Ma’am vs. Miss

What is the appropriate age for baristas, video store clerks, and waitresses to start calling a woman “ma’am”? Please tell me, because I would like to know. I have become semi-obsessed with this question over the last couple of months. It’s possible that people have been calling me “ma’am” for years and I never really noticed, but all of a sudden, this summer when I was on the East Coast I started to feel middle-aged when every service professional addressed me in this (now) most dreaded way. I decided that this was perhaps an East Coast suburbia thing, that in Rhode Island, at age 34, I am presumed to be a mother when I’m out shopping at the grocery store or running errands, and therefore “matronly.” If there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s “matronly.”

I haven’t been keeping count exactly of what I’m being called, perhaps a good sign, that this self-conscious obsession is waning. I can say unscientifically that since coming home to San Francisco I’ve been called “miss” a couple times, “young lady” a few, but mostly “ma’am.” My friend Sara tried to convince me that being called “ma’am” is a sign of respect, entirely appropriate for someone of my age. I guess at the core I have some resistance to my age, then. But for some reason it’s not bothering me as much lately. I would like to say that it’s because I’m becoming even more supremely self-confident and not vain. I don’t think so. I think it’s something about SF. That I can be “ma’am” and still a kid here, in a way that is not possible in a place where 34 means settled down and with child. Not that I’m opposed to that state, but that’s not where I am right now.

I just want to be clear, too, that I’m not opposed to all language indicating the adult state of a female human being. In fact, I like the word “woman,” and even prefer it to “girl.” I just really don’t want to be “ma’am.” “Ms.”–that would be weird, it’s not going to work as a form of address. “Lady” sounds a little rude and weird. What else is there? Suggestions, ideas? Am I the only one who feels this “ma’am” revulsion?*

*reposted from

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122 comments on “Ma’am vs. Miss
  1. Christina says:

    It’s definitely a factor of age – I can remember quite clearly the first time anyone called me “ma’am,” a girl younger than myself behind a counter. It was unnerving at first, but like yourself, I’ve gotten used to it over time. And I do believe it’s a term of respect, the girl equivalent of “sir.”

    And speaking of “girl,” it’s actually the only term that DOESN’T offend me, because it’s the only term that isn’t male-derived. I’m not a woman (wombed man), nor am I a female (feminine male), I’m a Gyno-American, damnit, and I want respect! Girl is as close as has ever happened to an us-specific term, and I embrace it. I also refuse to call boys anything but boys, in large part because I haven’t met too many real “men” in my life, just boys who got bigger.

    Until they come up with terms for the two genders that aren’t rude or derivative, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • Melanie says:

      I do NOT like to be called a GUY as in “you guys” I ignore everyone that uses it now and I correct them sometimes too….that’s my bigges pet peeve..I’m 32 and I will always ’till the end of time call myself a girl is ok sometimes too..but I see a lot of old men over the age of 50 calling themselves GUY..guy is for that age range of men between 15 and 40 not for anyone above that age..just my two cents

    • Axel says:

      So you demand respect based on your gender, but refuse to give it to others based on theirs? Sums up modern feminism perfectly.

    • Jan says:

      Actually female doesn’t mean feminine male. Male and female aren’t etymologically linked at all. Female comes from the Latin word ‘femella’ and male comes from the Latin word ‘masculus’. Woman also isn’t derived from man.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I totally relate to this issue, and I am ten years older than you, Sasha. I first was called “ma’am” shortly after getting married at age 32. I gained a lot of weight while married, during which time everyone seemed to call me “ma’am.” Fascinatingly, when my marriage ended, almost instantaneously everyone started calling me “miss” again. I was stunned. There is no way folks were checking out my ring finger before addressing me at the cash register! I lost the gained weight through the divorce, and continued to be called “miss” even though I was now nearly a decade older. Lately, I’ve noticed a trend toward “ma’am” again, and am uncertain whether this is due to inevitable aging (though everyone still says I quite young), or a regaining of some weight. My hunch is that it is due to a combination of these, and that together they affect my energy and the vibe I put out there. All of this experience has been in the Northeast, so I don’t think it’s just a regional thing. Overseas, I’ve always found folks likely to say the more formal (and less age-related) “madam” — which is really the equivalent of “sir” — “Miss” is generally addressed to female minors only.

    My hunch is that either there’s something you’re putting out there that is perceived as more “adult” (maybe related to the “sexual energy crisis”?) – OR — these service workers are getting younger and younger and think anyone who looks over 24 is a fogey!

  3. Cinda says:

    Someone needed to address this and this is the first time I’ve seen it done! kudos to you miss madam. Keep the Faith.

  4. Onely says:

    I’ve been getting the ma’am–I think it was when I started wearing my glasses full-time. Sigh. It kind of irks me.

    However, I seem to remember being ma’amed even when I was very young, and looked it. I think that people tend to be afraid of “miss” because they don’t want to sound patronizing, and “ms” sounds very close to “miss.” They therefore go for “Ma’am” because you’re right, there really is no other good alternative.

    When I buy my latte, I’d like them to say “Will that be skim, whole, or two percent, Oh Esteemed Goddess?” but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe if I take off my glasses.

    Thanks for addressing the topic. –Christina

    • I love it! “Oh Esteemed Goddess” is the best by far!

      I’ll also take “Oh Brilliant One” and “She Who Walks in Beauty.” 😉

    • karen becker says:

      Ma,’am is a respectful way to address an adult woman whose name you do not know. Miss is for girls or someone much younget than yourself. It is NOT proper for a boy to adreess a woman miss. This is in no wsy a term to donote matronly or elderly status.

      Get over it women, there does come a time when we are no longer young girls. I am nearly 70. When a boy the age of my grandson cslls me miss, I find it patronizing. And just realize no one taugt him those social skills.

      • Mlzr says:

        It’s over. There aren’t separate terms for men based on marital state or age. And someone who doesn’t know me doesn’t need to be making that distinction. Hate the term. It’s not needed. Thank you or have a nice day need not be followed by anything.

    • Brian says:

      I agree with the other commenters. But I’ll add that I am usually called sir by people older than me. Weird. I had an ex coworker who was in her late 50’s who called me sir, when I was 41. It’s nice when people call you by your first name when their co workers. I feel it’s so they don’t have to spend the time to get to know people. Kinda of mercenary of them.

      I heard this first when I was 34.

      I also discovered that it’s more of a control thing. I’ve had coworkers all my age, who call me by my given name.

      Thats the name I answer to.

      But when a person doesn’t really spend the time to get to know you, it’s not you.

      That person forgets names, generally might not like people enough to learn about them, never mind remember their name.

      It usually is also for me the opposite sex.

      Yeah. The person is not spoken to.

  5. John says:

    I felt a similar reaction the first time I was called “Sir” though I immediately changed my view of it and dropped the offense. Though I am a male and we may think differently, but a gay male, of course it is about age and we need to be thankful that we are aging as if we stop aging we are dead…so please call me “Sir”…and it’s all about perception anyway…you can make it anything u want it to be…higher consciousness for me.

  6. Lisa says:

    Being called “ma’am” never bothers me; I interpret it as a term of respect or appreciation for your business. I do get annoyed when called “Mrs”, especially when addressed by someone from a company I’ve done repeated business with. Even if the person doesn’t know there’s no husband on my account, I’d prefer they opt for generic ma’am or Ms. Instead, they figure the most polite choice for a woman of a certain age is Mrs. I quickly correct them with “Miss” because that’s what I am. With so many always-single women in the U.S., Miss cannot be a title reserved for minors.

