When Gender Terms Offend

I have a dear friend, Amanda, who is server in a local restaurant. College educated and in her early thirties, waitressing is a temporary path to paying the bills. She related the following incident, which upset and confused her. Waiting on a group of women in their late 50s, she asked the following question: Are you ladies ready to order?

One of the diners lashed out at her saying, “I haven’t spent my whole career working to be taken seriously just to be called a ‘lady’. You need to use a gender-neutral term.” They then proceeded to look down their noses at her, as though being in the service industry carries a stigma. Amanda noted they had been discussing ways to improve the status of women and equal rights, but they proceeded to treat her as second class.

The only gender-neutral term I could think of was ‘you’ as in, “Are you ready to order?” which sounds impersonal. That led me to start surveying women on the topic. I queried dozens of women from their 20s into their 80s. Most were shocked at the women’s behavior. However, two made points worth considering. “Most people working as waitstaff go out of their way NOT to offend people,” said one.

A second one mentioned it might be important to a “non-binary” individual. Full disclosure – I had no idea what she was talking about and had to look up the term. Another term for non-binary is “asexual” which I’m familar with.

But this woman’s complaint had nothing to do with being neither feminine or masculine exclusively. Perhaps the person in question was having a difficult day. If so, don’t take it out on your server. At a neighborhood restaurant I frequent, there is a sign that reads, “A person who is nice to you, but is not nice to the waiter is not a nice person.”

Secondly, we as women can’t afford not to work together. As the Me Too movement continues to demonstrate, women have great power in numbers and the momentum needs to keep growing. Across the world, inequality and violence towards women occurs constantly. Being part of instituting greater and permanent change can begin with the simple act of being polite and respectful to those who serve us.

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