Now, this is going to be a hard one for some of us, particularly if you have a negative view of the word “ma’am.” The term “ma’am” can see old-fashioned; the sort of thing that properly belongs to Downton Abbey and the remarkable Dame Maggie Smith. I do not hold such a view, and I’d like to explain why in the hopes of bringing reluctant Divas around to my way of thinking. (I know this author is entrenched in her way of thinking, although I must admit that her idea of bringing back the title “M’Lady” has a certain appeal.)
I am the product of being brought up in the country outskirts of a small Southern town before the widespread adoption of home computers, the Internet, and social media. Yes, I researched my first term paper using an actual card catalog, the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, and a typewriter. (Not even an electric one!) Also yes, I learned to drive a car with manual transmission, spent time in third grade learning cursive and various formats of letter writing, and can diagram the heck out of a complex sentence. And I grew up calling any adult – including my parents – “sir” and “ma’am,” habits that were double-ingrained into me by a host of relatives. (Plus, Langston Hughes understood the power of the “ma’am” and it’s hard to go wrong with Mr. Hughes.)
I think that most of us never grow older than 26 in our heart-of-hearts. Therefore, the first time I was called “ma’am” myself, it came as a bit of a shock. (Mind you, it was a respectful “ma’am,” not a sarcastic, snarky one.) Surely I wasn’t old enough to rate a “ma’am.” What next? Was I to take up tatting lace doilies?
No. Of course not. But Divas – we are here because we have survived our first act in life. We’ve made it past the fair-weather friendships that often mark our less-wise youth; figured out that work is an important part of our lives, but isn’t our actual life; and known both sides of the coin of despair and delight. We carry laugh lines, some extra pounds here and there, and the calm that comes with learning that you can survive what you are sure would break you before you had no choice but to get through it.
If we don’t deserve to respectfully be called “ma’am” after all that — well, I don’t know what to say to you. I say that we treat the word as a mark of respect and insist on the honorific. Reclaim the word until it becomes second nature in society to refer to a group of us as “a ma’am of Divas.”
Of course, it also helps to find a town where, every now and then, a tall drink of water wearing a well-worn cowboy hat spies you on the street walking to the local café and, naturally as a sunset, raises his hand to the brim of his hat, dips his chin downward in a respectful nod, and says to you —
That’ll put a spring in your step.