem with it, and I suspect no one else would either. The problem comes when the term is being applied in judgement of whether a woman is a certain age, whatever arbitrary point that may be to some people. We need to choose one term for every woman and apply it equally to every woman just like we use Sir for every age and marital status of a man. Once we do that, ma’am will no longer be an issue.

  29. Dana

    Let me put it this way. I am in my mid 20s and look around 18 or 19. I am constantly called Ma’am. I probably get it once a day. It really irritates me and I always say something like “You are older than me, I should be calling you Ma’am!” I figure I have years to be called Ma’am…why should I be called that this early on?

    • Nina

      Plain and simple, if someone calls me m’aam, I just answer for instance “Thank You Grandma or Grandpa.” They are shocked but next time I see them they just say “Thank You.”

  30. Ariana

    I just turned 40. I live in Santa Cruz, where I surf, run, etc. daily when people who range from teenagers to 50-something year olds.

    Often when I’m out surfing, people ask me if I’m still in school, so I always figured this must mean I don’t really look matronly and old after all. Even young guys out in the water will ask me this question. (Maybe they’re all just kidding; i don’t know, but in any case, it happens a lot.)

    Although I’ve been hearing the dreaded “ma’am” word for years by salespersons, hearing it today in a different context totally threw me into a tizzy:

    I was skateboarding down the sidewalk with my dog when a young woman, perhaps in her mid-20s, hit me with, “Excuse me, Ma’am, which way is the beach?”

    My impulse was to snap back, “What? Did you just call me ‘Ma’am’?” but instead I just pointed the way and kept skateboarding on my way.

    Now, in this context, I was so obsessively upset by it because I was so clearly NOT doing anything matronly, such as shopping in a sensible suit and pumps in a fancy department store; rather, I was skateboarding in pair of jeans and a t-shirt—something decidedly unmatronly.

    And the girl/woman/lady who called me “ma’am,” although clearly younger than me, was someone whom I would normally consider a peer when out in the water surfing, etc.

    After reading these posts, I guess that next time someone who doesn’t even seem that much younger than me calls me “ma’am,” I’ll just retort by addressing her as “ma’am” in my response and then she’ll see how shitty it feels.

  31. nerina

    I live in a country where people are generally younger-looking (& shorter..but hey, it’s the truth) than me. I’ve been “ma’amed” regularly since I was about 21, I believe. I turn 28 next month. It was annoying when I first noticed the regularity of my being “ma’amed”. I’m trying to get used to it because I don’t want to set myself up for MORE disappointment: I know it’s only going to get worse in the coming years, as I’m not getting any younger.

    I was 26 when I graduated from uni. 1 of the reasons I went on leave, shallow as it might sound, was because for 1 of our classes we were asked to come to class in business attire & this female person working there asked me if I was a
    student or a *professor*. In retrospect, I remember a young-looking male student being asked this one time as well, but I was so traumatized by
    having been mistaken for a uni professor (well, there were professors there that were like 24 yrs. old or younger, but still, I couldn’t change my initial reaction of having felt bad about it!) that I didn’t think I could drag myself to go back to uni & graduate (though I did, eventually). Come graduation, I remember asking for directions to the place where we were supposed to practice our march, & the person that helped me out kept calling me “ma’am”. It was pretty disconcerting, lol. I also remember once being called “ma’am” by the registrar before graduating, but he also called the girl behind me “ma’am”, & she was 1 of those girly girl types that did not look a day older than 19.

    For what it’s worth, as with anyone here, I get called “miss” when I put in some effort to look younger (which is just about every time I go out, because like I said, getting called “ma’am” bugs me, too). I remember when I cut my hair like
    Vicky Beckham did in 2007 (that asymmetrical bob type haircut) & was carded in the US (casino) & it bugged the F out of me, until I realized that I probably should’ve taken that as some sort of atypical compliment. It’s strange, you know? I DON’T want to go around looking like a 28 year-old trying to pass as a 17 year-old, but at the same
    time, I would still (if possible), want to be referred to as a “miss”.

    It’s most annoying when you’re doing something a little reckless or immature & someone refers to you as “ma’am”. At least I felt that way when last week I was “ma’amed” as I was buying Vodka from a liquor store. And it wasn’t even a regular case of “ma’am”-ing. The cashier commented (to my face) that it looked like “ma’am” (me) was planning on getting drunk, which made me want to break the bottle of Vodka on his head. I didn’t say anything but looked at him like he had no right making comments like that, & he didn’t say anything more.

    Then there was that time when I was getting a haircut & the hairdresser asked me if I have any “kids” (single, unmarried, no kids). Then that time when a cab driver asked if I was already married, & when I said no, he said I should get married as soon as I can because women have an “expiration date”. lol.

    When I try to analyze it, I somehow feel ambivalent about it. I feel like these people were rather ‘tactless’ but that at the same time, I myself have ‘issues’ with getting old, & that is not their fault.

    Even though people call me “ma’am” all the time now, I go out of my way to not use the term to refer to women even when they are apparently older, because being made to ‘feel old’ with labels as “ma’am” isn’t a good feeling. We’re all getting old, & it’s not by choice, but because life’s a b!tch. When I’m trying to get the attention of an older woman, I say “excuse me”. Otherwise, I say “miss”.

    See, this is probably 1 of the reasons why Twilight is such a hit & everyone wants to become a vampire. lol. Who IS perfectly fine with getting OLD (or the feeling of getting old)?

  32. Lynn

    For the women who say when they dress in cute outfits they are called ma’am less. I dress in cute outfits everyday. Very tight. I wear a extra small in the junior dept. in tops and a size 1-3 in jeans. I have my hair fixed all glamour and sexy every day. If I have a bad hair day, I put a wig on similar to my long blonde hair. I had my lips filled out with an injection for plump lips. I have botox every three months. I do not have a line in my face. I have a cute baby face and look sexy every single day. I am not disclosing my age but I look between 23-27. I usually get ma’am by supermarket employees and some times when buying a ticket at a movie theater. It pissed me off. It drives me crazy. So crazy that I resorted to very light lipstick oppose to dark pink or red lipstick, no eye liner, very little mascara and I still get ma’amed by some people who are waiting on me in the supermarket, movie theater, ect. It makes me so angry that I feel like beaten on them. Some times I think it’s stupidity. Some times I think they do it to annoy me. I do not look like a ma’am. I live in California and I look like a actress all dolled up and skinny. I do not look old at all. I get called ma’am by older people too and I do not look over 26 -27. It bugs the hell out of me.

  33. Lynn

    I was 19 when I was first called ma’am. People are just ignorant but when I was only 16, I called a woman in her 30s “ma’am” not to be rude, but because I was only a kid and she was much older. She got really mad and Ma’amed me back 10 times. I was only 16. Deep down inside I knew it would offend her but I did not feel Miss was appropriate. Why get mad if a 16 year old calls you ma’am and you’re like 30 something? But I think a lot of people are ignorant and some people do it to offend people. I have wrinkled up women who look old enough to be my mom call me ma’am and people who are only about 5 years younger.

