Feminism | Posted by Nellie B on 09/4/2009

Dealing with Terms of “Endearment”

Hey, Hon, youre doing really well on that assignment! ...Perhaps not.

"Hey, Hon, you're doing really well on that assignment! SMILEY FACE FOR YOU!" ...Perhaps not.

As I began my senior year of high school yesterday, I was reminded of how frustrating it is to be young and female at the mercy of  patronizing teachers.

Now, many of my teachers are fine people who are good at their job.  Unfortunately, some, usually male teachers, take the liberty of assuming that my peers, because we are young and female, are named “Sweetie,” “Babe” and “Hon.”  These uncomfortable “terms of endearment,” as I suppose these patronizing monikers qualify as, are not meant to be degrading and uncomfortable. I’m sure the intent is that us gals should be flattered that we are called pet names.  However, as I’d like to remind them, I am not a wife, girlfriend or daughter.  Every student deserves to be addressed respectfully.  Inappropriate affection should not be mistaken for respect.

Notice, also, that male students are not called “honey” or “babe.”  No, if they are called nicknames at all, it is something like “buddy,” or “pal”– something that signifies their status as an equal to the teacher.

However, I am confused as to the proper response to a teacher who uses an inappropriate nickname. Does one silently chalk it up to the teacher’s “good intentions,” or loudly and obnoxiously correct them? It’s especially uncomfortable when male teachers use such names. What do readers think, or do, in similar situations?

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  • antigherkin @ at 11:31 am, September 4th, 2009

    When called an inappropriate pet name by a man in the workplace or other environment, I normally reply with another, more absurd one. A “Here’s your tea, darling” will be met with a “Thanks, cupcake”, which normally gets a nervous laugh and ensures the behaviour isn’t repeated. It emphaises how patronising the names sound without being aggressive or confrontational.

  • Moody @ at 11:47 am, September 4th, 2009

    An anonymous email would work best for me, as I’m really shy.

  • Lydia @ at 12:56 pm, September 4th, 2009

    As a young, female teacher I say call them out on it, respectfully and publicly and talk to administration about it (ideally a female administrator).

  • margaret @ at 1:16 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I think gently responding that you prefer to be called by your name, rather than a nick name, is well within your rights. Just approach them privately after class, and don’t call them out in front of all the other students, because that could really put their back up.

  • Seabiscuit @ at 1:24 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I do get uncomfortable when teachers did that in high school…but then again, this summer at work I started calling customers “hon” without even realizing it. For me, it was unconscious; I didn’t even realize I was doing it until my boyfriend pointed it out.

    I’m not saying that all male teachers do it unconsciously, but it is possible that some of them do. I had a look that I always gave men who did that, which tended to stop it.

    On the other hand…sometimes it’s also weird when women call you “sweetie” or other things like that. My personal favorite? A nurse at my college called me “sweet potato” a few weeks ago. I walked out of the exam room and promptly died laughing.

  • JOHN Doe @ at 2:33 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I’m a guy, and I might just be a horrible chauvinist pig, but then again, maybe not.
    I think that you’re reading WAY too far in to this. So your teacher calls some of the girls “hon.” Honestly, he doesn’t mean any harm, so there is no reason to take offense.
    Also, my girlfriend, whom I love dearly, has recently taken to referring to all of her male friends (myself included) as “hon.” Sometimes she even calls me “babe.” It really isn’t a big deal. I know that because we’re dating, it’s different, but she does it to everyone.
    STOP READING SO BLOODY FAR INTO IT, and if it really bothers you that much, give your teacher an obnoxious pet name until he stops using the one he’s given you!

  • Zoe @ at 2:59 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I’m not that bothered by “hon.” That one usually comes from older women who are very seemingly maternal anyhow. I guess that’s a stereotype in itself, eh.

    I haven’t had many male professors/teachers coming up with nicknames. Personally, I chalk off most of these nicknames to just personal taste. Some like refering to people as “hon”, “babe” (my roommate) or “sweetie”. Some people just don’t do that. I just don’t. Whatever.

  • Brooke @ at 3:39 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I get this occasionally where I work. I actually tolerated it from one person for a while before I finally had enough and yelled at him to stop calling me “that”. Ironically this same person told my boss to stop making comments about my lack of strength and to stop calling me those same pet names. I wonder if guys don’t even realize how sexist and patronizing they are being at times.