  7. Tracy says:

    I get highly offended when I am called “ma’am,” and immediately correct the wrongdoer by responding “It’s miss.” “Ma’am” is a contraction of “madam,” which is a married woman. I am not a madam (of any sort). I still get called “miss,” and LOVE being referred to as a girl. I’m 47, BTW.

    • nolachic says:

      And u look absolutely stunning for ur age. I wish I had the guts to correct people… I especially hate being called “ma’am” when I’m with my boyfriend who is 27. I’m 32 and yet they make me feel like I’m his mother! Bastards!!!

    • karen becker says:

      Unless they are much older than you they are not the wrongdoer. The corecct and respectful thing is to call an adult woman ma’am and a child or girl miss. At age 47, you are a grown up woman snd deserve that respect.

    • Viviana says:

      I admire your confidence, I wish I could correct them too!

  8. Rena says:

    I’m thirty, and I find “ma’am” very unnerving. “Miss” means a cute young thing. “Ma’am” means a stodgy, unattractive, older woman. I actually feel hurt when people say “ma’am”.

    • Odette says:

      I feel hurt every time– I totally agree. Also love the response just before–just correct the offending mam-er and say “it’s not ma’am it’s miss.” I said that very same thing to a clerk the other day!

      Now Ms. is another thing–that should be if you are addressed as your name like MS. Jones vs. Mrs. Jones or Miss Jones. I prefer MS. — it’s a feminist thing. We shouldn’t have to have our marital status identified if a man doesn’t have to as they are all MR.

    • karen becker says:

      You sre so wrong in your impression. Miss or ma’am have nothing to do with body type or atrattiveness. Miss is properly used to address a child or young girl whose name you dont know. Ma’am is s respctful term to address an adult woman obviously older than yourself or older than a young girl or female child whose name you dont know.

  9. Lili says:

    I don’t understand why everyone thinks “ma’am” is meant to mean older women. In the customer service business, we are required to address all female customers as ma’am and male customers as sir. Also, in the south, everyone calls everyone else ma’am and sir. I was shocked when my friend called her mom and dad ma’am and sir, but when I found out it was a cultural thing, I understood it, though it was still weird. I’ve never addressed my mom as anything but mom (unless I was really angry at her when I was a teenager, I called her by her first name). I found this article because I received a call from a customer yesterday who went off on me when I answered her question with “yes ma’am” which is how I have answered every woman in the 5+ years I have been with my company. She verbally eviscerated me! I am here to tell you that is not okay. In the customer service profession, we are trained to address every customer in this way, regardless of age. I have spoken with girls that sounded 5 years old translating for their mothers who couldn’t speak English, and I still called them ma’am. It has nothing to do with age, it is the customary way to address a female. My husband is a manager of a restaurant, and ever since he started as a server at that restaurant, he has been required to use the same forms of address. By the way, ma’am is a contraction for madam, which is a derivative of the French “madame” therefore it is the formal way to address a woman in the US. Not to mention that the military requires women to be addressed as ma’am, and men to be addressed as sir. Any of you on here whining about being called ma’am are as crazy as Senator Boxer. And any of you who would make a customer service professional cry because she addressed you as ma’am should be institutionalized.

    • You make some great points, I think.

      I grew up in the south, and ma’am was always a term of respect, even to very young females. When I was in high school, I learned in French class that all women are addressed as “madame” once they’re no longer young girls. I felt “ma’am” was something to aspire to, an acknowledgment that I was deserving of more respect than is typically granted to a child.

      Interesting . . .

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Lili,
      I’m sorry you got emotionally hurt because you said something you are used to saying in your customer service field..I do think you overreacted though..99 percent of females I know hate the word Ma’am and yes, it does imply and old married person, regardless of it’s overusage in the south and indiscriminatory usage in the rest of the world..Next time just say Miss…see who complains, if no one, then I’d stick with that..No offence, I would gently tell you to call me Miss as well.

      • Katie says:

        I disagree that 99% of females hate the word ma’am! I personally *hate* being called miss — *especially* by a teenage boy that could be my son! I find it patronizing and demeaning. Personally, I think in face-to-face interactions, using either miss or ma’am is unnecessary — merely make eye contact, smile, and answer the question politely — no ma’am or miss necessary, and no risk of offense. I live in the Boston area and thankfully, most service people avoid either term — but when an 18 year old boy calls me “miss” with a bored tone to his voice I want to slap him.

    • karen becker says:

      I totally agree. Those who whine about this are showing off their ignorance and lack .of social skills. A female child, though should be called Miss.

    • Michele Mitchell says:

      Thank you for your informative response! I just returned from a trip to the South and was so offended that the majority of people in the sales / restaurant industry addressed me as ma’am. I’m 37 and flinch every time I hear that home in NY.

    • Brian says:

      Decoding the myth.

      I have alot of family who have served the country in the US Armed services. None of them call people sir or maam. Decoded.One of them, I call Dad. He is not formal, funny, caring, and great father.

      My grandfather was super cool. Same with my great uncle. None of them use military lingo at home.

      They didn’t fight in the military for women like you.

    • Carol grayce says:

      If it bothers the customers than your management should change their process. I have worked on the phones and have had much more of a connection, because I addressed men and women by their first name. Ma’am is so impersonal anyways. I am so sick of people forcing their culture especially in the new century. Are you even paying attention? People HATE being singled out as older. Its discrimination.

  10. Erika says:

    I get unnerved by ma’am too. But when I think about it, what other polite options does one have to refer to me? I too have been told I look quite young.

  11. I remember the first time I got “ma’am-ed” — I must have been about 4 years old, and I was delighted. I actually thought, “Well finally I’m getting some respect around here!”

    It’s actually never bothered me. I also remember, as a teenager, finding it a little unnerving when older women referred to themselves and each other as “girls.” I couldn’t wait to stop being an apprentice-woman and become a full-fledged one! Couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stay a “girl.”

    Writing this, I’m realizing that I guess I’ve always just regarded the ma’am thing as being about having power over my own destiny in the world. I guess it’s never felt age-related to me, and still doesn’t.

    I admit that this is a little weird . . . 😉

    • emily says:

      Deborah, that is the smartest and most wonderful response I have heard from this popular question. It really embraces the values of womanhood and adds dignity to be strong and not debase ourselves with crazy expectations of eternal youth that people seem to be obsessed with these days. Womanhood and respect is are things we must embrace and not fear will make us appear “less attractive”. Well written Deborah*

      • Francesca says:

        Great post Emily and Deborah! Why are we all so afraid to be called women, ma’am, and not girls, miss. Trust me, I have been there too but isn’t it just us reacting to what society, men, unrealistically expect and want? The obsession with youth is ridiculous and probably the worst in the states. What is sexier than a confident, experienced woman who has all of that to offer and only becomes more beautiful each year because she learns and grows. Far sexier than a young girl who is still finding her way. Embrace it ladies! We are strong beautiful ma’ams !

      • karen becker says:

        Amen! Eternal expectations of girlhood is NOT attractive.

