A Florida congressman called political candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ‘this girl.’ It’s past time to stop calling professionals ‘honey,’ ‘baby’ and ‘sweetie.’
Don’t call me baby. Or girl, son, honey or sweetie. Especially while we’re at work.
That’s the consensus from professionals and career experts who cringe at the belittling nicknames still being used in the workplace. Most recently, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) called 28-year-old Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “this girl” at an Orange Park, Fla. campaign stop on Saturday.
“You look at this girl Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe,” DeSantis, 39, said in the clip posted to YouTube on Monday.
Ocasio-Cortez, the millennial Democratic socialist who shocked politics by beating 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th district last month, shot him down in a pointed tweet: “Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to ‘whatever I am.’ I am a Puerto Rican woman. It‘s strange you don’t know what that is, given that ~75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 mos since María. But I’m sure these new FL voters appreciate your comments!” she wrote.
Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to “whatever I am.”
I am a Puerto Rican woman. It‘s strange you don’t know what that is, given that ~75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 mos since María.
But I’m sure these new FL voters appreciate your comments! https://t.co/xJlroSe5Hs
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 23, 2018
But pols in both parties have used these patronizing pet names. President Donald Trump called his daughter Ivanka Trump on stage during a tax reform event in North Dakota last fall with “Come up, honey.” He also infantilized the grown businesswoman and political adviser as “baby,” and told the crowd that she still calls him “Daddy.”
Yes, Ivanka is his daughter. But there’s a time and a place for pet names, and a political or professional setting is not one of them.
"[Ivanka] wanted to make the trip. She said, 'Dad, can I go with you?' She said actually, 'Daddy, can I go with you?' I like that, right?" pic.twitter.com/fN2I8VPodZ
— David Mack (@davidmackau) September 6, 2017
Former president Barack Obama was guilty of making the same mistake, however, while campaigning in 2008. When ABC affiliate reporter Peggy Agar asked him about the future of autoworkers during a Detroit stop, Obama brushed her off with, “Hold on a second, sweetie,” which caught him plenty of flak. He called different women “sweetie” a few times during his campaign tours, actually, which led to his apology to Agar for using the word. “That’s a bad habit of mine,” he said. “I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front.”
It’s also illegal. Terms of endearment are defined as an example of sexual harassment by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Civil Rights, which cites “honey,” “dear” and “sweetheart” among the unprofessional expressions, even if the speaker means no harm in saying them. “The effect is the primary issue rather than intent,” it explains. “Even if the person ‘means nothing to you’ or you have ‘used the term for years’ you should be aware that such expressions are inappropriate.”
The problem is that these words make people feel disrespected and uncomfortable – and it happens most often to women by men. A survey by U.K. market research site OnePoll found that almost three-quarters of women think pet names in the office are “unacceptable,” while one in four say it makes them angry. The most hated terms were calling them “love,” followed by “darlin,” “mate” and “hun.” And the women said male bosses and colleagues were most likely to address them this way.
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi called out these terms of endearment for holding women back from their professional potential during the 2016 Women in the World Summit. “I hate being called ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’ at times, which I still am called. All that has got to go,” she said. “We’ve got to be treated as executives or people rather than honey, or sweetie, or babe. That has to change.”
Career expert Andrea Kay, author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go from Pissed Off to Powerful,” understands that it’s a touchy subject, but believes it’s out of touch in the modern workforce.
“It’s a professional environment, and people do not call each other ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ in the year 2017 [or 2018] anymore,” she told Moneyish, noting the exterminator who came to her house recently kept calling her “sweetie” and “honey.”
“It drove me up the wall. It’s just not appropriate to call a customer or a coworker that, and not appropriate at all for a corporate setting,” she said. “You need to treat people in a neutral way at work, and these terms of endearment come across as demeaning. And it just feels off, like you’re putting someone in their place or putting them lower in the pecking order.”
So the next time someone calls you girl, boy, honey, sweetie, babe or son:
Keep your cool. Instead of correcting them on the spot, and potentially causing a scene in the office or during your meeting, put a pin in it and bring it up when you two are alone. “Be assertive and direct, but in a calm, unemotional way,” suggested Kay.
Give the benefit of the doubt. Accusing the speaker of being sexist or insensitive outright will just put him or her on the defensive. Instead, say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it to be disrespectful, but I would appreciate it if you called me by my first name instead of ‘honey.’”
Explain how it makes you feel. Make them understand what the big deal is. Explain that anyone besides your romantic partner calling you by a pet name makes you uncomfortable, or that you want to make sure everyone on the team takes you seriously, and such terms of endearment undermine your authority.
“Some people are just not aware of how this language affects other people,” added Kay, “and they are not going to know to change the way they address people unless you tell them.”
This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.
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