Friday, June 19, 2009

Senator, not Ma'am

Your daily dose of awesome:

Sen. Barbara Boxer asked Brigadier General Michael Walsh about the slow repair of levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina at a Senate hearing last Tuesday. After he addressed her as "Ma'am", she interrupted, saying

"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."

He replied, "Yes, Senator."

Some may be wondering whether Sen. Boxer was too sensitive, and Fox News and others have accused her of being rude to the general (sensitivity and rudeness are two common accusations towards strong women). It is easy to forget that when Sen. Boxer was elected in 1992 she was one of SIX women in the 100 member Senate (in an election that was hailed because it TRIPLED the previous session's whopping count of two female senators). Today the Senate is only 17% women, putting us 72nd in the world when compared to other nations' parliaments. So yes, Sen. Boxer worked very hard to earn her title.

And while "ma'am" may be polite, it does not necessarily connote real respect. Titles matter--I use the title Ms. because I don't want people defining me by my marital status, and I call my friends and co-workers women because they are adults who deserve to be treated as such. Kudos to Sen. Boxer for demanding the respect she deserves, and reminding us that we have a long way to go.


WendyM said...

More power to her! Thank you, Senator, for standing up for all of us and demanding the respect you deserve!

Dorothy said...

Senator Boxer is well known for her fight for human rights and for her honors received in Congress. I have read on Project Weight Loss recipes for some of her favorite foods. Right now she and other Senate colleagues are trying to make the White House send "high-level envoys" to free two American journalists from North Korea.

ART said...

The incident had nothing to do with being a "strong woman." It was plain, simple rudeness, and, if anything, a sign of insecurity. She should be embarrassed for her conduct.

The general was being exceedingly polite and was using "sir" or "ma'am to all senators. He has had a decade-long career serving America, rebuilding Iraq and now New Orleans. There was no reason for Boxer to flare out at him like that. And as many bloggers have pointed out, Boxer herself has frequently failed use honorific titles when addressing other senators or cabinet members.

Boxer is a public servant. She shouldn't act like a petty tyrant. She is a disgrace to the Senate and the United States.

Bonnie said...

I can definitely see where the Senator is coming from here - and I really don't agree that she is a disgrace to the Senate or to the US. As Dorothy said, she has established herself as a champion of human rights in Congress.

With regards to the title - my mom has a similar struggle. She is a doctor, and when people call her "Mrs" rather than "Doctor", she politely corrects them - as did Senator Boxer in this instance - by asking that they refer to the title that she worked so hard to earn. I think it is well within Senator Boxer's rights to ask respectfully that she be referred to by the title she earned.