Friday, August 17, 2012

Sir or Ma'am?

I study karate. I have for years. Recently I started at a new school and after I was asked to teach class for the first time and several students addressed me as "Sir" the question came up as to what I would prefer to be addressed as. The head instructor said that a previous female teacher (the only other one, as far as I can tell) had preferred to be called "Sir", he guessed because she was young (didn't want to be called ma'am) and they thought of "sir" in a gender-neutral way.

My first (internal) reaction was, "That's crap!" on two levels. 1) "Sir" is not gender-neutral. 2) I am a woman, not a man. But now that I think about it some more, I realize that it is much the same issue that I have faced at work being a scientist. Be a woman or try to be one of the boys. I suspect a similar choice has to be made by the minority gender in any similar situation. It seems amplified in situations that one would like to be able to say "I can do anything you can do."

So which sends the "right" message? Try to blend in and in a gesture of solidarity and conformity go with "sir" in my new school? Or insist on being called "ma'am" as a verbal reminder of the fact that I am a woman, and I can (hopefully) still do it all.

Given that I have made the decision in my professional life to dress like a woman professional and even wear a bit of makeup, I think they are all going to have to call me ma'am. But I'm curious to hear what others would say.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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