Yup, I was looking for an I-like-gardening type who was willing to pull weeds ($12 an hour, cash), and who also had the muscle—helming a wheelbarrow with shovel—to spread lots of mulch around my large corner lot.
The latter area is a gently sloping hill, and is mostly filled in—lots of thickly growing ice plant (I called them freeway flowers as a little girl)—with a smattering of pink geraniums, wild roses and jasmine.
I can use this kind of labor every three months or so, and for a long time, the woman who did it all was amazing. She showed up on time; followed directions exactly, and always had a smile for me.
The down side is that she’s what we once called a hobo.
By choice, she has no car, no phone and no watch. Once, after asking if I had an extra can opener (I did), she plopped down in my dirt driveway and ate lunch—peachy-hued salmon out of a tin can. The only way I can contact her is via two cell numbers; one belongs to a friend, who seems to roam as much as she does, and the other is the number for her grown daughter, a full-time student whose life is way more mainstream.
The daughter always tells me that she’ll pass on my request as soon as she hears from her mom. We think she’s busy picking avocados up and down our California coast right now, but we aren’t sure.
This led me back to square one, but I thought I lucked out when a neighbor told me about someone she had used.
I called him and we had a good conversation. A few more texts and a few days later, he showed up and we met in person. As it turned out, he had another landscaping job that day—probably one that entailed more money—so, he introduced me to a buddy who had come with him, and then left. That man did a great job.
But I will never ever call the first man again.
That’s because he crossed a line, big-time, within 30 seconds after greeting me.
We shook hands first.
Then he said, “Okay, honey. I’m here, so just show me what you want, honey.” He repeated this endearment at least two more times in the same number of minutes. Not only did him addressing me this way feel unsettling, it also felt demeaning, creepy and sexist.
I’d like to tell you that I immediately stood up to him. I’d also like to tell you that I did so by locking my pair of steely eyes on him, and in no uncertain terms, ordering him to cut it out.
But I can’t tell you either of these things because I didn’t do either of them.
However, after giving him instructions of what needed to be done—but with my back turned away—I did say, “Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, are you okay?” he replied, starting to follow closely behind me. “Is everything all right?”
I got to my front door, still unable to face him, and mumbled, “Yeah, it’s fine. I just don’t like to be called that.”
For someone who considers herself to be a very good journalist who has rarely been afraid to ask questions, as well as
a feminist who minored in women’s studies in college, I’ll admit this: it wasn’t fine at all. Moreover, I’m ashamed of
While I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I also know that I’m from an old-timey generation that doesn’t much believe in women making a lot of noise, much less a lot of fuss, when men say things that make us feel uncomfortable.
In fact—and I’m embarrassed to admit this now—when I was a young teenager, I was flattered when a man whistled
Then, why was my gut screaming that I needed a steam cleaning after he used this endearment over and over? Had I been too sensitive about it all? Maybe I should have acted like a duck, and let his name for me roll off my back like water?
I wasn’t sure.
So, hoping for feedback, I went on Facebook and posted an abbreviated version of what had transpired. I then asked if it was okay for this near stranger, one whom I had hired to work for me, to address me the way he had.
I received more than a dozen comments, nearly all of them from women, and I’m happy to report that most everyone felt like me.
Comments ranged from “Not cool at all!” and “Demeaning and sexist… educate him,” to “One of my pet peeves! I’m not your honey!!!!” and “Definitely not okay.” Another female friend jokingly wrote that I could have defused the situation by calling the man “dollface” after the man called me what he had. (The Hubster’s response to this: “Well, that could have been a powder keg.” On this, I agree.)
Three men responded as well.
One, a fellow Clown College alum who is still actively clowning around, seemed to think the gardener in question deserved some wiggle room. Different cultures, he wrote, have different ways of seeing things. “I deal with this all of the time when performing for different nationalities,” he wrote.
Another man, one I had worked with on a long-running television show, had so much to say that he commented several times. First, he wrote, “Great idea to spend your entire day correcting every dude, honey, man, sweetie, buddy and bro.” (I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic.) He then went on to say that over the years, he has lost count of the number of women who have called him honey, “And it’s not a big deal. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
The last man, a friend I’d met on another TV show, said the entire scenario was a tough call all around. He explained that in Texas and parts of the South, “It’s an endearing term, not meant as demeaning or harassment. But I guess in California, it’s no, huh?”
The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
In fact, here’s a simple rule to follow if you’re on the West Coast and meeting a woman for the first time. And nope, it doesn’t matter how young or old said female is; what she looks like, or even what the circumstances are.
Address her by her name.
They call me Hilary.
What do you think? Was it okay for a semi-stranger to keeping calling me “honey?” I look forward to your comments!