    • karen becker says:

      Drbra, my thoughts exactly. At my sge I’ve psid my dues and want to be spoken to as an adult not s little girl. I find it diminiishing and pstronixing for a young boy or girl to call me, a
      woman a name for a child.
      It is time to be proud of achieving adulthoid and older stages. We earned it.

  12. Sue says:

    Thank you Lili! Anyone in customer service should absolutely address female customers as “Ma’am” unless they look 12 or younger. In fact, many 5-star restaurants’ employees call women “Madam”. I am 46 and often have my daughter in tow, and, over the past two years or so in southern California many salespeople have called me “Miss”. I take it as extremely disrespectful and correct them immediately. Many a shoe salesman has lost a commission as a result. I hear them calling male customers ‘Sir”; why can’t they call me “Ma’am”?

    BTW, according to 2009 Webster, ma’am is “used without a name as a form of respectful and polite address to a woman.” It does not even specify married woman.

  13. theauthorityonstufflikethis says:

    There is no age, but rather a time in life when one becomes ma’am and that’s adulthood. Unless someone is clearly a teenager they are a ma’am.
    If they are clearly old enough to support themselves as in grown women they are ma’am. Any other uses of these honorifics are incorrect. Miss has always meant young girl and ma’am adult woman of any age. ALWAYS.

    In o


    • karen becker says:

      Correct! Too much political correctness just ends up looking foolish. When a boy call me miss becsuse he does not know any better I do correct him. I hope he takes it as a gift his own mother did not teach him.

  14. Dan says:

    Very fine remarks by all.
    Especially the first or second one.
    Why must women play second banana
    to men.
    I’m sorry for this.
    It runs deeper than we know.
    Why no name for women???
    She said ‘woman’ comes from ‘man with a womb’!!!
    Can you believe that ???

  15. Sue says:

    I’m most likely to be addressed as Ma’am by men who are twice my age. During this past week I was addressed twice by men in their sixties as ma’am. I find it to be sexist for one principle reason. We don’t differentiate men by age – it would be rude if I called them “Old Sir” or “Old Man” even though I’m half their age, yet we distinguish women by age.

    • Melissa says:

      Actually, the term for a young male, equivalent to ‘miss’ is ‘master’ as in “Master Tiny Tim”.

      Women are ma’am, girls are miss.

      What I don’t like is when I’m over ma’am’d by servers at restaurants haha — it’s as annoying as when a server calls me ‘hun’.

      I’ve noticed as I weigh more and appear ‘dowdy’ is when I am ma’am’d frequently.

      Like a previous person said, I refuse to use the title Mrs regarding anyone – adult women are Ms and minor girls are Miss – regardless of marital status. What an antiquated notion, using Mrs at all!

  16. Carol J Sheehan says:

    So after reading all the above comments what would be the correct way to call another female person if you don’t know their name or don’t know their status of either being married or single? Simply put there is no correct way to address a younger or older or married or single woman unfortunately. So I think whether we like it or don’t like it there is no answer except to use the term Ma’am. If someone can come up with another answer I would love to know what it is.

    • Claire says:

      In lieu of ma’am, why does it have to be so complicated to make eye contact with responses similar to – excuse me, hello, thank you, yes please, your welcome or have a nice day! I will never impose the irreverent and often catty Tone of Ma’am onto anyones ears, regardless of perceived chronological age or marital status. This is how I keep it simple, sincere & respectful. There is no rule preventing you from asking for their name either.

    • karen becker says:

      Use miss for girl child, teen or very young woman obviously younger than you. Use ma’am for an adult woman. Easy.

      • authorityonallthings says:

        No. Only use ma’am for grown up women and miss for children and teens. I don’t use ma’am for a woman younger than me, that’s the problem right there. All women are ma’am, younger or older than me unless the female in question is a child or a teenager.

  17. Armand says:

    I would love to have an ageless and genderless form of honorific to address everyone respectfully. If anyone preferred to be called Mr. or Miss or Ms, or Ma’am, or even by their name, I hope that they would correct me if I said something wrong. The purpose for these things are after all, to make people feel comfortable, not the opposite.

    The Senator is catching a lot of trouble for correcting the man in the interview, but anyone should be able to ask to be addressed however they prefer. She should not have had to explain at all, though I am sure the man meant no disrespect and this is proved by his answer, “Yes, Senator.”

    It bothers me a bit that the only remaining thing is simply to not use any honorific at all, ever, since it seems like courtesy in general is something that’s falling quickly out of fashion. Even please and thank you are words being lost from common use. But out of concern of offending someone, I think I must consider it now.

    For a time, the way I understood it, Ma’am was universally respectful, and I have always used it to offer respect to a woman I didn’t know, and Sir to a man, both regardless of age. Now it seems to cause more trouble than it causes happiness.

    The trouble I have had with sir and ma’am is not so much one of age, though I am sure it probably has something to do with it, but with being mistaken over the phone.

    I have a somewhat feminine voice, I suppose, since It happens consistently, even when my accounts are right in front of them with the prefix “Mr.”. I have yet to find a way to correct people politely, since no matter how simply and delicately I put it, they are almost always mortified by their mistake… Or worse, continue to make the mistake even after being corrected. It is for this reason I almost always let it slide.

    If there was a genderless term, this would not be a problem, but maybe the only answer really is to drop the use of honorifics. Certain honorifics have fallen out of use for obvious reasons before. The youthful male term was “Master” for instance. Can you imagine anyone calling someone ‘master’ now and not having it questioned? Aside from the Jedi, it’s now associated with slavery. So the idea that they should ALL be dropped isn’t so very strange. When something outlives its use for its intent, it should change.

    I once had a man at a drive through intercom insist that he used ma’am to show respect to me. When he was informed of my gender, he did stop calling me ma’am, but not once did he ever say ‘sir’ to me. What do you think of that?

    It makes me think that maybe he doesn’t respect men, only women. Or maybe, he doesn’t respect any man that he can mistake for a woman.

    In any case, I am reluctantly inclined to agree with you. There is nothing else for it but to stop the whole thing altogether. Despite the best intention, something can not be polite if it offends people.

  18. Lynn ann says:

    I live in Southern California and I always dress sexy, wear my hair sexy but I do get called “ma’am” some times and it really bothers me. I also get called “Miss” or they don’t say anything but the ma’am does get on my nerves. I do not look like a ma’am

  19. E.S. says:

    Hate the term. It’s not a polite term. It’s just a lazy generic way of addressing an adult woman, usually by some undertrained service industry personnel or by someone immersed in country music and old western movies. The customer service industry should know that customer service isn’t about calling people “sir” or “ma’am.” It’s about being courteous and helpful to people in general and not making judgments about their age or status based on their appearance. A lot of people can’t help looking older than they are, and a lot of people look younger than their age, so you can’t really tell. Most women are insulted by the term and feel that someone’s telling them they look like they’re past their prime or that they’re little housewives who are not very bright. Even senior women hate the term because it’s not very flattering to be told that you look old enough to deserve “respect.” The term “ma’am” really gets on a lot of people’s nerves and I would love to see it eliminated from customer service, period. Also, when customer service workers use it, often it’s because they’re telling you off and putting you in your place, so in that sense, it’s not very polite at all, but actually quite rude.

