As soon I stepped out my front door I heard it. I heard him.
“Hey babe! How ya doin’?”
It was our neighbor.
His tone was sweet. His words were innocent, and I knew he was just trying to be warm and welcoming. And I knew that, beneath his thick New York accent and bro-like demeanor, there was a genuinely kind and good-hearted guy. But those words — those damn words — upset me. They got under my skin; they downright infuriated me. Because I am not his girlfriend. I am not his lover, and I am not his babe.
My daughter is sure as shit not his babe, either.
Of course, my kiddo was unfazed by his greeting. She didn’t think twice before running toward him. She giggled and laughed and gave him a hug, all before muttering “hello” or answering his question with a coy and quiet “good.” But I did because I still wasn’t sure how to handle it.
I wasn’t sure how or even if I wanted to address the matter.
So I ignored it and moved through the moment and I continued the conversation like nothing had happened. But I didn’t forget his words, and as the day wore on I became more upset — at him, and at myself.
I should have asked him not to say that. I should have told him not to call me that. Not to refer to me, or my daughter, as “babe.”
Why the hell didn’t I speak up?
Of course, part of the reason was that I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to find the right words before bringing it up. Before addressing the matter in front of, and with, my daughter. But I was also slightly afraid. A lifetime of sexual degradation and intimidation had taught me to be afraid; to believe it’s easier to smile when a cat-caller says “smile” than to stomach whatever he inevitably slings your way when you do not. It is easier to bite your tongue and just go along with it than to fight back.
But things are different now that I’m the mother of a little girl — and if I don’t model strength in front of my daughter, who will? If I don’t stand up for myself, how will she? And If I don’t find my voice, how can she?
How can she be independent and fearless if I am not?
And so I resolved in that moment that the next time someone called us “sweetie” or “cutie,” “honey,” “sexy,” or “babe” I would do something. I would say something, and right words or not, I would use the matter to initiate a conversation with my daughter about tenacity and strength. About owning who she is, being proud of who she is, and being steadfast in her beliefs.
I would let her know that she doesn’t have to sit back, shut up, and take crap from anyone if she doesn’t want to just because she is a girl.
Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it — the matter has not come up again, but that doesn’t mean I will not have this conversation one day soon. And the truth is, I can’t afford to not have this conversation, because my daughter deserves better.
All young girls, and women, deserve better.
Of course, you may be reading this and think I’m completely overreacting. You may be comfortable with any one of these nicknames — and that is OK. (Hell, my daughter may find herself unfazed by pet names one day, too.) But it isn’t the words themselves which bother me — my husband calls me by many of these names, and I affectionately refer to both he and my daughter as sweetie and sweetheart.
But it is the context in which they are used that gives me concern. It is the person using them, and in my opinion, if you don’t know me — if you aren’t my mother, my grandmother, or my freakin’ husband — then do not call me cutie. Do not call me baby, and do not refer to me sexy, gorgeous, mamacita, or babe.
And never, ever refer to my daughter as “hey babe.” Because she is young girl — a 3-year-old — and also, because she has a freakin’ name.