Dear adult men: Stop calling women you do not know “momma”, “sweetheart”, “darling”, and “sugar”. It is creepy, disgusting, uncomfortable, patronizing, and demeaning. Sincerely, A creeped out woman you do not know.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more and more adult men who are older than me (I’m now 27) calling me “sweetheart”, “darling”, and “sugar” when I interact with them. Now, these adult men who are older than me are also men I do not know and am only interacting with in a one-off capacity. When adult men I do not know use these terms when addressing me, I find it incredibly patronizing and demeaning, but I also find it creepy and uncomfortable.
The established USA social contract, as I know it, between two adult humans who treat each other as equals does not include such terms of endearment. No man would ever consider calling another man he did not know any of these terms. The fact that adult men think it is acceptable to call adult women they do not know these terms but find it unacceptable to call adult men they do not know these terms tells me that they view said adult women as people to be talked down to, they view women as not their equals, and they think that they do not have to get consent before treating women with such familiarity.
It is the fact that men think they can or need to speak differently toward women that is patronizing and demeaning, because men are assuming women need to be helped and coddled. But the fact that men think it is acceptable to treat women they do not know with such familiarity without getting their consent is evidence of a much larger problem: that men think about and treat women like objects that are beneath them that they can take without consent rather than as humans equally deserving of respect.
These terms – “sweetheart”, “darling”, and “sugar” – coming from adult men I do not know have always come across as patronizing and have made me uncomfortable, but I have never been as creeped out as when a man I did not know called me “momma”.
Recently, as I was arriving at the Panera counter to place my order, an adult male whom I did not know asked me for money, and I said I had no money to give him. He then said that it was alright, and ended by calling me “momma”.
While “sweetheart”, “darling”, and “sugar” are terms of endearment without much sexual connotation, “momma” – when not used toward your actual mother – has a much more sexual connotation to it, as evidenced by it’s use in so many pop and hip-hop songs about the sexualization and objectification of women. To call a stranger this is not only patronizing but objectifying as well – implying the sexualization of a woman that a man is treating as beneath him whose familiarity he can take without consent.
Some would argue that I am overreacting or simply speaking for myself, that some women like it when men call them these terms. Just because some women like something doesn’t give men the right to do that something to all women without their consent. For example: some women like being choked during sex, but that doesn’t give men the right to choke a woman during sex without first getting her consent.
Between two people who have consented to such familiarity, these terms are acceptable. These terms are not acceptable between strangers.
These terms used by men toward women they do not know is more than just a throwaway term of endearment or trying to be nice, it is a conscious or unconscious way to assert authority over those women, a prejudgment that those women are lesser than they are, and a sign of disrespect.
Men need to be conscious of what their use of these terms implies, and how it affects the women they direct these terms toward. It may seem innocuous, but these words carry meaning, and when directing them toward a stranger that meaning is negative. These words are so much more than “just being nice”; they can be demeaning, they can be patronizing, or they can be a threat.
Some women may like such terms, but some women may not, and some women may feel threatened by them. If you have not gotten a woman’s consent to be called such terms, do not use them toward her.
So please, adult men I do not know, stop calling me “momma”, “sweetheart”, “darling”, and “sugar”.