Nicola’s Got Nerve | Issue 6

“I’m not your sweetheart.”

The other day, I got into a livery cab, which I often do when I travel from Washington Heights to go downtown. I indulge in this guilty pleasure  especially when I’m going toward the East Side, which takes a monstrous amount of time to get to from the Heights. Typically, I do a “street hail,” because it seems to save time, as well as money. This means that I take certain precautions when getting in a cab, so that I don’t have any problems, which I’ll detail in another post. Well, this cab seemed alright, as in, the driver seemed courteous, and not creepy. So I got in and everything seemed to be going OK, when he decided to go a different way than the way that I had requested him to go, which unfortunately resulted in us missing several lights, getting caught in traffic etc. So I politely said that I really preferred to take the other route to the Harlem River Drive. He responded by calling me “sweetheart,” which, considering the circumstances, was pretty condescending.

I immediately said, “Don’t call me sweetheart!” He seemed very surprised, and perhaps had never received that response before. As an older man, I suspect that he probably had called young women that throughout his life, and was never called to task for it. And honestly, I’ve been called that so many times before by men of a certain age, that I thought I had almost become insensitive to it ~ the operative word here being “almost.” It’s so common, that it’s easy to tell yourself that “they don’t mean anything by it,” which is exactly the response I received when I spoke up to this cab driver. But just because something offensive/patronizing has become normalized, doesn’t make it in the least bit acceptable. And I don’t think I’m alone in this view.

When I told him not to call me that, I elaborated the reason ~ not with the obvious one, of him being condescending to me given the specific circumstances, but of the real reason. I told him that it was considered a term that should only be used between a husband and wife, and a boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it indicated that the man had a sexual relationship with the woman. This statement of course stopped him dead in his tracks, so to speak. Now, I know that parents sometimes call their son or daughters this as well, as a term of endearment, but I wanted to drive home to him the fact that it was a term only used between people who had an intimate relationship with one another, and that it wasn’t acceptable to use in other settings. Well, he got the message, and at that moment professed undying love to his dear wife, saying that he never meant to come on to me. It totally worked ~ he understood what I was trying to say, and did actually apologize.

When will men learn that calling women whom they’ve just met, “sweetheart” is not acceptable? When we start calling them on it, each clueless person at a time. And that’s how change works.

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