    • karen becker says:

      You look like a child? Then miss it is. But looking sexy is really not apprpriate for a child but a woman. Cant have it both ways, miss. Wow what a lot of stereo types there are for a resprctful term. Ma’am: grown up, woman, strong, deserves respect, knows herself,

  20. E.S. says:

    I also want to say that it’s just a rude and lazy business fad to call all men “sir” and all women “ma’am.” It’s not polite. It’s just impersonal, a quick way of processing people without caring who or what they are. All men are sir, all women ma’am. Maybe some accountant thinks it’s polite, but it’s aggravating to those of us on the receiving end to be treated like cattle.

  21. Claire says:

    Thank you Armand, yes perhaps we should consider “ma’am” an antiquated term. In response to your drive-thru comment…. I frequently observe women being repeatedly addressed as ma’am while their male counterpart is not addressed as sir from the same customer service individual. I perceive this disparity as a lack of respect for the female gender which brings me to ES comment about rudeness. In my personal experience the repetition of ma’am inevitably escalates whenever there is an altercation or miscommunication, whether it be by phone or in person. As the conversation continues I request to be addressed by my name but ma’am will be further imposed incessantly (as often as 5 times) within each sentence, at this point it crosses the line to Verbal Abuse! Just because ppl are trained to say it doesn’t make it right or respectful & when you consider the repetition it may be unconscious for the most part, many people appear to be on automatic pilot (maybe they are the cattle). Your comments are spot on E.S…. Ma’am is often a catchall to deceptively express expletives or sarcasm & it can be very demeaning in a public setting. Drop the e on madame to also define a woman who runs a brothel. Does “sir” share this negative connotation?

  22. Nicole says:

    It annoys me–and I think it annoys anyone–so I don’t understand the point of using the term “ma’am.” Actually, I think people use the term when they WANT to annoy you…they pick out women who are maybe at a sensitive age..around 30…and use it to imply she’s old. Sort of a subversive passive-aggressive way that a service worker has to assert the little bit of power they have to insult you–and you can’t really say anything back or complain because they’re just being “polite”

    Make no mistake about it..unless someone was raised in the south or a trailer park, it’s a veiled insult.

    It’s weird, because even when I was a service worker I never addressed people as anything like ma’am, miss, sir. It would sound so ridiculous for me to call someone ma’am.

  23. Marissa Dennis says:

    The difference between a “miss” and a “ma’am” has nothing to do with age and everything to do with a woman’s sexual status. “Miss” is used to refer to a virginal or sexually immature woman. An unmarried woman is presumed to be a virgin, thus any unmarried woman, regardless of age, is “Miss.”

    • Msthang says:

      I don’t care what it’s referring to. It’s antiquated to have four different honorifics for a woman and one for a male. Women are always named and categorized as if we’re cattle, and it’s bullsh*t. If every man is a sir every woman regardless of age or marital status should be a madam. That it isn’t so demonstrates the extent to which women are steel under the thumb of the patriarchy. We are judged by our youth and our looks, and the language reinforces that, creates an unsavory reality. I say stop using ma’am. If you don’t like to be called it, by heavens, don’t call other women ma’am. If you meet me, Ms. (Miz) will do just fine.

  24. Manda S. says:

    Maybe it’s just because I live in the south, but I’ve never once hear *anyone* called Miss. The first time I was addressed as ‘ma’am’ I was seven, and it was by one of the servers at a buffet. remember being so excited that it took me a moment to remember to reply, and right afterward I rushed off to tell my grandmother, who was with me at the time. I was so happy, because I was finally starting to be shown the respect normally reserved for adults.

    I definitely find nothing sexist about the term, ma’am, lol. Nor do I take it as an indicator of age. I was called it as a child, and now as a sixteen year old I still am. I’d be more upset if someone *didn’t* address me as ma’am, because to be, that would be a lack of respect.

    I tell my mother ‘yes ma’am’. And my grandmother, my aunts, my teachers. For me it’s a form of respect that we’re loosing all too fast and I’d hate to see go.

    • karen becker says:

      I was rsised in an upscale community. Where I llearned miss is for children mam for adults. It is not trailer trash talk at al. It is polite

  25. Edyta says:

    In my country both males and females are titled “pan” and “pani” respectively after they turn 12-14 and continue to be titled this way until they die. It is a promotion from the childhood to the adulthood and it happens early in life when women are not age-conscious yet. It seems more complicated here in US where becoming “ma’am” is seen as degradation from “young woman” to “not so young woman” or “older than you woman”. I think the problem lays not in the word “ma’am” but “miss”. This is the moment when you stop being called “miss” which is so painful for some women. The “miss” title should be dropped and that is what some businesses are trying to do right now. As long as the title “miss” is in use EVERY woman sooner or later is going to experience that unpleasant moment. But before that change will come… be realistic and do not blame service stuff for what you look like because they are not assaulting you. Yes, they do asses your age, like everybody else automatically does in the first seconds of contact. It does not matter if they express it or not.
    I am 40 and petite and being called “miss” or “ma’am” alternately and although flattering to me “miss” feels awkward.

    • Chris says:

      This is similar to the situation pertaining in French and German-speaking countries: any adult woman is ‘Madame’ / ‘Frau’. The diminutive forms ‘Mlle’ and ‘Fräulein’ are only used these days (in theory) for children. German has it worse in theory as titles like ‘Doctor’ don’t override the Herr/Frau title: Ms Smith becomes Dr Smith in an English speaking country, but in Germany Frau Schmidt becomes Frau Doktor Schmidt.

  26. Sb says:

    I’m 18 and Im being called ma’am now. I clearly still look like a teenager, I don’t dress fancy – I’m usually casual, jeans and a t-shirt. Ma’am just means adult female I guess!

    • StrawberryGurl says:

      When I was 19, it happened once to me only. And when i was 21, it started happening to me almost every single time that i go out. Now, I am 24. To be honest, now, I am skinnier and I dress younger than how I did when I was in high school, but ppl still call me maam no matter what.

  27. Mags says:

    I am 32 years old and have been married for 4 years now. I remember distinctly being called ma’am for the first time at age 28 right after getting married but was sure that the clerk in the sneaker store didn’t spy my wedding ring, which is big and chunky and doesn’t look like a wedding ring at all. I had the feeling that he called me that because he was 10 years younger than me and I looked old to him. This made me feel so insecure that I stopped in at a make-up store to buy anti aging face cream immediately afterwards.
    The problem with the miss/ ma’am distinctions for women is that it involves a public assessment of a strangers age and sexual status, which feels intrusive and judgmental. To boot men are spared from this depressing experience because no distinction is made which totally unfair.
    Soon thereafter I was called ma’am again by a counter person in the local bakery and bristled initially. But since he has a southern accent I didn’t take offense because I figured that he wasn’t making an age distinction as much as just showing respect to all his female customers, as they do down south.
    I find it very interesting that the miss/maam distinction is much more often used up here in the North.
    Uggh, I wish I could get the money back that I spent on that stupid face cream.

  28. haley says:

    I’m 19 and I look younger, and I get called ma’am more often than miss by customer service people. It doesn’t bother me either way, but maybe it would if I were about 10 years older and at a more sensitive age, like someone said above.

    When I’m around my father’s clients/employees/ business partners, they almost always call me miss. Maybe ma’am is more generic and miss is considered more respectful for younger females? Or maybe they’re just sucking up to my dad and trying to make him feel younger lol.

    Once when I was about 13 someone called me ‘little miss.’ That made me stop and think for a moment.