  34. Elizabeth

    I do not like to be called ma’am at all because it is not said in way that is out of genuine respect or reverence but more in a subjective context that implies adherence to policy. How many times have we heard others say ‘yes, ma’am’, ‘no ma’am’, ‘we apologize ma’am’ or ‘we can’t help you ma’am’ in a tone that reflects resignation? When I am referred to as “ma’am” I assert myself and will ask them to *please* (to emphasize true respect)not be called that.

  35. Lynn

    What makes me even angrier is older women who look like they could almost be my mother ma’am me more than anybody. That really sends my blood boiling. It’s like the sky is blue and they are saying the sky is black. I do not look like a ma’am.

  36. Lynn

    I wanted to also add that one day I was with my mother. She bought her groceries and I bought mine. The cashier called my mom “Miss” who is covered in wrinkles and called me “ma’am” Don’t tell me that is not just to bust my ass. When I call them sir or ma’am because they called me ma’am they give me a confused look. WTF? I look in my 20s and rather they are older or younger, does not constitute calling me ma’am and most of them are older.

  37. Me

    I’ve been maamed since I was about 22. I’m 24 and hear it at least once a month, always by an older woman who looks like she could be my mother. It really pisses me off, but I usually don’t say anything. They’ll only get huffy and defend their use of the word. Believe you me, it happened once. I was walking home and some lady stops me and asks, “Where’s ___Drive, Ma’am?” I pointed toward the street, then told her I prefer not to be called Ma’am. She then proceeded to shout, “What would you prefer to be called? Bitch?” And this was said by a woman who was probably my mother’s age.

    The next time someone, especially an older woman, says this, I’ll simply say, “Look, I’m young enough to be your daughter. Don’t call me ma’am.”

    And to anybody who says it’s a sign of respect – no it’s not!

    Oh, and this will hand you a laugh. I was single this Valentine’s Day. A friend and I got dolled up to go out to dinner and celebrate. And I still got called Ma’am! If that doesn’t make an ego plummet, I don’t know what does. “Sigh.”

  38. Destiny

    I don’t get how some women are saying when they wear more make up and look spunky they are ma’amed less. I am 34. I have botox to my eye area and cheek area to get rid of smile lines and for a wider eye look, I have juvederm to make my upper lip really full and you know if there are any nasalobial lines beginning at the nose to the chin, I have that filled in so in return I look anywhere between 22-26 and I get called ma’am by supermarket clerks at the deli and cashiers and some times in any store. I have long thick hair, I dress in fitted teenage clothes and I have a teen’s figure. It drives me crazy too. I wear less make-up and they still say it as young people don’t wear a lot of make up, I wear more make up and they still say it. I have wide eyes, a small nose, full lips and my slight aging process has been covered over by juvederm and botox and some people still call me ma’am and I look nothing like one. Young single women have to eat too. I don’t have kids, and I am always by myself, so if I am at a deli buying deli food, it does not mean I’m old as women of all ages need to eat. And the people who say it are like 30s and over. It annoys me to death.

  39. Destiny

    Another thing. I look like an early 20s model because I have work done so it’s not like they have my birth certificate in their sleeve. I don ‘t remotely resemble a ma’am. And I went back to college and 17-20 year old cute guys hit on me all the time. I don’t think they would hit on a ma’amish looking woman. I think they do it to upset you. It’s like a coward attack out of jealousy. I mean coward because they are purposely trying to upset without looking obvious. They need a whole face lift and a body lift, ugly old looking cows. I am going to start getting even.

  40. Destiny

    Yesterday at a bank a security guard in his 60s or 70s said “hello, MA’AM” I had to do everything to refrain myself from dumping on him. A girl with long, thick hair, no wrinkles, teen age clothes and thin, full lips that looks 20s is a ma’am? interesting. It’s like they are unhappy with the world. They get vindictive because one looks young and pretty, when one is thin, when one is smart. People are sad and pathetic.

  41. Lucy

    This is a topic that consumes me!! I’ve come to the conclusion that women of all ages are ma’am-ed – I just didn’t notice it until I started getting sensitive about my age. I’m 30 now, but most people guess my age to be 20-25. Interestingly enough, I’ve been living in mexico for the past year where women are “senorita” until they are very old or have kids with them or are obviously married. It’s amazing how much younger I feel now that I don’t hear that awful word on a regular basis!! Isn’t it funny how a word can be so loaded? I sincerely believe I am now a happier person because I am not reminded of my age every time I go to the mall or grocery store.

  42. j-t

    I feel so much better after reading all your posts. I was really starting to drive myself crazy with this Maam thing. I am in my early 30’s but whenever people take a guess at my age they put me at between 23-28, if they see my ID they either don’ believe it’s me or they say things like, ‘No way..were you frozen for 10 years’. So either they are all lying or trying to make me feel better or I do look young. So then why do I get alled maam when I’m at the supermarket or the Bank or at the valet? It STINGS me every time. I would like to hear back from the people that say ‘maam’. I would like their opinions on when they decide to say it because obviously we, women at any age, HATE it!

  43. Lynn

    Yesterday I stopped at subway in the mall. The guy working behind the counter said ma’am about 10 times. As I stated earlier, I have a teen’s body. I wear teen clothes, fitted cute clothes, long light blonde hair and make up. I look early 20s. I came to the conclusion he was trying to irritate me because he had an attitude on his face. I gave him a look of disdain and he seemed more annoyed. I don’t think he was just be overly respectful. He said ma’am like 10-15 times. I asked for extra napkins and he pointed to the napkins on my tray and was rude “you have napkins” I said “I said EXTRA napkins” and he put more on my tray. I have come to the conclusion some people are just bitter and unhappy so they have to try to off set somebody else but I just laugh now.

  44. k

    I agree that ma’am is not necessarily an honorific, but an insult. I personally cannot stand having that tag placed on me, that I never asked for. I mean, why should I get ‘matronly respect’ now that I’m 43 when I never got respect when I was younger? Secondly, most women over 35 are invisible in this society and get rude service anyway. When people do have to interact with us, it’s usually the ma’am shit, as if we’re from ‘planet old.’ If women got real respect in society, there would not be the miss/ma’am dichotomy that doesn’t exist for men, women would not be raped, abused, insulted, and paid equally for the work they do for this disgusting patriarchy. I see ma’am as a term of false respect for women and as code word for ‘old.’ Why else do teens and twenty somethings get bent out of shape about being ma’amed? It’s the sneaky, ‘civilized’ way for people to tell a woman she’s an old bag. The men who do this are the same disgusting pigs who leer at younger and underage women as potential rapists, and who bleat out their piggish catcalls with the same filthy, vulgar mouths at 15 year old girls. They change hats when dealing with an ‘older’ ‘asexual’ women. As if these men respect women of any age. Either way they treat women like garbage. So I go from being groped to being ma’amed in a few short years and I’m supposed to be convinced men are trying to be polite because I’ve crossed a certain age? Men, and a lot of women, need to cut the bullshit, because I can see through it. I can’t stand being called ma’am and I usually tell people to who do so to fuck off. If someone wants to address me, then it’s on my terms or don’t even talk to me.