  • Grace @ at 3:43 pm, September 4th, 2009

    Most teachers who have used terms of endearment with me have been women. I can’t recall an instance later than about seventh grade. I think most of the teachers who did that were nearing retirement age, so it might be a generational difference.

    Teachers who use endearments have never bothered me, but I can see how it might bother some people, and because of that, I don’t know whether it is appropriate or not.

  • Allie @ at 6:20 pm, September 4th, 2009

    I’ve had teachers of both genders call me nicknames like those, and I have never had a problem with it. Then again, it has always been teachers I am close to, and I always viewed it as them being affectionate. I always compared it to me foregoing the Mr./Ms., and calling them by their last name only, which is meant to be affectionate, not disrespectful. However, if you are uncomfortable with it, I see no reason why you shouldn’t address the teacher about it, not in front of the whole class. I am sure no teacher has any desire to demean you and would stop if you asked them to.

  • Kate @ at 7:59 pm, September 4th, 2009

    As a female teacher, I’ve found that I unconsciously call my students “sweetie” – both boys and girls. For me, I think it’s a maternal thing and, as much as a I hate to admit it, a way to exert my authority (I look really young for my age). If a student told me it bothered them, I would stop immediately. If you’re offended, I would talk to your teachers – they might not realize that it bothers anyone.

  • Kylie @ at 12:00 am, September 5th, 2009

    I think it depends on when they call you by the nickname. Usually, a quick statement saying you prefer your name works just fine. If there’s not time to say it immediately, try to do it as soon as possible. Immediately after class while the other students are leaving the room would probably work as well. As a couple of people said, most probably don’t even realize they’re doing it and calling them on it will make it a more conscious act. I doubt they’re trying to be patronizing, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are.

    I’m rather shy, so I don’t think I could ever respond with another, more obnoxious nickname but that would probably work even better, especially if you do it in public.

  • Becca @ at 12:13 am, September 5th, 2009

    I can sympathize with you here– “pet names” are a huge annoyance to me, as they are incredibly patronizing. Even my boyfriend knows not to use them.

    I would definitely recommend that you either speak with the teacher privately or, if you feel uncomfortable with that option for any reason, that you speak with an administrator.

    Speaking from a teacher’s point of view, using terms like “hon” and “babe” are entirely inappropriate in a classroom setting.

  • Katie @ at 7:23 pm, September 5th, 2009

    It really is inappropriate for them to say things like that. Now, I don’t know if my school is just as good as it claims to be or if I’ve just been lucky, but my teachers only call me “ma’am,” like I say “sir/ma’am” to them. I think only two teachers have called me “hon” but both are female and are my two favorite teachers, the ones I’m closest to. Some of my other female teachers occasionally use terms of endearment with both male and female students, but it’s very rare. I think terms of endearment are alright if they just slip out once in a while, but when it’s a constant, it does get a bit annoying and patronizing.

    I do have a bit of a problem with the use of “babe” though. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m definitely not a baby, nor am I the pig. I dunno.

    But if such terms bother you, just talk one-on-one with the teacher, mention it, and they should understand.

  • move @ at 5:55 pm, September 6th, 2009

    i’m a guy and i would never even think about calling a student – or anyone i work with – hon or anything like that. i just think it’s inappropriate. there’s nothing about interpretation or anything like one poster mentioned; it’s just disrespect. as a guy i also would not want anyone to call me hon or babe or even buddy – i mean, hey where are we? this is supposed to be a world where we respect each other and calling someone hon or babe who is not related or not a closer friend is not very respectful.

  • Kate @ at 11:24 am, September 7th, 2009

    I have a male teacher who does this exact thing, and it annoys me to no end. Not only is he totally patronizing to the girls in my class, he’s completely condescending and makes fun of us all the time. It’s so obvious that he does not respect us, and I don’t know what to do about it. I try not to make myself a target and he usually leaves me alone, but when he calls other girls “sweetie,” etc., I want to say something. It’s totally inappropriate and I hope I can do something about it in the future.

  • Bonnie Rue @ at 12:05 pm, September 7th, 2009

    Maybe you should turn it around on them? Next time a teacher calls you “Hon” just respond with “thanks Pumpkin” or “No problem Cupcake!” then shoot them a look that says “Does that make you uncomfortable? Welcome to the club!” In situations like this I always take the “don’t get even, get odd” route. It’s better than not saying anything and just living with it and it’s not as unbearable as having to directly confront them. Plus – it’s just funny. Good luck Babe!

