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Some men still don’t quite get it

A man and woman on a date.

A man and woman on a date. Credit: FOTOLIA

‘You did a great job, kiddo,” my client told me.

He is younger than me by at least five years. He’d hired me as a consultant, and I’d written business content for him to further his high-level, high-paid career. He lived in Los Angeles, I lived in New York. He kept referring to me as “kiddo,” sometimes “kid” for short.

He complimented me for doing a great job, yet it was diffused by his infantilizing moniker. Had he not heard of #metoo? Granted, he wasn’t an immediate threat to me in terms of sexual harassment. Not physically, at least, cellphone to cellphone. But by calling me such a pejorative name instead of the one on my birth certificate, or even a polite respectful “Ms. Schulman,” he was creating a superior male hierarchy over me. A more subtle form of harassment not making sensational news headlines.

I doubt he was consciously aware of it, as it was so entrenched into his psyche and everyday vocabulary. But I was silent. It’s hard to speak up when someone is your boss, your paycheck. It’s risky to criticize or correct him. Granted, I can choose not to work for him again. Even though another offender will inevitably replace him.

“You really know your stuff, girl!” he said, before signing off.

I do know my stuff. I’m not your girl, kiddo, or sweetie.

It surprises me that someone in my generation still speaks that way. At family gatherings, my cousin’s husband always greets me with a kiss and “Good to see you, hon.” Instinctively I edge away from his scratchy beard on my cheek. I want to tell him, “I am not your honey.” He’s a decade older, and I don’t want to fuel family discord. Fuming in silence, I take a seat at the dinner table as far from “hon” as possible. He’s creepy and insulting, more reprehensible than threatening. Nonetheless, someone needs to tell him that terms of endearment should be reserved for his wife or grandchildren. I vow to do it next time.

Some men still don’t get it. Maybe we need to treat transgressors like toddlers, firmly and repeatedly telling them “No!” when they utter “Honey” . . . “Sweetie” . . . “Baby” . . . “Babe.” Also known as pet names. I am not anyone’s pet.

Even Barack Obama, who truly respects his wife and daughters, couldn’t help slipping. Questioned during his 2008 campaign by ABC reporter Peggy Agar in Detroit, he said, “Hold on a second, sweetie.” He later apologized to Agar, saying, “That’s a bad habit of mine . . . I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front.”

Here we are, 10 years later, still in the same place. Disrespect aside, every man should know that using words like sweetheart, dear, and honey is classified as sexual harassment by the federal government.

And here I am, regretting not confronting my client. I wish I could zap the word “kiddo” out of his go-to demeaning phrases. As an independent consultant, I don’t have a human resources office with which to file a complaint. As a woman, I’ve buckled once again by not speaking up. It’s still a patriarchal society — from catcalls in the street to insulting terms of endearment in professional situations.

I might not have spoken out before, but I am now: my husband is the only one who can address me as “hon,” as he has since we met decades ago. He still greets me every night after work with a kiss and “Hi, Hon.”

Everyone else: think before you speak. And call me by my proper name.

Candy Schulman is an essayist who lives in New York City.

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