Wednesday, 23 February 2011
On being called ma'am
I hate it. I can tolerate it from those younger than me, but when it comes from those older than me, it's so physically repellent I want to throw up.
In this case, it has to do with a student who's older than me doing it.
Walking home from the bus stop, I remembered why it's so visceral. I used to joke about it making me feel old, but I always knew that wasn't it. Suddenly, today, I had this image of being in Pakistan and being about 9 or so, and having my relatives' servants call me 'baji' - same kind of respect as 'ma'am'...and feeling deeply, deeply uncomfortable with it. Even then I thought, 'This is so wrong. I'm a KID. Just because I was born into a family with more, YOU - YOU, who know more about life than I do, who have had a hard life, who works so hard - YOU have to call me 'baji'? I don't think so.'
The most fun I ever had in Pak, outside of time with my cousins, was with the servants. They read our palms, they babysat us, they gossiped, they loved us when we sat in the kitchen, they told stories, kept our secrets. They were REAL, and often happy in a way other adults weren't. I ADORED them and felt so guilty when they did stuff for me.
More times than I want to remember, one of my aunts or uncles would yell at them for the smallest infraction, because dinner wasn't ready fast enough or because they were taking out their frustrations on them. I might have spoken up, on occasion, saying that it wasn't their fault - and sometimes, if I wasn't dragged off, I'd stay and comfort one of the younger women if she was crying after being yelled at. That made me feel worse about going up to them and asking for something to hear 'Gee, baji?' From an ADULT to a CHILD. So wrong.
People would say it's an appropriate mark of respect. Respect? For a *9* year old? What fucking respect had I earned by being middle class? Exactly NONE. 'Sufi', 'Hajji', titles that are earned for some achievement or mark of character, ok. Otherwise? No.
And I feel the same way about priests. You get the respect of your office when I respect the man you are. Character gets respect. Titles aren't worth the graphite a pencil uses to write them.
This student calling me that? NO. No. He's older than I am, wiser than I am, a better person than I am, has done so much in his life. IF there's inequality here, it goes the other way.
In the end, that's really the crux of it: it creates barriers between people. It gets in the way of talking to you, finding out who you are, genuine meeting.
And taking the time to listen and spend time? Now THAT is real respect.