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  • Jennie @ at 1:03 pm, September 7th, 2009

    I think that if you feel uncomfortable about it, then ask politly to call you by your name. That happens to me alot at the store or church or wherever ill be addressed as “sweetie” or “hon” or “baby” so ill say “Jennie” ever time they say that :) . It works for me!

  • oldfeminist @ at 6:26 pm, September 7th, 2009

    John Doe: “Honestly, he doesn’t mean any harm, so there is no reason to take offense.”

    You don’t get to tell women when they should and shouldn’t be offended. The idea that men are the correct ones to define what’s right and wrong is the one feminists are challenging.

  • Julie @ at 11:16 pm, September 7th, 2009

    I’ve been called “hon” and “darlin’” a few times, and not taken the slightest offense. It all depends on who’s saying it, and in what context. Usually when I’ve been called a “term of endearment,” it was with gentlemanly charm, and was really meant to be just, well, nice. In those cases, I really don’t see why I’d be bothered just because they don’t say the same thing to a guy. I’m not a guy, and as long as there’s no disrespect behind it, why should I care that it’s being acknowledged that I’m female?

    That being said, if a guy ever said it to me condecendingly, I’d give him a sarcastic response. If he continued, I’d directly ask him to stop, then I’d be talking to his superiors. Often that kind of attitude goes hand in hand with other types of harassment.

  • Andrea @ at 3:32 pm, September 8th, 2009

    after reading this article and all the (very interesting) replies… I’m kinda dying for my teacher to call me “sweetie” as she occasionally does. It bothers me, but she is my teacher so I always just kinda had a “grin and bear it” attitude about it. This article really got me thinking. Thanks:)

  • ACW @ at 8:49 pm, September 11th, 2009

    Please, please disregard John Doe’s “I think that you’re reading WAY too far in to this. So your teacher calls some of the girls “hon.” Honestly, he doesn’t mean any harm, so there is no reason to take offense.”
    There is no ‘reading into’ it. Taken at face value, it’s insulting… and just because harm may not be intended does *not* mean harm is not done.
    Personally, when I ran into this, my response was no response. Either people address me by my name or I assume they can’t possibly be talking to me. When they press for a response, I ‘introduce’ myself. (Oh, you were talking to me? I thought you were speaking to someone else. *My* name is…)
    I would not resort to throwing demeaning pet names back. Not only does it reduce you to his level, but (1) it can be cause for reprimand, depending on your school district; and, (2) it can be perceived as some sort of game that can go on without end. Don’t encourage the behavior; end it.

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  • charlotte @ at 11:19 pm, October 4th, 2009

    all my teachers call me sweetie

  • Irishgal @ at 12:06 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Hi, so after reading your article -which I liked very much! :) I have to agree that this type of problem is EVERYWHERE, and from living in Ireland where everyone likes to call each other ‘dear’ ‘love’ and the like, the best answer I feel to give, which keeps you out of the ‘politics’ of school administration, (believe me you will have no leverage there, a little chat about ‘how not to read into that sort of thing’ would be given as stated by some commenter’s here, and the fact that you are a teen, will put you in an embarrassing situation where you quite possibly will have to eat your words and be up to numerous patronising jeers), would be to go with the ‘look approach with an answer just as ridiculous’ as mentioned by others (wise people?), this type of behaviour will be more effective – don’t forget 70% of human communication is body language. ?

  • Lauren @ at 8:00 pm, October 14th, 2009

    Ugh, I have a history teacher who does this. A girl raises her hand in class; he says “Yes dear?” Or sometimes it’s “May I get water?” “Sure, sweetie.”

    FUCKING NO.

    He does this for every girl in the class, EXCEPT me. I don’t know if it’s because he just hasn’t gotten around to calling me “dear” yet, but if/when he calls me a patronizing nickname I will just speak to him after class. And if it happens after that, I would follow up with the administration.

  • Dana Simel @ at 9:48 pm, October 14th, 2009

    Nellie, great post!!!!!! I consider myself a feminist, but as you might remember, I use nicknames such as “dear,” and “sweetie” in my classes. I never realized that I did this until students – both male and female – pointed it out to me, but they made reference to it as a positive thing and something that made them feel valued; indeed, I use such terms when I am feeling kindly toward students. In thinking about it, most fellow American southerners do use such terms of endearment to people whom they admire and in this context, I can’t see the harm in it if it is used for both males and females. On the other hand, your point is well taken. Depending on who uses the terms, the context, and the inflection of the user’s voice, I can see how their use can run the spectrum of being perceived as endearing, or being perceived as offensive. When the term is used by a fellow southerner, I almost never perceive it as the latter. Again, super post – you have us thinking.