  45. sayonara

    What’s really interesting to me is hearing all these thirty somethings say that they are dressed in teenage clothes, long thick hair, with work done to their face and they are offended when ma’amed.
    I hate to break it to you, but you really are not fooling anybody. Please try to dress your age, because we all know how old you really are and you’re making yourself look foolish in teenager clothes.
    I just turned 29 and I sure don’t feel right in teenager clothes anymore. I’m buying my clothes with a more mature, classic look now. I wish I was still looking and dressing like a teen, but who are we fooling. I weigh the same as I did as a teen but my body has changed, my frame is that of a woman’s now (hips, less fat in the face,etc.).
    Aging is really scary and unwelcome for me but I guess I need to look to foxy older women like Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch for inspiration.

  46. Lynn

    I was first ma’amed when I was 19 by a waiter. I said to him “I’m 19!” and he just looked. Then nobody never ma’amed or Miss me. They never said anything. Now suddenly it’s ma’am every time I am being waited on in a store of some sort. I look 20s. I take care of myself. I have a teen’s body. I have botox and injections. I have full lips, big eyes. I still get Miss once in a while or they don’t say anything. They should not call women Miss or Ma’am. I do not resemble a Ma’am at all. I hear you about the cat calls for 15 year olds but now a days if you’re 25 you’re over the hill. HAHA. There is 2 sides to the street. I like guys really young because they are far more attractive then the older men say 28 and over. Men better start thinking that it’s not just women who are not wanted after a certain age. LOL

  47. June

    Yeah – I HATE it too. “Ma’am” is sexist, because there is no equivalent term for an older man, as some of you have noted.

    At the same time, some of you have suggested we be called “Miss”. Well guess what. I’ve heard from service people and retailers that some women don’t like THAT either.

    So here’s what I say to people who ask me (after I’ve just said, “Do Not Call Me Ma’am”) “Well, what I am supposed to call you?”

    I say, “You don’t have to CALL me anything, just say:
    – Have a nice day!
    – Did you find everything you were looking for?
    – Hi. Can I help you find something?
    – Good afternoon!
    – Would you like paper or plastic?
    – What can I get for you?

    You don’t need to ADD anything to the end, especially when it can piss people off.”

    Keep in mind, I have found that most people seem to know Ma’am is a nasty four-letter word, but keep using it out of bad habit. It’s good to keep reminding them that it’s word not well liked. To the others, just keep pounding away at them and maybe someday we’ll have an age-neutral address for all women.

  48. June

    Me again. I just read through most of these replies, and think this is THE BEST discussion on the “Ma’am” topic online.

    Thank you Sasha!!!!

    I’m a transplanted New Yorker stuck in Tucson, Arizona, for now, and often feel like I’m the only one telling cashiers to, basically, stuff their Ma’am’s back up their asses where it came from. Of course this is consdiered rude, but, as some of you have mentioned – we’ve earned the right.

    But something else, I’ve tried it the nice way. It doesn’t work. It seems, just like peaceful Zen Buddhist masters beat their students with sticks, the only way to get through to people whose brains are in the “off” position is to SHOCK them. SHOCK they remember, RUDE they remember, and better yet by remembering they are more likely to go home to their trailer parks and talk about it (was that classist and rude?)

    And yes, it is okay to be upset about such a ‘silly’ word as “Ma’am”, as its use reflects the ongoing sexism in our society, not to mention ageism. Its continued use is frustrating to those (women and men) who are “awake and aware” and working for change and betterment for all. If not now, when should people start waking up to their unconscious acts of sexism, racism, ageism etc?

    POINT: How about every one of us who is passionate about this create an online group to promote our beliefs? I have a name for the group in mind, and ways to proliferate our message.

    Anyone interested? Just say, “yes” and I’ll put the site up, and we can all come up with ideas.

  49. elle

    What gets me is some of you young women are angry because you feel your youth and good looks entitle you not to be called a ma’am, but you have no problem with older and apparently unattractive, dowdy looking women being called ma’am.

    I have a question. Don’t you think it’s wrong to be categorizing women as young/old hot/not? In my opinion if you’re going to call any woman ma’am you might as well cut to the chase and say, “what’s up you wrinkled up dowdy old hag?” It makes just about everyone feel horrible. No one deserves to be called ma’am no matter how old, no matter how cute or not cute, etc.

    Believe me; you will never be free of ma’am until you fight for the right of every woman NOT to be called ma’am NO MATTER WHAT. And, by the way, there is an alternative. It’s Ms (Miz). And it’s not hard to say, no matter what lazy defenders of the status quo may claim. Just start using Ms. Insist on being called that. Use the martial status excuse. “I’m not defined by my relationship to a man; I prefer to be called Ms., Thank you.” Gloria Steinem would be proud. : )

  50. Erika

    I love this discussion. I too HATE being called ma’am but thought I was alone in my opinion. It is comforting to know that so many other women feel the same way. That being said I have a funny “ma’am” story. When I was 25 I was walking to my car from one of my college classes. As I was walking in a cross walk a woman poked her head out of her car and said “Excuse me ma’am are you gay?’ I said “No why?” She said “Oh I just thought you were cute.” Now, who the heck calls someone ma’am and then hits on them?

  51. Lynn

    Well this is strange. I was purging my food for 2 years. I stopped purging my food and keeping my food down. Suddenly since I stopped purging my food, I am not getting called ma’am like I was. I hardly never hear it now. Maybe purging my food on a daily basis was doing something to my face??? I don’t know but since I don’t purge my food, I am not getting called ma’am like I was. Infact, I am being called Miss or they don’t say anything. I am also finding I don’t need injections as often as I did. Hmmmm. Maybe the purging was causing me to look older? I stopped purging when the last time I went for facial injections complaining to the doctor that my face is falling apart, the doctor asked me if I was dehydrated. A bell went off “ding, ding” I asked him if purging every day with dehydrate me and he said YES. So, I was spending a lot of extra money on injections and my face was still falling apart due to the dehydration (it was aging it and causing a old and wrinkled look and a gaunt look. Since I stopped purging, I have not even needed any injection touch ups so far, either. Yeah, since I stopped purging, I am not being called ma’am. In fact, a supermarket employee who often waits on me recently said to me “you look good” so purging was making me look a lot older. I am glad I stopped. Now it’s mostly Miss or nothing but not that constant erie Ma’am like I was getting non stop before. 😛