    • StrawberryGurl says:

      i totally agree. now, i am 24. it bother me a lot when ppl called me ma’am when i was 21~23. when i was 19, i was only called a maam once. i don’t like being called a maam cause it makes me feel like they might think i am in my late 20s or early 30s. now, even women in their 30s or 40s hate that maybe cause they don’t want ppl to think they’re in their 50s. i guess.

  29. claire says:

    Our world is in turmoil & this topic trivial in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, I attended an event last week & not one person, male or female addressed me as ma’am. It was liberating to be perceived as simply human again, without judgement.

  30. Melanie says:

    I have read all of the comments above, and it is clear to me that ‘ma’am’ should simply be done away with. It has certainly offended a LOT of women and it has lost any meaning of respect for which it was intended.

    I first became hurt and bothered by the term when I was in line at a restaurant (like Subway or something) and the girl in front of me, who was clearly 19 or 20, was addressed as ‘miss’ by the server at the counter. When I approached the counter, the same server addressed me as ‘ma’am’. This hit me like a punch in the stomache, to be quite honest. I was about 28 or so at the time and had just had a baby but I was still dressed youthful with a pony-tail, and in my mind there was no way for her to know because my baby was not with me and I had no sign of any wrinkles yet. So, yeah, she made a judgement call that I was older that the girl in front of me, and that hurt…a lot. Now it always bothers me….every single time.

    There is no need for this. The term ‘ma’am’ is just a lazy way of saying madame and there is simply no need for it. Even my mother who is now in her 60s is disgusted by it. Bottom line: down with ‘ma’am’.

    • Steve says:

      So basically, you’re deeply offended that as a 28 year old you didn’t look like a 19 or 20 year old? That’s just ridiculous. If he did make a judgment call that you were older than that girl, he was right.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I feel it is sexist and ageist that all men are called sir regardless of age and women have to be labeled as miss or ma’am depending on their perceived age. It is unfair treatment like this that makes women more prone to depression than men. Since ma’am is ageist, sexist and offends many women, I feel the customer service industry should get rid of it all together or at least get rid of the term miss and use ma’am to address all women just like sir is used to address all men.

  32. someone says:

    I feel really sad that women have to be so insecure about being called Miss or Ma’am. Sure, if someone calls you “old bag”, take offense. However, as a woman, my worth is NOT dependent upon what you choose to title me.

  33. Shouldn’t we perhaps accept “Ma’am or Sir” as being a polite and respectful form of address – so long as that is how it is intended.

  34. Katie says:

    I’m in my mid-thirties but look young, and I *hate* being called miss by men that are 10-20 years younger than I am. My first choice would be to be called nothing at all, and just treated politely and considerately — but if the stranger addressing me *needed* to call me something, I’d prefer ma’am. How can I politely correct the stranger? Do I ask him to call me ma’am instead, even though (1) it’s not my ideal choice and (2) I am not currently married (I’m divorced, will probably remarry this year… but I feel my marital status is my personal business, and not relevant to simple business transactions). Do I ask him just to leave the word miss out entirely? How do you ask that concisely and politely? I don’t want to start a confrontation — I just feel disrespected by the term miss, and would like a simple response. Any ideas?

  35. Lynne says:

    Ma’am. totally offensive. In fact if you are a latina and called Senora, that implies a husband or sexual knowledge so people usually stick to senorita. I think they definitely need to do the same in English.

  36. CJ says:

    Oh gosh, where to begin?

    As a male-to-female transsexual I can state unequivocally that there is nothing more confusing than being ma’am-sirred.

    “Yes ma’am would you like fries with that? Can I get you anything else tonight sir? Ma’am? Thank you sir, please come this way around the side and watch your step ma’am. Good night sir! Ma’am?”


    Talk about exhilaration, imagine what it feels like the first time someone gets the gender of the pronoun correct. Are we going to harp about getting the marital status correct too? Anyway, what is the proper way to address a divorced male-to-female?

    If you want quirky alone just imagine not even being sure what your own gender is and knowing for sure it does not resemble anything most people experience. Basically there is no choice but to be quirky and mostly alone. By design!

  37. jane says:

    I’ve always wondered why people feel the need to use “ma’am” –especially when they don’t use “sir” with the guys. It’s almost like they’re doing it as a passive-aggressive insult to their female customers, calling them old. I’ve never felt the need to use “ma’am” when I’ve addressed my customers. If you feel the need to use a term of address, why not just “miss”?

    • Brian says:

      I call women maam only because if you talk to them to nicely, they accuse men of flirting with them.

      I don’t feel I have an option.

      If women wanted me to be kind, friendly and talkative, I would hope they would also do the same.

      Otherwise I have no other choice when I work.

      When I’m dealing with women, believe me, they are the ones who created the stereotype.

      I still LOL when women who are fifteen years older than me call me that.

      Or when women call men that when both are the same age.


      If women want to be considered equals to men, they need to lighten up and get to know people.

      Myself, I prefer working with males because they don’t accuse you of flirting with them>

      Women are obsessed with that. It ruins peoples lives.

      I don’t even dare to get too cozy with women.

      They are way too high strung today.

      • Molly says:

        Women are probably unfriendly to you because they can sense that you are are sexist so they don’t want to bother with you.

  38. Lilly says:

    Sometimes I get called miss, sometimes mam. It’s obvious some people think it’s more respectful to call an adult woman mam. I think when you
    conduct yourself in a way commanding of respect you get referred to as mam more often. As you can see by these posts even teenagers get called mam from time to time.

  39. Nicole R. says:

    I’m 23, and have noticed people, mostly men in passing calling me ma’am. I can’t stand it! I’m way too young for that. I’m still in my twenties for God’s sake, call me Miss, or don’t bother trying to be polite. I’m probably going to go off on somebody one of these days.

  40. Cher says:

    I’m in college and HATE being called ma’am. Ma’ams are old and I’m not old -_-

  41. Cher says:

    I should probably add that I’m from New York, and age is DEFINITELY a factor. I also find it unfair that guys and men are sir no matter what, but with girls/women it’s related to age… and there’s a stigma towards being old that makes me not want to be called ma’am because it makes me feel old. I feel it should be universal as sir is.

  42. onely says:

    i think the bottom line here is that we don’t want to be defined before someone actually KNOWS how we prefer to be addressed. so i’d just say what i prefer to be addressed as. and if they don’t like that, a gut feeling that it might be a problem is now realized as true. and that is why it has been wondered about as a problem to begin with! why not say what needs to be said? what is the problem with clarifying what we really want in any so-called “customer service” situation? keeping silent out of fear of not getting it is the problem and that is what is hypocritical.

  43. WiOl says:

    I hate being called ma’am. It makes me feel ancient and I’m only 25! It’s weird because I get carded everywhere I go and yet OLDER MEN are the ONLY ones that call me ma’am. I’m convinced it IS sexist even if they don’t realize what they’re saying. I agree that it’s total bull*** how women are put into categories and men aren’t. Ma’am is like “hey old, married woman” so how would men like it if we started calling them “hey old, married man”. I think I’ll make up a term for them that sounds ugly and degrading and use it when they call me ma’am. Lmao. It’s infuriating.

  44. Diane says:

    It’s funny how random this whole issue is, because lately I’ve been irritated to be called “miss” several (many) times in a row. I don’t know if any of the theories proposed here are true, because they seem contradictory. Because I am 46 and overweight, so by some theories I should be “ma’amed” all the time. Oddly, like many here, I used to be ma’amed when I was much younger (in my teens and twenties), and it bothered me then but eventually I just ignored it.