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  • Mindy @ at 10:24 am, March 12th, 2010

    I’m not a huge fan of nicknames or pet names, at least for myself. The main problem I have is that it takes me quite a while to feel really comfortable with other people, and any presumed familiarity before then makes me hostile. I had no problem with one of my best friends in college calling me “sweetie” or my favorite HS teacher giving me nicknames (“Mindola” or “Mindorooni”). But when it’s someone I don’t know well–particularly when the pet names are absent or strikingly different for men/boys–well, then I feel that the user is trying to “force” a relationship on me that I don’t feel we have. And that is not just annoying, but also disturbing.

  • Joel @ at 8:20 pm, March 20th, 2010

    I don’t believe I’ve had a male teacher say that, but I’ve had female teachers say it throughout out my school life. It doesn’t bother me, b/c being from the south, I’ve heard things like that all my life. Terms like “dear”, “hon”, “sweetie”, “baby” etc are not meant to be belittling. It’s usually from older women, who call everybody those things, even each other. The terms just simply mean “I care” or “you are somebody” you know that you have some value.

  • Mr. Happy @ at 6:39 pm, May 20th, 2010

    get over it. They dont call guys that because you just dont call a guy that. It makes them feel effeminate and whatever your position on feminism, most guys dont want to feel effeminate. Girls should like to feel effeminate. Note: In this case, effeminate just means female, not “girly”

  • Emily @ at 8:10 pm, May 22nd, 2010

    I have mostly female teachers, most of whom I respect deeply. Occasionally one or two of them will call me hon or sweetie, like when asking my to hand them something or thanking me for something. Some of my friends think its really weird but I find it kind of heartwarming, especially if I like the teacher.

    However, those are just slip ups and in no way make me feel uncomfortable. What’s going on with you sounds inappropriate, intentional, and disrespectful. You should definitely speak to someone about this.

  • A @ at 12:11 am, September 18th, 2010

    I have some teachers who do that who I’m kind of close to, and I don’t usually mind. In class, it can be weird, especially “babe” (which one of my teachers uses for both genders). It’s almost exclusively my female teachers who do this. In my specific examples I’m primarily okay with this, but i see how it could be a problem for others.

  • Dani @ at 11:12 pm, November 13th, 2011

    I am female and I wouldn’t care if a male teacher referred to me by a pet name/term of endearment such as those listed above. I wouldn’t automatically think that he is being patronizing.

    I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Happy and Joel.

  • patty @ at 10:28 pm, July 5th, 2013

    Terms of endearment are sexual harrassment.

  • Terra Simpson @ at 1:29 am, September 18th, 2013

    I take three group exercise classes a week. All of my teachers are female. One of them called me baby and it never bothered me.

  • Shawn @ at 6:17 pm, January 28th, 2014

    There are some very interesting comments and ideas that are presented here. All are valid as they are based on an individuals feelings and response to comments that are directed towards them.
    Ladies I understand, how or why you would feel disrespected, insulted and even as patty puts it “Harassed”.
    I am going to ask a question in relation to this, would you feel the same way if you over heard the comment come from a teacher and it was directed to a early years or kindergarten student. Should the student feel offended, disrespected or insulted.
    Advice – quietly and respectfully inform the teacher that you don’t like it. If it continues deal with it. Firing a comment or remark back gives you nothing to base your complaint upon. Someone could easily say that their comment was innocent and a common occurrence where a retort is seen as disrespectful and confrontational.
    But seriously what would you say to a teacher of younger years that said that to a student.

  • Terra Simpson @ at 3:34 pm, March 13th, 2014

    I’ve had a female group exercise teacher call
    me baby. Heck, she’s even touched me on
    my arm a couple of times. It’s never bothered
    me. I know she’s married and has two kids
    because she talks about them every once
    in awhile. I’m like the magnet for that and
    sarcasm.

  • Terra Simpson @ at 5:35 pm, April 13th, 2014

    I would not look at terms of endearment as sexual harassment. I ran into one of my ex-group exercise teacher who is female and after talking she did not let me get away from her without a side hug. Witch of course. I thought was special. Heck, she even rubbed and squeezed my arm.

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