  52. Lynn

    Well this is strange. I was purging my food for 2 years. I stopped purging my food and keeping my food down. Suddenly since I stopped purging my food, I am not getting called ma’am like I was. I hardly never hear it now. Maybe purging my food on a daily basis was doing something to my face??? I don’t know but since I don’t purge my food, I am not getting called ma’am like I was. In fact, I am being called Miss often or they don’t say anything. I am happy about this. I am also finding I don’t need injections as often as I did. Hmmmm. Maybe the purging was causing me to look older? I stopped purging when the last time I went for facial injections complaining to the doctor that my face is falling apart and I just had injections not long ago, the doctor asked me if I was dehydrated. A bell went off “ding, ding” I asked him if purging every day would dehydrate me and he said YES. So, I was spending a lot of extra money on injections and my face was still falling apart due to the dehydration (it was aging it and causing nasolabial folds, older look and a gaunt look. Not only was the injections coming out from the dehydration, so was my natural skin moisture. Since I stopped purging, I have not even needed any injection touch ups so far, either. Yeah, since I stopped purging, I am not being called ma’am. In fact, a supermarket employee who often waits on me recently said to me “you look good” so purging was making me look a lot older. I am glad I stopped. Now I am mostly called Miss or they don’t say anything, but I am not getting that constant erie Ma’am like I was getting non stop before. :p

  53. M.

    I’m still a teenager, (16-18), and I call a lot of women, “Miss”. The only problem is, if you’re older than 35, I’d think you’d rather be called “Ma’am”, because “Miss” for older people do not usually mean you look younger, but just more likely that you look unmarried/no longer married. Along with people who seem around my age, I also personally refer to people who look 35+ yet unmarried “Miss”. That must be why some of you say that when you get primped up, you get called “Miss” more. Being called Ma’am, to me, should be a good thing, I think. If you’re married and get called Miss, that should be an insult. Anybody 18+ should like being called a Ma’am since that is marriageable age and is of great respect.

  54. Lola

    No one uses miss hardly. Not even if you’re my age which is 15. I get called ma’am a lot. It’s engrained in the venacular. Don’t take it personally. But I live in the south…

  55. Her?

    I stopped calling women older than me ‘ma’am’ because I got my ass chewed out by a client when I addressed her as such. I usually don’t use honorifics, especially considering it does hurt some peoples’ feelings.

    I was at Victoria’s Secret buying some undergarments and the sales clerk addressed me as ‘ma’am’. I’m twenty-five. I told her I don’t appreciate being called ‘ma’am’, that it makes me feel old and gross. She apologized, said it was habit, but that her boss has been telling her (and the other clerks) not to use it, as customers have complained about being called ‘ma’am’.

    Is it rude to get rid of this honorific? I don’t think so.

  56. Lisa

    I don’t think any woman of any age should be called ma’am. I was first ma’amed when I was 19. I always dress sexy and cute so I do not look frumpy. I think some people ma’am anybody over 18. Some times I get called Miss and sometimes Ma’am. Dressing in junior clothes and fitted clothes and sexy looking does not equal ma’am. I just ignore ignorance. In a movie The Last House on the Left, the teen star was called ma’am in the movie so I think as some women get older, they are just too sensitive about the word. Some people see it as respect and call anyone ma’am who is passed high school. Some people are just stupid too. LOL

  57. Marta

    When I was 18, I would deem a 28 year old to be a maam, no longer a youth, but a young maam nevertheless.
    At 28, I don’t quite feel like a maam, and am not quite ready to part with my youth, but am finding ways to cope with being called maam.
    Positive affirmations always do the trick such as:

    “I am a beautiful young maam”
    ” I am a very sexy young maam”
    ” I am a respected young lady maam” etc..

    Maam doesn’t really imply old. It just implies “woman” young or old. And there is something very sexy and empowering about feeling like a woman and not a girl.

  58. Bethany

    I wonder if wearing make up or bleaching your hair white blonde makes people ASSUME your older?

  59. Destiny

    Some times when I am being waited on I am called “ma’am. I use to think Ma’am meant a woman with short grey hair, a old body, and wrinkles. But I’ve concluded that ma’am means anyone who is not a little teeny bopper high schooler any longer which can mean anybody who is 21 and above can be ma’am’ed because they don’t know your marital status at that time and I know the word ma’am is annoying, and it bugs me if a waiter calls me ma’am and then I hear them call another girl Miss but then realizing the girl they are calling Miss is only about 17-18. If you are even in your 20s, you can’t escape this ugly word. I have people who call me Miss, ma’am or not anything and I am into my twenties with a models figure and no wrinkles so I take the ones who ma’am me with a grain of salt. If they are teenagers it really does not bug me at all, but when they are older then me, it gets to me, but I don’t think most people are affiliating ma’am with old, but that you are a woman and not a little teenager girly anymore.

  60. Louise

    Sometimes, I really do understand when men complain about women being so sensitive. However, being sensitive about age is, unfortunately, hammered into us at a young age. I am 23, and I am 100% a ok with being called ma’am because miss is supposed to be for children and teenagers. I do disagree with the implied judgment, but everyone has to understand where it comes from. Females used to be miss until they were married at about age 17, and then they were ma’am. As this age became older, miss started to be used longer, but if you don’t look like an adolescent, you aren’t a miss. You are a woman and no longer a girl. Is that something to be ashamed of?

    To those who so hate the word, what should we use to replace it?

    That being said, in retail, I will call anyone who looks under 55 miss, or I did like the suggestion above, to use Ms. However, grammatically, that just isn’t appropriate because Ms. should always precede a surname.

    But really? I think the whole sensitivity is absurd. We complain about people judging us on our age, and we are the ones who perpetrate this judgment by being so sensitive and by judging others. The stage of life you are in, does indicate your level of maturity, life accomplishments, and the respect others should show you. Maybe this is taboo, in America, but then again, I don’t think that’s a good thing. Only in America do I see teenagers not give their seats to the elderly. The truth of the matter is that I do more greatly respect a woman who has learned many of life’s lessons, than I do some bratty teenager, and I think that this is a good thing.

  61. Fulvia

    I disagree….in Manhattan I have always been called Miss….and I’m 55 years old…I would love to be called Ma’am sometimes as I feel utterly ridiculous being called Miss…sadly I think this chosen title has got to do with personal harassment…like someone who is not married would not like to be called Ma’am and viceversa…and could very easily get agressive…you know what it is like in New York City….that’s the feeling I get. I enjoyed reading the comments though.

  62. June

    Louise – check back with us in 20 years.

  63. Amelia

    I hate the word ma’am too and even more so now that I am in my 40’s. I have been complaining almost every single day to my brother about how much this ma’am word bothers me and he doesn’t understand why it drives me crazy. It’s either I am called ma’am or lady. They are both horrible and just a reminder of how old I am and maybe appear older than I really am or feel. I don’t feel old, don’t dress old, and I don’t think I look old but apparently, this is not how people view me. I have never been addressed as a ma’am so hell yeah, it is going to bother the crap out of me. If a woman of a certain is considered a ma’am, then what is an older man consider? It can’t be Sir. Because sir is used for both men and women. It is sexiest and really and offense to women of a certain age. I prefer people just asking if they can help me or take my order without beginning a sentence with ma’am or ending it with ma’am. It has reached a point where I don’t want to go out anymore. I went out to a restaurant with my family to celebrate my brother’s 41st birthday. I am 42. After dinner, we all took the bus back home and some we got the attention of some funky looking lady who asked my dad if we had just come back from a celebration to which my dad said yes. He explained to her that we went out to celebrate his son’s birthday. My Dad then said, this is my daughter and pointed out to me. She said and I quote ” She is older than him” I was insulted and hurt. I told my mom what she had said and my mom’s response was “We don’t see ourselves getting older” Real upsetting after the ma’am incident. I don’t know how to react to these comments. I don’t want to be nasty and appear as though these comments really annoy me. I want to be able to say something back that will not only shock the ma’ammers but also make them in turn feel really bad.