    I am not married (never married), and don’t have children, but I don’t think people can figure that out instantly and know I really am a “miss.” I was getting irritated by the “miss,” I guess because it seemed to indicate a lack of observation on the part of the server (like, do I look like a teenager–don’t you know you should only call young girls “miss”?). Having read all this, I think I’ll forget about being bothered by it ever again. Or maybe the next time someone calls me “miss,” I’ll flash my ringless finger at them and compliment them for being so observant.

    • StrawberryGurl says:

      I got pissed off once when I was 21, a man called me a mamma after calling another woman in her 20s a miss. i guess they thought i was older. at that moment i was next by my lil sis who was 10. do u think that happened cause he thought i was the mother of my lil sis?

  45. nolachic says:


    • Mar fr/ CA says:

      Now in TX, sometimes hear ma’am even twice in same sentence!(as if the person is nervous or cant communicate right) Some string out the word & sound like a sheep! Sounds insincere, stupid, dated. Either don’t say it – or say once…quickly. No matter the age.

  46. Remy says:

    Lmfao, seems like a bunch of feminists on this site.

  47. Yage says:

    Ma’am simply doesn’t mean old.

    And there’s nothing wrong with old, anyway.

    Cursing aging is just cursing yourself for later.

  48. joseph says:

    Wow… this is a really sensitive group. You guys need to relax a little bit.

  49. maria says:

    Even though Im not from the states Im from puerto rico I think they use that term because they know it would bother people ..
    So what I do when a person calls me ma am I say ma am back to them,so they can know how it feels
    And if they don’t like it they would stop it,I never adress nobody as ma am I just say excuse me or thank you and that’s it,it really gets on my nerves to the point I want to punch them,but instead I give the same back to them

  50. DMac says:

    I am from the south or mid-west, but it would appear the term to dispose of would be Miss. Ma’am is a contraction of Madame – an honorific or term of respect for a female who has come of age. Miss is an honorific for a child or young woman of minority. I am amazed by the number of women on here that take offense to being shown the respect for their status as women. This feeds directly into a cultural value system in which youth and immaturity are valued in women while age and maturity are valued in men. Men are blamed for perpetuating this paternalistic view due to the implied interest in younger fertile women while they become older and more powerful, while women lose value as they pass beyond child-bearing years. However, look who is fighting on here not to be recognized for their maturity. Rather, the paradigm is inverted such that offense is taken for assigning a woman the attribute of age which is being defined herein as a disability. This is sad and dangerous as it feeds into the over-glamorization of youth. This connects to the focus on youthfulness and the issues with body image – body dismorphic disorder, eating disorders, etc. Age provides experience which allows for intellectual development and the ability to control one’s own destiny and contribute to that of the community. Youth indicates a need to be cared for due to an inherent incapacity. Mature, intelligent, insightful women are and have been the leaders of the world, but they are sublimating this reality to that of pretty girl.

    If you choose not to worry your pretty young little heads about the inherent disrespect and inequity being promoted by the majority of women on here, you can’t blame men any longer. Yes ma’am, I said it, but dawn confrontational due to my need for us to have this fixed soon, please. My beautiful God-daughter is five, but we try to make sure her self-worth is not tied to being a pretty little girl. Rather, she can engage in adult conversations respectfully, she has begun to display an appreciation of learning for learning’s sake, she play right alongside boys her age and we constantly challenge the notion here in the South that activities are gender-appropriate, and she is as adept at Lincoln Logs as she is at Barbie. She knows the women who report to me as my colleagues, partners, and teammates and she is well-aware of those women who have their doctorates and teach and provide leadership and the few to whom I report when she spends time with my wife and I (as her mother completes her dissertation en route to attaining Ph.D.). If she gets hung up on being seen as a mature, competent woman due to a culture expressing the insecurities of women who still wish they could pass for adolescents or the oppression of males who made them feel so little of themselves, and finds by definition that women are subordinate to their male peers, everyone has failed. Whether we have fallen prey to a media which Dr. Jeane Kilbourne (“Killing Us Softly”?) shows is destroying the potential, if not the lives of women in America, or there is more to it, I don’t know, but I need it to stop now, please, so she can achieve her potential, happiness, and the self-worth manifest in both.

  51. Katie says:

    If it makes you feel any better, people in bodegas and stores have been calling me ma’am since I was fifteen. I don’t look particularly old (in fact, I’ve always thought that being overweight made me look like I had baby fat and was younger.) But, there you have it. Maybe it has something to do with some of the people who work behind the counter are from different countries, or maybe it’s a NYC thing. Or maybe I actually look 35 at 21. :p

  52. Alexie says:

    I’ve been called Ma’am twice now by 2 different male clerk at Lowes. One much older than me and a younger guy today. I am 32 but look like I’m in my 20’s. For some reasons it does bother me, it makes me feel old or feel like they think I look old or something which I know I don’t. Hopefully it is just out of respect that they call me Ma’am.

  53. Alexie says:

    Oh and I’m from Minnesota.

  54. LORI says:

    I’m 49 and I feel uncomfortable when someone calls me Miss. Ma’am seems much more appropriate to me.

  55. Jill says:

    There’s a regional angle, definitely. “Ma’am” is very common in the South and has no ill intent. (Altho I’m older, I still wince a bit at it.) As a child, we still asked a live telephone operator for a connection. We (I) said “, please, ma’am.” I’m back in the South, and I’ll say “Miss” only to catch the attention of an obviously young woman (sort of like usage of terms in other languages for single or married–often leftover terms, not literal). Otherwise, “Ma’am.” When I lived outside the South my usage of “ma’am” was received poorly at times. Another demographic: I believe that children in military families regularly address everyone as “Ma’am” or “Sir.” Another demographic: often people whose 1st language is not English will say “Lady” as the perceived translation of a term of address. So! There are many sources and customs and not at all black and white in meaning or intent.

  56. Ann-Marie says:

    Age 56, look 10 yrs younger. Hate the term ma’am. Why not just talk to someone politely without form of address? Why can’t our title be for all ages as sir is for men? Also hate “guys.” Damn shame American women get masculineized. Image other way around? Too lazy to use names I guess. Also hate being called Ann. Name is Ann-Marie introduce myself that way. Power and control I guess. People need some politness!

  57. Ann-Marie says:

    Age 56, look 10 yrs younger. Hate the term ma’am. Why not just talk to someone politely without form of address? Why can’t our title be for all ages as sir is for men? Also hate “guys.” Damn shame American women get masculineized. Image other way around? Too lazy to use names I guess. Also hate being called Ann. Name is Ann-Marie introduce myself that way. Power and control I guess. People need some politness!

  58. Kim says:

    I’ve always hated being called ma’am. I felt it was for old people. It really sucked for me because the first time I was called that I wasn’t even 20. It was from a boy 4 years younger than me. At least he had good manners, in which I now appreciate these days, since there are so many rude people out there. I am 46 now and even though I cringe when I hear it. At least I’m respected.

  59. Tanya says:

    Oh, I’m so happy I found this article!

