|Definition courtesy of Urban Dictionary|
I was a teenager the first time I ever heard someone referred to as ma'am. I was visiting the south where it's considered to be a sign of respect. But, much like "bless your heart", it always came off as condescending to me. Maybe because I was a northern girl raised on sarcasm and cynicism. Taught never to believe what someone says and only trust a fraction of what they do. Ma'am never had a place in my (blessed) heart from the start.
Now that I'm in middle age (well...if I live to age 94, I am anyway) I absolutely detest being called ma'am. I do get it when I'm ma'amed by people who are significantly younger than me, to whom I'm a relic. But, the people half my age, aren't hung up on being polite. So, they avoid the whole situation by not calling me anything. Or acknowledging my existence. Because most of the time they've got their head buried in their phone and they don't even see me.
No, it's the people my age or older, who were brought up to be polite who are the worst offenders. Not only do they see you because they aren't distracted by their phone, because they probably don't know how it works or can't find their glasses to read a text (ahem...like me), but they will also make direct eye contact. And then categorize you by age by the crow's feet around your eyes. Any woman under 30 is still a "miss" and anyone else is a "ma'am".
Unless...you get the flatterer (AKA: Eddie Haskell and if I have to explain who that is, you're definitely a "miss"). The flatterer sees your scowl lines and gray hairs and absolutely knows you're without a doubt a "ma'am" but "misses" you. In a completely condescending way. Also, there is usually some kind of payout that acts as motivation for this flattery. Like a tip, commission or free pass to heaven involved. You know you're being belittled and so do they. And yet somehow, even through that massively thick layer of bullshit, it's still better than being "ma'amed".
Which is why I've constructed a short list of things I'd rather be called than ma'am:
Bitch and/or bastard (I'm no sexist)
Idiot (interchangeable with moron or stupid)
Ugly (I had a co-worker call me "fea", which is Spanish for ugly.)
I would even take honey or sweetie which I also find demeaning.
Somehow, in our culture, being called old seems worse than any of the things on that list.
Basically, I'll respond to almost anything, besides Ma'am.