  64. Amelia

    Ooops, I meant, Sir is used for both young and old men. Sorry, type too fast.

  65. Ellen

    Ihear a lot of fear and rage surrounding aging that is sad.this is what happens ib a society that has no place for older would never hear this lamenting from French women.

  66. Meme

    I’m 14 and my teacher called me Ma’am today.

  67. Jenny

    This is a great discussion, I’m so glad I found it! After going for my entire adult life without hearing an honorific of any kind (except very occasionally either miss or ma’am by a very young man working in a store), I’ve been getting “ma’am”ed all of a sudden on a pretty frequent basis by all sorts of people. As others have mentioned in their posts, if every woman obviously over 18 was called ma’am, I wouldn’t care (and I would probably expect it and be offended if I didn’t get it LOL). But in the northwest, this does not happen. People suddenly start using the so-called honorific because women start to look “older”. It is no longer an honorific used because you aren’t a child anymore, but instead a word used in place of “woman a lot older than I am.” And in a culture like ours where women start losing social value when they’re not pretty or young-looking anymore, the underlying (unconscious) message is even more offensive. I prefer not to be called anything!

  68. Jenny

    It’s almost the same thing as when a woman my age calls a younger woman girl, or in some way references her as being vastly younger and more inexperienced than her. It is diminishing because it doesn’t take into account the humanity of the young woman, only her youth, and implies that she has nothing to offer because of it. I’m almost 42 now. But when I was younger and worked in customer service positions and as a barista or waitress, I learned very quickly that it’s better not to use anything except a warm and polite tone of voice with any woman who seemed older than me or it was likely she would get offended (whether she said anything about it or not; you can tell). And she may not leave a tip, girls.

  69. Odette

    Wow–this came up when I searched for miss or ma’am online… because it’s a constant let down to me when I get ma’am-ed these days. I’m always so happy when I get called miss! I have always just addressed all women as Miss and I think that should be said to mid aged women at all times because it makes all feel good–and young! I think only an elderly woman should be called ma’am.

  70. csmoon

    Ya’ll are absolutely petty. What a world you must live in. I need a new name for sir. I feel wronged. Gotta go put a helmet on my six year old.We are about to take a walk down the street.

  71. Anonymous

    I am a 33 female. One time I was out at a restaurant with my friend who is the same age. The waiter called her miss and me ma’am. I was wearing a checkered sweater vest with a turtleneck underneath which probably didn’t help and I think my bleached platinum blonde hair is washing out my pale face so I am getting low lights put in. I also have one of those deeper, newscaster/professional sounding voices so I probably get ma’am more often just from the sound of my voice because even when I’m dressed “young” and stylish I still can get ma’am sometimes from my deeper voice. The sound of a woman’s voice changes over time and the sound of a woman’s voice usually deepens with age (there have been studies done guessing a woman’s and man’s age by the sound of their voice). If somebody knows I’m over 30, they will automatically call me ma’am but if they don’t know my age, I will sometimes get called ma’am and other days miss depending on my clothing and demeanor for the day. The bottom line is there should be one word to describe all women just like there is one word to describe all men. It is unfair to call some women miss and others ma’am. Some women still look and feel younger than their age so it is offensive for society to make them feel older when they still feel younger than their real age. For example, someone could be 30 and still feel as youthful and healthy as they were at 23, but society expects them to act grown up, mature and serious and dress differently even though they still feel 23. Why does society frown upon people who still feel and act younger than their real age? Although I did like the comment posted above that I am a woman now and not a girl and I should be proud of the respect I receive for being intelligent and more emotionally mature. I think ma’am just simply means that you are an emotionally mature woman with adult responsibilities now and not a girl/teenager anymore, but it doesn’t imply your age, just that you are an adult woman with adult responsibilities and not a teen.

  72. Anonymous

    I will also add that I just don’t like the way ma’am, miss or sir sounds. It is very conservative, traditional, old-fashioned, out-dated and too formal. I am more of a casual non-traditional person so ma’am, miss and sir just sound too formal to me. I think the conservatives and traditionalists in our society created these terms a long time ago as a way to get people to mature, grow up or act their age, which is wrong because people should be able to dress and act as young as they feel. I think these terms are old-fashioned and out-dated. I prefer it when people don’t use these terms at all in conversation. I never use these terms when talking to other people because I’m not a traditional person.

  73. Manda S.

    I’m sixteen. I’ve never once been addressed as Miss. Ever. I’ve always been a ‘ma’am’, and I’m fine with that.

    Maybe it’s just because I live in the south (Texas in fact.). But I’ve never once hear *anyone* called Miss. The first time I was addressed as ‘ma’am’ I was seven, and it was by one of the servers at a buffet. remember being so excited that it took me a moment to remember to reply, and right afterward I rushed off to tell my grandmother, who was with me at the time. I was so happy, because I was finally starting to be shown the respect normally reserved for adults.

    I definitely find nothing sexist about the term, ma’am, lol. Nor do I take it as an indicator of age. I was called it as a child, and now as a sixteen year old I still am. I’d be more upset if someone *didn’t* address me as ma’am, because to be, that would be a lack of respect.

    I tell my mother ‘yes ma’am’. And my grandmother, my aunts, my teachers. Teachers generally say nothing if you leave off the honorific, but my mother sure will. I get scolded when I don’t answer her ‘Yes ma’am.’ or ‘No, ma’am.’ She’ll say something along the lines of ‘excuse me’ or ‘you’d better rethink that’ or ‘try that again’. And heaven forbid I go somewhere in public with her and forget the ma’am, even if the cashier looks only a few years older than me.

    I don’t call other teens ‘ma’am’ though … that would just be weird, mainly because they’re my peers.

  74. A Southern Boy

    I personally was raised in a culture where you say Ma’am and Sir to elders. It’s a term of respect. I hate being called Sir by someone older than me. I am not old enough to have EARNED the title. You all are looking at the title as a dreaded sign that you have aged. It’s proof that you have lived.

    • MaryLee

      A Southern Boy’s right. It’s a sign of respect, as is ‘sir’, and is used with those in authority, elders, and those who make life easier, like waiters and waitresses regardless of age. Also used when making a difficult request as a way of showing respect and appreciation for the person. “Ma’am, would you mind moving us to the patio?” sounds much more respectful than, “Hey,honey, move us to the patio?”

      When I’m up north I use miss instead since Ma’am freaks folks out so much.