    I am in customer service myself (barista) and some of my customers have called me ma’am and I hate it! Especially when it’s over the headset on drive-thru and you can’t really correct them, they’re the customers, I don’t want a complaint filed against me (customers always being right and all that crap!) but how can I correct them politely? It drives me bananas. I’m only 36 but it makes me feel like I’m 94 and walking with a cane.

  60. Tanya says:

    “anyone should be able to ask to be addressed however they prefer.”
    “When something outlives its use for its intent, it should change.”
    ” Despite the best intention, something can not be polite if it offends people.”

    I realize Armand’s comments are 3 years old, but he stated things perfectly in those 3 sentences. Well put.

  61. david says:

    Ma’am. Miss both show alienated hypocritical and estranged mankind is
    Love or friend is better

  62. Justin says:

    absolutely ridiculous, age has nothing to do with the proper use of ma’am. It is plainly a term of respect, i call any female (older or younger then i) ma’am, and sir to males.
    For goodness sake, it used to be reserved for the Noble class, for crying out loud! People are too darn touchy anymore…smh

  63. aj says:

    Being maamed has really bothered me. Just the other day can I help you ma’am. You can ask a woman if she needs help without calling her ma’am. A shopping experience is meant to be pleasant so why do employees do this to people? I’m seriously considering telling people to stop calling me ma’am. if they think someone looks aged they can keep it to themselves.I don’t address people based on their appearance don’t address me on how old you perceive me to be its unreal

  64. cj says:

    Ma’am used as a sign of respect is old school mentality…… In today’s world it’s used as a form of put down. Like there’s a woman 28 and she sees a woman 32 and calls her Ma’am. She is most likely doing it because she’s jealous of the 32 year old. So hey when someone calls you Ma’am smile knowing their doing it for a reason.

  65. allison says:

    In the North, Ma’am should be outlawed because people don’t know how to use it correctly. They do use it as an insult in some cases and in others its to say your older than me, in other cases it’s to address a frumpy women so keep it in the South. You can have it.

  66. Not a Ma'am says:

    The term Ma’am was developed in the South. Ther term Madam came over to the NewOrleans area from the French, and it was not the New Orleans or creole who changed it to ma’am, it was the slave trade. There was once a law in the South that the only people allowed to use the word were the black slaves. It was illegal for anyone else. The term ma’am was only to be used by a slave to his or her married female slave owner.

    This is why the word is offensive. Not age – but because it literally means you are a married female slave owner and the person calling you that is the slave you own.

  67. sandhya says:

    I think getting old is a privilege and we should accept and respect it gracefully. If someone is respecting you, we can reciprocate that with love…This formal communication always helps brain to sync its communication in right direction and avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Here is link to my blog “why Indians don’t refer elders by their first name?”

  68. Amber says:

    As soon as I start getting ma’am a lot I go for injections and change my hair, it works every time suddenly I am a Miss again

    • Karoline Hermes says:

      Cringing at Ma’am is NOT just about feeling ‘old’. It’s also about how society still categorizes women while it does not do so to men. Men are ALWAYS “Sir” – cradle to grave. Always. Women, on the other hand are “Miss” (Can I help you, Miss?) when we are seen as ‘young’. But we are called “Ma’am” (Can I help you Ma’am?) when we are seen as ‘old’. THAT is the problem with it.

      If we were addressed with the same honorific our whole lives, as men are, we wouldn’t even NOTICE the word Ma’am anymore! There would be no change for us at a certain time in our life.

      Yet feel vindicated, all you Ma’amaphobes – you are in the Majority! Study after study has now proven that 80% (Yes, EIGHTY PERCENT) of women over the age of 24 HATE the word as much as you do. The alternative for all those compelled to use the M Word? Well, act like most of the English speaking population and Leave the Word Out of Your Vocabulary. It’s easier, and now more polite, to say, “Good morning, how can I help you today?”. Leave the “Good morning, how can I help you today Ma’am?” in the past where it certainly belongs.

  69. Azula says:

    I am in my late 20s, and when I was at a fairly upscale grocery store in NYC, I was addressed as “ma’am”. Then I noticed that a clearly older woman — white hair, probably in her 60s, was addressed as “miss” by the same person. I think I was called ma’am to show respect, and the other woman was called ma’am because it was deemed to be more flattering/appealed to the older woman’s vanity. I am equally addressed as both ma’am and miss and even young lady. I try not to take offense — though having these distinctions make things a bit tricky to maneuver — we should just call all females over the age of 18 ma’am, like the French do with Madame for any adult female (i.e. all women).

  70. D. Joy says:

    The first time I was called ma’am it was actually “señora” and I had just moved to NYC at age 31. But what was cool, was that the two teen-aged boys working at the shop used it in this way: “Señora, tu eres my bonita…” and I stood there in my skirt and blouse and work heels and thought, I’ve never been called a señora before, but these boys see me as older than them and out of reach. And beautiful. So there was no time to feel bad about anything, it was all one compliment.

    Nowadays with having a little one, I hear ma’am and miss rampantly, sometimes both in the same day, sometimes in the same restaurant from two different people! Sometimes I think about the meanings, but mostly I don’t anymore.

    I can’t control how other people choose categorize me, or know the content of anyone’s mind. And younger, no matter what the “beauty” industry says, does not necessarily mean prettier, we all see average looking super young girls and gorgeous much older women every day here in Brooklyn.

    And getting older is — can be — becoming more beautiful. I know I look prettier know than almost ten years ago when that Señora comment was made. And I can feel beautiful all the time, whether I happen to be older than the person talking to me, or younger than the person talking to me. And no matter what they call me. That feeling is up to me, how I take care of myself, and enjoy being in this body.

    Recently I was told, rather matter-of-factly, by a beautiful woman in Sephora, “Well, I’m older than you, I’m __ so I use this product”–and she then grabbed a jar and she told me her age, which was exactly the same as mine. I told her she looked fantastic, but didn’t say anything more because she seemed to really want to believe she was older and coming from a position of authority. This was a gorgeous girl! She might have called me Miss that afternoon, while my cabbie who was a million years old called me Ma’am. Who cares? Who cares if you look slightly older or majorly younger or whatever? We are all getting older every day. Enjoy the exact beauty you have right now, don’t look back, don’t listen to “turn back the clock” it’s nonsense.

  71. Zuhra says:

    That’s an issue in my country as well. I’m frequently called “kenayi” by people who are even older than my father. ‘kenayi’ equals madam and used for married woman. That makes me little bit upset

  72. Christa says:

    Some days I get called Miss all day and some days I get called Ma’am all day. Probably the way I dress, my make up and my hair, who knows

  73. Al Dente says:

    The two places I lived (Michigan and Texas) “sir” or “ma’am” were appropriate for any customer. When I worked retail an 8 year old would be sir or ma’am when I was helping them. It isn’t about age, it is about service. Likewise when I was a professor every one of my students was Mr. or Ms. in class; even if we were on a first name basis outside of class.

