‘Cause It’s Just My Week to Talk About Names

A co-worker called me “sweetheart” the other day. More in that small-town diner waitress kind of way than anything else. He is not a diner waitress.

He also does not fall into any of the categories of people who might be able to get away with this.

I like being called by my damn name.

I’m not saying I like my name, but by golly, you should be calling me something different than every other woman in the department.

So… the first time I ran into this–or noticed it, I was in fifth grade. Let’s see…. that’s about eleven, for those of you not in the American school system. I had a male gym teacher. And the guy was creepy as fuck. I don’t know why none of the adults noticed it, but… ewww. He called the boys by their last names, and the girls… well, the girls were sweetie, or peaches, or some other damn thing.

I distinctly remember telling him my name was not “peaches.” (What can I say? I was born a bitch.)

And I distinctly remember him kneeling on the pavement with his hand on another girl’s ass, after she’d twisted her ankle.

I despise one-size fits all nicknames.

You can mean it as well as you want, but in the end, what calling me something other than my name says–both to me, and to the people around me– is that my name is not worth learning.

It’s a statement that has ripple effects. You don’t use my name, so that other person doesn’t know my name, so I wind up a whole lot less connected than… well, that guy over there, who you wouldn’t dream of calling “sweetheart.” You probably call him “Mike” or “Steve” or “Hoefling”… enough to differentiate him from the people around him.

It’s very simple. Nobody’s ever going to ask you what “Sweetheart” in department M’s name really is. Nobody’s going to stand up in a meeting and say… “You know who would be perfect for this promotion? Sweetheart.”

Intentional, or not, it’s an act of erasure.

And it so happens that my name is worth learning.

I think it is, anyway.

And when he called me “sweetheart”–for no good reason, and to no benefit of mine–I looked at him and said, “What did you call me?”

For a second, it didn’t register that I was angry.

“Sweetheart,” he says… as if he really did believe that I hadn’t heard him right.

And one of the women tries to smooth it over. He calls everybody that.

“Please, don’t.”

He apologized later in the afternoon. He didn’t mean it “like that,” he says. But of course, since I just told him not to, he has no particular way of knowing how I thought he meant it.

I didn’t think he was hitting on me.

I didn’t think he particularly likes or dislikes me.

And maybe he really hasn’t bothered to learn my name.

A-to-Z Challenge: Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner was a physicist who laid some of the groundwork for the atomic bomb. She studied independently, since the university of the time did not accept female students, and ultimately took an exam to prove she understood the material. I happen to think skipping the hassle of university classes sounds like a swell idea, personally.

She worked with Max Planck and Otto Hahn (sometimes for free), served as a nurse in World War I, before returning to her research in Berlin.

She lost her job as acting head of the chemistry department at the Kaiser Wilhelm institute after the rise of Hitler, and his race laws, and escaped to the Netherlands.

The fact that she did not share the Nobel Prize with Otto Hahn for work on Nuclear Fission is contributed largely to her gender.

Messages From the Bathroom Stall Door

I used a public restroom, today, and I snapped a picture of the stall door. Someone has written the words Suicide Club on the stainless steel in electric youth pink. I don’t know if it’s a plea for help, or a bid for attention, or just graffiti referencing a movie or manga. And I don’t know who wrote it. The response–also anonymous–reads, “Please get help. This, too will pass.”

Do you care? 

Yes, I care.

Women use bathroom stall doors as bulletin boards to communicate the things they wouldn’t or couldn’t say in real life to a person with a face. They talk to each other. Two way communication. Private. Anonymous. Deniable. No, I didn’t ask about that. I was just taking a dump.

The first real message I remember reading scrawled across a stall door was in high school. I must have been fourteen or so, and fairly sheltered. I was still getting used to **profanity** and sex was just something kids who smoked and drank did. That first message–in its entirety–read, “Someone in this school eats pussy, and it’s not a guy.”

Word for word. Cunnilingus, Lesbianism, and… someone actually wrote the phrase “eats pussy” in a public place.

At the time, I thought of it as graffiti written for the shock value.  Maybe… maybe I believed what it said was possible. And maybe I did look around and wonder for a second or two which girl it was.

But that message wasn’t meant for me. I read it as a piece of mindless gossip. Someone else might have recognized it as a confession, or an ecstatic shout of connection. And someone might have shouted back, or given a quiet sigh of relief.

I saw the same message (different words) in college, and by then, I did recognize it. The very last stall in the university’s “historical” women’s restroom was the “Lesbian Stall” (Labeled on the inside, black sharpie) and maintenance sanded the stall door down twice a year to remove the accumulated conversations.

I had something to write, then, and I didn’t write it, but the idea that I could have, and that someone would have answered… it mattered.

I’m afraid my bisexual boyfriend is only with me because he wants children, and because he doesn’t have to come out to his father, if he marries a woman.

I hit the ground hard with that one. I’m shaking, a little, and if I think about it long enough, there’s no doubt I’ll cry. Question for the stall door.

And there have been a lot of stall door questions from a lot of women, since then. A lot of topics, and a lot of secrets.

The stall door a safe place. A strangely self-moderating place. The “community” routinely scratches out unacceptable responses. And there’s almost always an answer.Whole threads of conversation, back and forth. Or solitary encouragement. Yes, I care.