  75. Katie

    I love all of you that voiced your hatred of the word Ma’am. I hate it so very much, so much that I am wasting time when I should be working finding kindred souls on google. I also hate being called “mrs. my maiden name” (because I didn’t take my husband’s name) as that is my mother, not me. I have absolutely no problem with Katie. Katie is my name. My name is how I recognize that someone is addressing me and I do not feel it should be reserved only for close personal friends. I also do not mind the “Dr. my last name” as I have a PhD…and recognizing THAT, not my age, is showing respect. If I have not had the opportunity to introduce myself to someone, such as a sales person, simply saying (in a polite and friendly voice) “can I help you?” or “have a nice day” or “Thank you” with no gender/age-specific term is completely fine with me. Also, if the term is being used to get my attention, then this is useless, because when I hear the term “Ma’am” believe it or not, it doesn’t make me turn around and say, “Oh, you must be talking to me.” Adding ma’am, makes me hate you…sorry all of you southerners, but I do not need to be respected for my age. Making it to the ripe old age of 48 is not why I want respect. Also, being that I look hot for 48, calling me ma’am shows disrespect. I, too, have started “Ma’am-ing” back to people and low and behold…most ma’am-ers don’t like it. Imagine that. To you I say, “do unto others”!

  76. AML

    I live in the midwest, and it’s the god-awful nasality of the dialect, especially when saying the word “ma’am” that gets me. It sounds like “ME-AM”. Like nails on a freakin’ chalkboard.

  77. Daniel

    I think people are crazy if they get upset. Ok say I am a guy behind a counter. I don’t know your name, you ask me a question and I answer with Yes Ma’am, and you say don’t call me Ma’am? Uhhh I don’t know your name, and I am not going to say, yes woman. To me that sounds offensive. But if that is what you want then fine- woman.

    • Tracey Smith

      Well said Daniel…personally I would be offended if someone called me “lady” or “woman”…but am never upset by somoene using “Ma’am” or “Miss”.

      Just a term of respect and a small gesture that in our modern often “mannerless” culture not all signs of chivalry are dead…thank goodness!

    • Iryna

      yeah, just don’t put us in the age category YOU defined. Some women don’t like “hon”, some “miss” and I don’t like “ma’am”. I know you are talking to me when you are behind the counter, so leave the rest alone.

  78. Teeny

    Daniel, Just say yes, why need to add ‘ma’am’ or ‘woman’?

  79. Teeny

    Also one funny evening, the bouncer calls me ‘ma’am’ and then later some dude (lot of male friends of mine don’t like being called dude) calls me ‘hey, baby’.
    I take baby over ma’am any day. Maybe one day when I am over 60, I would make peace with that courtesy title. : p

  80. Leigh Christine Guidry

    Oh my god! I can’t believe this blog- this is f-ing hilarious. Dude, I’ve lived in the South most of my life- I’m 26. Seriously, I’ve been called ma’am sporadically since I was in my late teens. It is so dumb and ignorant. If I go to NYC, Portland, Chicago, L.A.- I am never called ma’am, and I’m carded everywhere I go. However, in the good ole’ south, when girls apparently grow up have babies and what not not fresh out of high school, you’re automatically put into a different category. I’m obviously stereotyping, but honestly- like Teeny said- just say yes, or no, or can I help you. The ma’am, sir, even miss thing is retarded. I am really glad to hear that it annoys other people too- cause I wanted to punch someone the other day at the store who just kept using the word over and over in our conversation- for no good reason- he was obviously older than and I and sounded like a dumb southern robot.

  81. Eric

    I try to be informal. For example at the Doctor’s office, if someone calls me
    ‘Mr. [Last Name]’ I smile and reply, ” My father is ‘Mr. [Last Name]’, and he’s since passed. Please just call me [First Name].”
    Or “My Father’s ‘Mister’, I’m just [First Name].”

  82. Lynn

    I see very young girls around 20 being ma’am but lately they don’t call me anything or they say Miss because I’ve been spending a lot of money on juvederm fillers and botox and wearing lighter lipstick instead of harsh dark on my pale blonde hair and pale skin and I keep a little petite figure but basically the fillers and botox help a lot

  83. Lynn

    I see very young girls around 20 being called ma’am and I use to get peeved at the constant ma’am calling but lately they don’t call me anything or they say Miss because I’ve been spending a lot of money on juvederm fillers and botox and wearing lighter lipstick instead of harsh dark color lipstick on my pale blonde hair and pale skin and I keep a little petite figure but basically the fillers and botox help a lot and some people think I am only 25 which is two decades younger but I have A LOT of fillers and also get botox and I don’t hear ma’am hardly ever now

  84. Dennis

    it really appears that most of the people who have responded to this question went off half cocked in their own assumptions. So I ask before I explain something.
    What was or is going thru your mind when someone addresses you?

    I learned a few years back after moving that most people calling me sir, my wife or my mother ma’am, never meant any harm nor did they make any assumptions of our age, marital status etc.

    They did it simply becuase to them, they were brought up to believe this to be respectful to others.
    I use sir or ma’am in the same meaning. I do not know your name, I have no inclination of yelling, hey you, or whats up, accross the counter at the convenience store, or when being introduced to you. I just wish to show you respect even if I dont know you. What ever went through your mind when I addressed you is your problem.

    • Tracey Smith

      Well said Dennis! I agree totally and I take no offense when someone calls me “Miss” or “Ma’am” as 99% of the time it is simply a term of respect. I’d rather someone call me “Miss” even though I am married than address me as “Hey Lady” or something of that manner.

      If folks REALLY get that!to deal with than the use of “Ma’am” or “Miss”!

  85. Sarah

    Unless you’re trying to get her attention and you don’t know her name, don’t do it. Just don’t.

  86. Iryna

    Those who are in their twenties are just ridiculous… “people called me ma’am and I found this amusing”. Dont you think it “amuses” you because mostly you are NEVER called ma’am. In my 20s in didn’t bother me at all. And now it does. I have the same reaction/feelings as other women in their thirties described. Yeah, it’s always “it’s a sign of respect”, so you are saying that you started to respect me only 3 years ago when I turned into mid-thirties and all of a sudden started to be called ma’am? At 32 y.o. I wasn’t, so I wasn’t respected? Bottomline, I don’t believe it’s a respect. In fact when the intonation is respectful, I even like it. I noticed a lot of younger people, when call ma’am, have this tone like I am their retarded grandma or smth. It bothers me too much. I know MOST of the women my age hate this but it also a problem that I just want to punch everyone in the face who calls me ma’am after I just got out of my ballet studio and leaped and turned for two hours… yeah, ma’am leaping in the air and doing pirouettes. Just don’t call women in their 30s ma’am. After all we might be 12 years older than you, but we are not your grandma age. Leave it as a sigbn of respect for your grandma too

  87. Truegem

    Ok…here’s my spin on it. I am 50 yrs old. When I was first called ma’am around age 18, sure I was a bit stunned. But I got used to it. I think people don’t like it because it sounds dowdy. But, I have noticed a recent trend where store clerks are suddenly calling women “miss”. Miss? Where did this come from? I am certainly not a “miss”. Do I look 12? And it seems as if they are saying to themselves “I know you look old enough to be called ‘ma’am’ but I’m going to pretend like I don’t see your age”. Come on! That’s even more offensive to me. I am ma’am. Call me ma’am! I started thinking that they call little girls “miss”, what do they call little boys? I’ve only heard “young man”. We wouldn’t want to make 50 year old men feel old, so should we start calling them “young man”? Sounds kind of patronizing, doesn’t it?