  74. Amber says:

    so A guy out side of a supermarket called me MISS and asked me if I could sign some voting stuff. After I did that he says “thank you ma’am” I was so enraged because if he called me that to begin with, I would have never signed his stuff. And I am not middle aged even, just in my 30s and he was not 13. so it irritated me. I feel it was done intentionally or saw my face better and unintentionally than called me ma’am. I also get called Miss a lot so I feel some times people call me Ma’am just to be insulting passively. As if you can control what year you were born. If really young girls are sitting back all smiles, you will be ma’am too one day. The first time I was ma’amed I was actually only 18 and no I am not in the south

  75. Ellie says:

    Ugh nothing feels worse than being called ma’am (aside from in certain regions of the south USA). It is meant to be “respectful” to someone older. I don’t think it’s necessary or very welcome for anyone to point out to me they think I look older than them or the 18 year old next to me. I either smile slightly sarcastically – say thank you – pause “ma’am ” / “sir” after my pause. I usually get an apology after this follows by “just a habit”. I’ve also just laughed and said “wow guess I’m having a bad skin day”. So many females end up
    Feeling bad that while some might say my reaction is in poor taste, if I can have them not “ma’am ” the next female I will do it! I know not everyone can be 18 forever, but that doesn’t mean you want someone pointing it out to you everytime you are just grabbing a coffee

  76. Brian says:

    When your 18 years old people project every good quality on you. Your cool, funnier than a person could be, fun, easy going, attractive. When people turn 30 its seems that they stop being peoples cheerleader.

    Yes most people want to be appreciated for their qualities and would like people to get to become their friend.

    I’ve discovered that people just aren’t friendly any more.

    My child hood friends quote of the day “Growing up sucks”

  77. Vivian says:

    “Ma’am” is rude and offensive even though I’m clearly young. It’s like saying “Have a nice day! You look old!”

    I correct people in one of several ways:

    -If they’re female, I will respond and address them with “Ma’am” in a rude, ugly tone.

    -If they’re male, I will say, “it’s “Miss” not “Ma’am” since I’m not an old lady!”

    -Or, if for instance, a service person asks, “Can I help you find anything, Ma’am?” I tell them “yes, actually, you can find your ass and shove that “Ma’am” up it.”

  78. Lynne says:

    Since I bought the tape lift which are bands with tape and you can tighten your face with the bands and tape like a face lift and neck. I am only in my 30s but had bags under my eyes since my 20s, and neck problems. Since I started using the tape face lift nobody is rarely calling me ma’am now. Plus, in between when I have extra money I get fillers and botox. But the ma’am has stopped almost completely thanks to tape face lift. But some times being called ma’am is not age related, I see young girls called ma’am some times. Now it’s either Miss or nothing. But If I had my hair different I probably can look early 20s. My hair is naturally reddish blonde and I lighten it to a light golden blonde but it’s dry, if it was silky and style more youthful, it would even make more of a difference

  79. Amber says:

    The reason women take offense to the word ma’am is you are assuming their age and marital status. I try not to get mad because I live in the southern California which is Southern state, and it’s very confusing because some times I see a 20 year old get called ma’am. Or a person much older than me call me ma’am. Another confusing point is sometimes I get ma’am to death, other times I get Miss or said nothing to. I think too depends on your hair, make up and clothes. The thing is there is only one term for men, sir, there is not all these terms for men. I get mad when I see somebody call a person Miss and than call me Ma’am. Some times I feel good being called Miss but than I see this OLD lady also being called Miss too. I just wish they would stop with all the terms. And what makes me so mad some times if they call me ma’am they say it like 8 times. Excuse me ma’am, is that all ma’am, do you want paper or plastic bag ma’am, that will be 30.76 ma’am, did you need help to your car ma’am, thank you ma’am. I am ready to bash them in the face.

  80. Valentina says:

    Wow, there are tons of replies for this question. I am from south Texas barely turned 20 and I’ve seen obviously older women called miss at restaurants, coffee places, supermarkets and such by younger women and when it comes to me and – I clearly look young I’ve had people told me I look 16 even I am a size 2 average height and don’t wear glasses- no one ever calls me miss its always ma’am and from people way older than me. I don’t really understand why. I also work as a sales assistant and usually say miss or of course if they look 60 or older ma’am. I just don’t understand why someone who can be my grandma calls me ma’am. It just baffles me and unlike the other people that say its respect etc. it makes me feel way freakin older so just use miss if they look your age even 10 years older it’ll make their day.

  81. Ugly old-looking 30s - always Ma'amed on West Coast says:

    I am only in my 30s, but I look MUCH older than I am. I am called ma’am constantly – even when women much older than me are called nothing by the same employees. Ma’am is NOT used much in my area of the country. I’m just immediately perceived as old, ugly, matronly, and undesirable – so people automatically call me ma’am all the time. I get “miss” once in a while, but they’re from the same employees that call women who are 60+ “miss,” too. So the rare times when I’m called “miss,” it’s not because they think I’m young, my actual age – it because they call all women miss, even old ones. That’s insulating, too, like they’re trying to placate an old woman by calling her miss.

    Don’t call any woman ma’am or miss unless you’re in the South. I’ve worked in customer service for years and never used ma’am, miss, or sir in my life. It’s so easy to just say “excuse me” if you need to talk to a person whose name you don’t know.

    In my case, I look much older than I am, and that makes me suffer in many ways in my life. I suffer from faux-ageism – getting ageism when I’m nowhere near the age when I should get it.

    Again, I’m only in my 30s, but I look extremely old and ugly, and that hurts me in all aspects of life. I go to stores for people in their 20s-30s, and employees make comments like I shouldn’t be there. Associates show me skincare lines for women in their 60s or older because they think that’s my age. In hospitals, they keep asking for your full name and birthdate, but even after knowing my birthdate, staff younger and older than me keep calling me ma’am. They don’t tend to call much older women ma’am. It’s because I look ugly and matronly as well as old, so I automatically get called ma’am everywhere, like it’s a knee-jerk reaction. It makes going anywhere extremely painful. I can’t help that I look much older than my age, and I’m seen as ugly and matronly, too.

    Getting called ma’am or “Ms.” constantly, everyday, by people of all ages and genders is like a punch in the face – a reminder that the world definitely sees me, a 30-something, as old, ugly, matronly, and over the hill. I can’t even go to a public place without the fear of being ma’amed – as well as poorly treated because I look ugly as well.

    Of all stories here, mine trumps all in extreme painfulness. And again, I live in a part of the US where ma’am is rarely used except for exceptionally unattractive, old, matronly women. And it’s often been used in a passive-egressive way towards me, too, like I’m at fault and they’re trying to drive in my unattractiveness and matronly look.

    Unless you’re in the South, JUST DON’T CALL ANY WOMAN MA’AM – you’re making a value judgment on her unattractiveness and matronliness. And who knows – the woman could actually be young, like me, but look much older. She may suffer from ageism when she’s at an age when she shouldn’t be suffering from it. That could hurt her in a all areas of life. And you’re probably subconsciously reacting to a woman’s lack of attractiveness and perceived matronly qualities when you “choose” to call one woman “ma’am,” and nothing at all to another woman. Please don’t tell a woman she’s ugly, old, and over the hill if she’s buying coffee from you, in a hospital, or store. It’s supposed to be a good experience for her, not a painful one where her unattractiveness and perceived age is judged.

    Please have compassion and respect for the customers you’re serving – do not call women “ma’am” or even “miss.” Say “excuse me” or something if you don’t know their name – that’s what I’ve always done, and that always does it. Again, it could be a case like mine – a young woman who looks much older, and suffers in life because of it. I’m also called ma’am so much because I’m seen as ugly and matronly as well. It hurts because every time I go out, people are reminding me that’s the way I’m perceived, and that’s the way I’m treated. I get constant rude treatment for looking ugly, too, even though I’m always polite and sweet.

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