It’s never OK to address a woman this way

Don’t call me baby. Or girl, or honey, or old. Especially while we’re at work.

That’s the consensus from professionals and career experts, who cringe at the belittling nicknames and sexist jabs still being used in the workplace. Most recently, David Hogg referred to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as “old” in an interview with New York magazine. “Older Democrats just won’t move the f— off the plate and let us take control,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi is old.”

Hogg immediately received flak, with many of his own supporters expressing disappointment: “You’re doing great work but ageism isn’t ok. Nancy Pelosi has fought and accomplished more than Ryan and Rubio… combined. We should honor her, not denigrate her,” one user wrote.

And when asked by an MSNBC anchor about Hogg’s comments, SiriusXM Progress host Mark Thompson responded: “I’m surprised and a little disappointed that David would say that. This is the year of the woman. This is going to be as much of a pink wave as there is a blue wave, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea to demonize women.”

In defense of his comments Wednesday, Hogg tweeted, “I don’t endorse age limits. We need experience and wisdom in our leadership. But, we also need a representative government, which means younger leaders need to be given a chance.”

Hogg is far from the first to publicly belittle a woman. In July, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) called 28-year-old Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “this girl” at an Orange Park, Fla., campaign stop. “You look at this girl Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe,” DeSantis, 39, said in a clip posted to YouTube.

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Ocasio-Cortez, the millennial Democratic socialist who shocked politics by beating 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th district last month, shot him down in a pointed tweet: “Rep DeSantis, it seems you‘re confused as to ‘whatever I am.’ I am a Puerto Rican woman. It‘s strange you don’t know what that is, given that ~75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida in the 10 mos since María. But I’m sure these new FL voters appreciate your comments!” she wrote.

And President Trump called his daughter Ivanka Trump on stage during a tax reform event in North Dakota last fall with “Come up, honey.” He’s also called the grown businesswoman and political adviser “baby” and told a crowd that she still calls him “daddy.” Former president Barack Obama called a number of different women “sweetie” a few times during his campaign tours; he later apologized. “That’s a bad habit of mine,” he said. “I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front.”

It’s also illegal. Terms of endearment are defined as an example of sexual harassment by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Civil Rights, which cites “honey,” “dear” and “sweetheart” among the unprofessional expressions, even if the speaker means no harm in saying them. “The effect is the primary issue rather than intent,” it explains. “Even if the person ‘means nothing to you’ or you have ‘used the term for years’ you should be aware that such expressions are inappropriate.”

The problem is that these words make people feel disrespected and uncomfortable – and it happens most often to women by men. A survey by U.K. market research site OnePoll found that almost three-quarters of women think pet names in the office are “unacceptable,” while one in four say it makes them angry. The most hated terms were calling them “love,” followed by “darlin,” “mate” and “hun.” And the women said male bosses and colleagues were most likely to address them this way.

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PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi called out these terms of endearment for holding women back from their professional potential during the 2016 Women in the World Summit. “I hate being called ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’ at times, which I still am called. All that has got to go,” she said. “We’ve got to be treated as executives or people rather than honey, or sweetie, or babe. That has to change.”

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Career expert Andrea Kay, author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go from Pissed Off to Powerful,” understands that it’s a touchy subject, but believes it’s out of touch in the modern workforce.

“It’s a professional environment, and people do not call each other ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ in the year 2017 [or 2018] anymore,” she told Moneyish, noting the exterminator who came to her house recently kept calling her “sweetie” and “honey.”

“It drove me up the wall. It’s just not appropriate to call a customer or a coworker that, and not appropriate at all for a corporate setting,” she said. “You need to treat people in a neutral way at work, and these terms of endearment come across as demeaning. And it just feels off, like you’re putting someone in their place or putting them lower in the pecking order.”

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See also: Millennial women are falling behind in their quest for equal pay

So the next time someone calls you old, girl, boy, honey, sweetie, babe or son:

Keep your cool. Instead of correcting them on the spot, and potentially causing a scene in the office or during your meeting, put a pin in it and bring it up when you two are alone. “Be assertive and direct, but in a calm, unemotional way,” suggested Kay.

Give the benefit of the doubt. Accusing the speaker of being sexist or insensitive outright will just put him or her on the defensive. Instead, say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it to be disrespectful, but I would appreciate it if you called me by my first name instead of ‘honey.’”

Explain how it makes you feel. Make them understand what the big deal is. Explain that anyone besides your romantic partner calling you by a pet name makes you uncomfortable, or that you want to make sure everyone on the team takes you seriously, and such terms of endearment undermine your authority.

“Some people are just not aware of how this language affects other people,” added Kay, “and they are not going to know to change the way they address people unless you tell them.”

This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.

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