Speak Your Mind

Speak Your Mind: Don’t Call Me Babe

If you present yourself as female, it’s likely that some stranger has called you a pet name, like “sweetie” or “hon.” When it happens to me, it’s usually by a grandfatherly figure with no creepy overtones, but it’s still something I notice. When I was in middle school, I had a teacher who called everyone – everyone – “sweetie.” He did this all the time; it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the gender of the student. It made the male students visibly uncomfortable, more so than the girls. But if there isn’t an obvious sleaze factor, I don’t really notice. 

Except for “babe.” I hate being called babe, and won’t stand for it from anybody. I think I may hate being called babe more than Jo Walkers from the UK who calmly explained to a local bus company that she didn’t really appreciate being called “babe” by the bus drivers. It evidently wasn’t presented as a formal complaint, but the bus company agreed with her that bus drivers probably shouldn’t be using that language to address customers. The usual poop-storm occurred, as it does whenever a women calmly expresses an opinion, and spawned a hashtag on Twitter.

Are pet names for women per se demeaning? Is this something you personally get riled up about? Do you consider it well-intentioned, or a subtle way of undermining women? Or does it depend on the situation?

Featured image credit: mira66

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


  1. February 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm —

    In my view, whether a pet name be derogatory or offending, or otherwise negative, depends both on the respective relationship between male and femlae, and situational context, as well as the general use of certain pet names. Strangers should call neither girls nor grown women pet names because it may appear either creepy or derogatory, or may be easily interpreted thus, even if not intended so.
    I only call women and girls pet names if I personally know them and if they agree with it. I do not always call them those pet names, however, but only if either they have done something really sweet for me, or I want to strongly express that I really like them. I sometimes use ‘sweetheart’ descriptively if I intend to express that a girl or women is really a wonderful person, such as in ‘You’re a true sweetheart!’.
    I agree with you, though, that ‘babe’ usually sounds derogatory, if not pejorative, in all kinds of context. Therefore, one should not address any girl or woman with this word.

    • February 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm —

      Would you mind explaining why you find ‘babe’ to “usually sound derogatory if not pejorative in all kinds of context”? I agree totally with the idea that pet names are something that should only be used with agreement of the individual to which they are being applied (in fact I enforce that standard myself), but I don’t get what is wrong with ‘babe’. Is it because it is essentially the same in meaning as ‘baby’ (a term of endearment which I absolutely despise) or something else? ‘Babe’ is actually my favorite pet name both to be called and to apply to other people (largely on an aesthetic, sound based level) so I’m curious about those who adamantly oppose its use.

      • February 8, 2012 at 9:58 pm —

        I can’t speak for ichbindaswortistich, but whenever I hear someone call someone “babe,” it’s just so skeevy. I do feel like it’s infantilizing, but what really gets me is the tone in which I usually hear it said. Like macho men trying to prove how macho they are by being all condescending. Does that make sense? I think that, at least in my mind, it differs from words like “hon” or “sweetheart” because, well, the latter two remind me of things my grandpa used to say out of love. But, to be clear, I don’t like it when people I don’t know call me anything but Mindy.

        This is all, of course, totally subjective. My advice to all people would be not to do it unless you know it’s cool with the other person.

  2. February 25, 2012 at 11:31 am —

    I agree that it depends on the “who”, “where” and “why”.

    My husband always calls me Carina – which for some reason makes me crazy hahahahaha. After 14 years together I thought he would have picked up on some form of pet name but no. I remain Carina (said lovingly of course).

    My boss calls me “Angleface” (at times) but I must admit that due to his personality I am not at all offended by it.

    But let any stranger address me as “sweetie” or “lovie” I get very worked up about it. If you do not know me how dare you be so presumptuous as to call me names? I find it terribly condescending. For all you know I could be a complete ass yet you in your wisdom decide that I am your “lovie”.

    I think not!

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