April 22, 2021

What Should You Call a Female Senator?

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

To be elected to a position of authority in any situation is truly a awesome privilege.  Many titles—President, Senator, Governor, Congressman—stay with a person for the rest of their lives1.

When I was a student at Bob Jones University they had the custom of calling those that had finished their undergrad and were on staff (be they dorm supervisors, teaching assistants, or simply managerial staff at the Dining Common) with a title of Mr., Mrs. or Miss.  A lot of us thought it quite peculiar to call someone that we’d just called “Chris” “Mr. Smith” but when in public that’s what we did.

The location, the audience, and the person can dictate what title is used.  I try to preserve politician’s titles here.  So I found it interesting when Sen. Boxer (D-CA) asked the following of Brigadier General Michael Walsh at a Senate hearing on Tuesday:

“Could you say ‘senator’ instead of ‘ma’am?’ It’s just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title. I’d appreciate it.”

This comes across all wrong.  I’m sure if she’d thought it through she could have worded it a little better.

On the first hand, to even ask this smacks of either sexism (“ma’am” is sexist, use a more professional title) or pettiness.  It was obvious her position, and it appears that she’s posturing (putting herself in her place above this male general) or that she’s insecure.  It would have been better to just let it go.

But second, I’m not quite sure that “I worked so hard to get that title” sounds really good.  I mean, again, is this a comparison with a Brigadier General—and comparing what he had to go through (the training, the combat he saw, etc.) with a senatorial campaign?

True, she did have to shake a lot of hands, kiss a lot of babies, and create a large organization to get herself elected—and multiple campaigns to get herself to the senate—but does that really compare to combat?

Why make it seem like she’s belittling this man, who is treating his superiors like he treats them in the service?

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  1. Which can be confusing if you aren’t up on what’s current! []

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