  88. mairtate

    Well, ma’am is definitely an understatement. I’m called ma’am now more than ever before. I feel it is a let down because I’ve been looked at as an attractive woman for so long. The word ma’am seems odd and it does make me feel like I’m all washed up in the “fishing pond” of women who are looking for a mate. But what is cool about it is when I hear it from a man, it lets me know he notices me. Even in the smallest since of meaning, he is looking at me. I know I can’t read what he’s thinking when he says it but I think he says it because I am older than he is or maybe he is just being polite. I’ll never like being called ma’am because I think it is old fashionished and I am sensitive about my looks. I’m almost 53.

  89. dotnetnuke support

    yeah, just don’t put us in the age category YOU defined. Some women don’t like “hon”, some “miss” and I don’t like “ma’am”. I know you are talking to me when you are behind the counter, so leave the rest alone.

  90. lynn

    I grew up in Hawaii, where women are often called Aunty. Mainly, younger people call older women either just “auntie” or “aunty so-and-so.” Most schoolchildren call female teachers “Miss” or “Mrs.” with no last name.

  91. lynn

    oh, and where I work now, my cubicle neighbor calls women “mammers” – she’s not a Ma’am-er as in a plural noun, but she says “yes, mammers,” and “no, mammers”

  92. sexism and ageism... period.

    I think the above comment said it best:

    “If this term was applied equally to everyone who is an actual woman (18 and over) then I wouldn’t have a problem with it, and I suspect no one else would either.

    The problem comes when the term is being applied in judgement of whether a woman is a certain age, whatever arbitrary point that may be to some people.

    We need to choose one term for every woman and apply it equally to every woman just like we use Sir for every age and marital status of a man. Once we do that, ma’am will no longer be an issue”.

    Amen. As the problem is not one of misplaced good intentions, but rather of classifying women into different categories based on their age, presumed marital status, motherhood etc., where there are NONE SUCH DIFFERENTIALS FOR MEN.

    I think this trend should be eliminated as it reinforces biases and “worth” differentials in the sexes.

  93. Ami

    Ok, I know this thread is pretty old now (no pun intended), but I just came back from the store and am pretty upset. Infact, I felt so down, I had to goggle the meaning of being called maam, and well here I am. Hehe.

    Yup, I got called the dreaded Honorific today, at Walmart no less. I actually feel I’ve been maamed quite often lately and I’m wondering is my age really starting to show?
    I’m 42, but up until I’d say age 40, I’ve ALWAYS been called miss. I’ve always looked young for my age, with most people assuming I was in college or even H.S. my whole entire adult years. I remember being carded for buying lotto when I was in my late twenties, carded for buying video games when I was in my thirties.
    So it’s kind of a shock to hear “maam” now. I’d been so used to “miss”.

    Granted I do recognize changes a bit, as is should be, but it’s not drastic, I don’t think. I hope? People I meet look genuinely shocked when they hear my real age (which then makes me feel all the more like the number 42 is old, but that’s another issue). I certainly don’t have any wrinkles, am a size 4, have long, waist length hair.
    In fact, just last summer, a stranger came up to me wanting to introduce me to his son. When I asked how old his son was, he said 26yrs. old!

    So surely I can’t be that old looking? But then why the maam now? Argh, I hate the paranoia the word “maam” brings about!

  94. Cayce

    Okay, you’re all crazy! I’m 35, I have been called Ma’am many times in my life, and I love it because to me, it means the “Ma’amer” is a very respectful individual. I have also used the term in many instances. However, I am not, in any way, nor will I ever be biased! I use this term simply out of respect for the individual, same as I would use “Sir” for a man. It has never had anything to do with a woman’s age, or how she looks! And I guarantee anyone who has ever called any of you Ma’am was not trying to be disrespectful towards you at all, and frankly, I find it disrespectful to complain about something so petty! The only reason it offends any of you is because you have confidence/age issues, but how is that anyone’s fault but your own?
    I have worked in customer service for years, and it is a requirement to talk to the customers as much as possible to make them feel comfortable, but honestly if you ask me a question, I don’t care how old you are, or what you look like, I’m just doing my job by answering your question with a “Yes Ma’am” or a “No Sir.” All of you who immediately get offended, and turn around with some snippy comments the second someone spews out the word Ma’am in your direction, are just ridiculous and childish! Why should I, or anyone else for that matter, continue to treat you with respect the next time you come around if that’s how you react to someone who actually went out of their way, to try treating you with a little decency?
    Here is a little story for ya. I had a customer once, who was a very nice older woman. I did my usual questions of “How are you doing today?” “Did you find everything okay?” and so on. Well she had a question for me, I can’t remember what it was, but I answered with my USUAL “Yes Ma’am” and she got this horrible look on her face, and in a very RUDE way said “It’s Miss!” (Now, I am not necessarily a person who enjoys conflict, and I have NO problems saying sorry for my wrong doings) But the way that woman continued to talk to me after that, and how bad she tried to make me feel about TRYING TO BE RESPECTFUL got me extremely upset, so I never called her Miss because she was anything but polite about it! I continued to call her Ma’am, but if she would have been respectful to me and said something along the lines of “I understand that you’re just trying to be respectful towards me, but could you please call me Miss instead of Ma’am because it offends me!?” I would’ve apologized and called her Miss..
    The bottom line here, is that I am anything but rude, my momma taught my better than that! In fact she always taught my siblings, and I to say please, and thank you, and to ALWAYS refer to a man as “Sir” and a woman as “Ma’am” unless otherwise specified.. But if you truly get offended by Ma’am you seriously need to seek therapy! It’s not like someone flat out telling you you’re an old bag, and I have NEVER called a woman “Ma’am” because I think she’s old! Honestly, I HATE saying Miss, it sounds stupid, and I will never say it! I think all of you need to take a step back before you get upset about THIS and look at the big picture, it’s never about what someone thinks of you! It’s respect for the people around you, and you should be grateful for it! I noticed someone mentioned they would rather someone not use a title at all when referring to someone, over using Ma’am, and you would probably complain about that too! I mean try it out loud, it sounds like you’re being a jerk. If someone asked you a yes or no question, and you say “No” versus “No Ma’am” it sounds like you just want to get the conversation over with, vs, adding a Ma’am at the end which sounds like you’re actually putting thought into it.. You are all very petty and childish and I can’t imagine having a friend or family member like any of you! I would be completely mortified to be around anyone who might slip and say Ma’am in the same room as you! And if you’re all so “beautiful” and “look so young” why do you care what other people think anyway?
    Like I said, if this TRULY bothers you to the point of making a scene in public, THERAPY NEEDED!

  95. Sue

    I don’t particularly care for the term “ma’am” but I understand that when people don’t know my name they are sometimes inclined to use it. Sometimes I think it is overused – it isn’t essential to keep saying “Yes, Ma’am” whenever I say something. That gets repetitive.

    I think it is a southern thing. However, my pet peeve is when people who know my name use the term ma’am on me. The other day I was solicited for money from my alma mater. The young woman talking to me started off by calling me “Dr.” which I am – and then progressed to addressing me as ma’am later in the conversation. I probably should have just asked her to call me by my first name. But the ma’am term can be pretty annoying when someone knows your name. I think sometimes people have a hard time getting used to the idea that it’s more appropriate to call a woman “Dr.” than ma’am – that she might appreciate the professional term over the gender-specific term. My guess is that when she addresses a man who is a Dr., she wouldn’t have any trouble using Dr. as an address. I think this is a reflection of the fact that we aren’t as used to addressing women as Drs. But I did think it was kind of funny- and this has happened to me more than once – to be addressed as Dr. at first and then later ma’amed. I thought it was a little inappropriate, since I have a professional title that is preferable to ma’am.

  96. Sue

    I don’t believe that people are intentionally using ma’am to address many of you as older women. I think the term is used when someone doesn’t know your name. In the South, I’ve seen it used on young girls at the age of 16. The only time I take offense is when someone knows my name, and yet they address me as ma’am. I find that odd.

  97. Danielle

    Its been happening to me since I turned 30 or in my late 20s. It bugs the heck out of me, but like most people here, everyone says its showing a sign of respect. Didn’t think I’d be ma’amed until my 40s. That’s 7 years away.

  98. 35 and constantly called Ma'am - in San Francisco!!

    I’ve lived in San Francisco my whole life. Never in my life was I ever called ma’am until I developed a bizarre facial affliction at around age 31. That affliction made me much older-looking and uglier than I actually am. Since then, I’ve constantly been called ma’am, everyday, by everyone. Sometimes I’m called miss, but I know it’s because they think I’m old. It hurts to death every time I’m called ma’am because I’m actually 35, but people think I’m in my late 40s-50s. My face problem makes me look prematurely old, mature, matronly, and unattractive. Please help me out of my nightmare.

  99. Rachel

    I used to hate being called ma’am and never used it for anyone else. I was raised in both the south (where calling people “Ms.” and “Mr.” was common) and Alaska (where kids called adults by their first names), and I found the whole thing very confusing. But I hated the word “ma’am.”

    Then I married a military man and lived on a military base for awhile. Everyone there called me (and every other female who was not their immediate pal) “ma’am.” And they called all males they did not know “sir.” It was a mark of respect. It appeared that when you didn’t know someone’s rank in the military, the default was to treat them as a superior, and that meant using “sir” or “ma’am.” And ever since then, I’ve addressed men I don’t know as “sir” and women I don’t know as “ma’am.” It has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with giving them the respect I feel they are due as a fellow human being.

    This post has taken me back to the pre-military days and made me remember that not everyone understands it how I mean it. *sigh* Oh, well.

  100. Iulia Iordache

    I’m 19 and have been called ma’am many times by clerks. I find it very rude especially since I look younger to everyone else. Seriously?!

    • Krishna

      ,Ohhh I undertand you good
      I am very young too and sometimes a very old men and women call me ma am

  101. Sacramenta Landrum

    I hate being called ma’am and Mommy when I’m in the street I always say Miss I feel that’s a form of respect.

  102. Vivian

    All these adult women complaining about being called “ma’am” — wow, just crazy! It’s merely a term of respect; the same as how “sir” is used for men. I’m 28, and have been called ma’am occasionally ever since I was in my teens. The person saying it is just being respectful and polite. “Miss” sounds inappropriate for someone who’s not a child or teenager. It’s crazy and sad how all these women so desperately want to deny the fact that they’re women and not girls, as if staying prepubescent adolescents is their life goal. I guess it’s a symptom of the insidious campaign of ageism against women.

  103. NM

    I’m now 52, and get maamed a lot. I hate it, and sometimes say something, especially if it’s from someone my age or older. I usually say “I don’t like being called maam, especially if it’s from someone the same age as me. The first woman I said that to, suddenly perked up, and acted more friendly, the second one acted a little insulted, and the third one admitted she didn’t like being called maam herself, and really didn’t think I was older than her. The weird thing is I recently lost a lot of weight, and look way better than I did before, and after losing the weight, suddenly started being called Maam a lot more. Anyway, I live in Alaska next to a military base, and I have to tell people this is not the South, where it’s custom. Since I’ve gotten older, I’m getting an avalanche of maams and it’s driving me crazy, and I can’t fight it.

  104. NM

    I am going to do a continuation of my previous comment. Usually when people call me maam, they are not deliberately trying to be rude, so I forgive them, but today, a young thirtyish or fortyish man came knocking door to door promoting some church event. from his church. The bible baptist church. Being that I’m not a baptist, I directly turned him down, and gave him back his flyer, and told him I’m not religious, and then he sayed “have a good day, maam”. and I felt like saying back to him. Have a good day jackass, because I felt like he was tresspassing on my property, and somehow he knew I probably hated being called maam, because he felt rejected. So yes, at that point I felt violated and insulted.

  105. Amber

    The first time I was called ma’am I was 19 years old. But I dressed older and wore a lot of make up…Than at 25 in a store and than again at 25 while a girl only a few years younger was called Miss but I would style my hair mature, wear dresses and make up… this was in Connecticut… than in California in my early 30s especially when I wore a platium blonde wig and make up but when I wear my own hair a more softer color and youthful style I am Miss or nothing and than suddenly the ma’am train roars in, I go for some botox and fillers and change my hair and than Miss or nothing and than suddenly the ma’am train rolls in, than Miss or nothing so I make changes when I hear ma’am roared at me.. This should be considered a insult as everyone should know by now women do not like this title…. it’s like calling somebody old or “has baggage like kids and mature” or bs… and some times it got so bad I was called mama… that fumed me even more.

    • Amber

      So like I said when the ma’am train comes roaring in I make changes and it stops for a while. than it starts up again and I go for fillers, botox, check my hair which can get frizzy and I also noticed the lighter blonde my hair is that too can lead to a ma’am… oppose to a warmer color and some times my eye make up, just any tiny ridiculous thing. Some people do it on purpose, I swear and some are ignorant and some do it subconsciously.



  1. Madame vs. Miss vs. Ma’am | Sasha Cagen - [...] own discomfort about being called “ma’am” (ick, hate that word!) in this piece, “Ma’am vs. Miss” and want to…

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Hi! I’m Sasha

Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to pursue their truest desires in the bedroom and the world.

Author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) + To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster).

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