“You’re too young for [fill in the blank]!”

People tend to read me as younger (sometimes much, much younger) than I actually am. So, while I am a 30-year old who has been working since the age of 15, has 1.25 master’s degrees, and owns her home, a lot of people think I’m 22, have just graduated college, and have no idea how the world works. On a few recent occasions, people have assumed I’m still in high school.

“Oh, you’ll be grateful for that when you’re older,” I hear all the time from middle-aged women.

And sure. If people were just telling me that I look 22 instead of 30 all the time, great. But at least half of the time, they’re not. They’re making an assumption about my age, and then using that assumption as grounds to treat me like a child. Or they’re just being condescending assholes. Spoiler alert, it’s usually men doing this, though women aren’t immune.

(The other half are usually people like one of my library patrons who, for example, asked me excitedly if the 2016 election was going to be my first presidential election. It wasn’t—with one exception, I have voted in every election in which I’ve been eligible to vote, including primaries, since I turned 18 in 2004.)

Last summer, a door-to-door salesman for some power company came up to my house while I was outside with my dogs. He introduced himself and made some small talk, then asked, “Are your parents home?” in a very serious, I-have-real-business-to-conduct-now tone. I cracked up because he looked rather young himself and was trying very hard to appear older and (I guess?) more respectable, and it was obvious the possibility of me being the homeowner had never, not once, crossed his mind.

Then there are people who say things like, “Aren’t you too young to have carpal tunnel?” when I’m wearing a wrist brace for an injury that resulted from extreme gardening, not computer usage. This question (and others like it) are always asked in a condescending tone and with the assumption that youth equals health (it doesn’t, in case that was unclear, and it’s downright rude to ask a complete stranger about their health issues anyway).

Now back to the “You’ll appreciate that when you’re older” nonsense. This response is problematic for several reasons:

  1. The underlying assumption that age and beauty are somehow related, and that being young equals being more beautiful. Let me just call bullshit on that right now. Older people are beautiful, too, and anyone who tells you otherwise can be damned to a hell in which their every flaw is constantly compared against airbrushed magazine models.
  2. The underlying assumption that my self-esteem is based on my appearance, and that I need external validation to feel good about myself. Of course, this one isn’t about me at all—it’s about the person saying it. More than likely, they feel insecure about their age and appearance, and they’re projecting that insecurity onto me. I’d much rather have people’s respect than their compliments on how pretty I am.

You know what I’ll really, truly appreciate when I’m older? Hearing that one of my stories, or essays, or novels had an impact on a young person the same way books like Sandman and The Chronicles of Narnia had an impact on me.

No one is going to look at me, makeupless, in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt, with muddy sneakers and messy hair, and think, “Damn, I’m going to spend my whole life trying to look like her!” And they shouldn’t. They should want to look like themselves. So why should I care what people think I look like? Answer: There is no reason. As long as I’m clean and dressed appropriately for work, it does not matter.

In the same vein, age alone does not determine anyone’s capabilities. I’ve met completely incompetent 50-year-olds and brilliant, wise 20-year-olds. The next time someone asks you if you’re “too young for x,” you can respond with, “Aren’t you old enough to know better than to ask inappropriate questions like that?”

Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up

On Saturday, I wore a tiger striped hot pink pussy hat, held a sign that said, “This Pussy Grabs Back,” and marched.

It’s a long story that I’ll save for another time, but I didn’t make it to DC, and instead marched in Pittsburgh. I am sad and disappointed I couldn’t make it to DC, but marching in Pittsburgh was also important. It was inspiring and empowering to march alongside 25,000 kindred spirits.

Five million women, men and children marched on Saturday—in most major US cities, and on every continent.

“This is not a moment, it’s the movement.”

Women's March Pittsburgh

The work doesn’t stop here. We will keep fighting (here’s something you can do today). We will keep marching. You can try to silence us, but as we proved this weekend, we are legion. We are everywhere. And we are pissed the fuck off.

I am all for peaceful protest, but if the worst comes to pass I am not afraid to take up arms, to fight with my fists and my feet and my nails.

This pussy grabs back.

I am not your dear

Working in public service means I see people of all kinds: tall, short, black, white, fat, skinny, quiet, loud, obnoxious, wonderful, intelligent, not-so-intelligent, drunk, high, high on life, downtrodden, hopeful, etc.

(For the record, drunk and/or high people are not allowed in the library and are asked to please come back later when they are sober.)

Many of these people call me things like “dear,” “sweetie,” and “hon.” Some have even learned my name and have taken to calling me “Kel.”

The only person who can call me “dear” or “sweetie” without pissing me off is my father. Close family members and friends are welcome to call me “Kel.” (See the quiz below to see if you qualify. If you don’t, no worries—there’s still time to ride roller coasters and do slightly illegal and/or dangerous things together!)*

Everyone else: No.

And especially not people I meet while I’m standing behind the public service desk at my job. I recognize that for some, it’s a generational thing. For some, it’s a habit. I’m willing to give people a bit of slack in this department, but not much.

Because I am NOT your dear. I am paid to be nice to you. I am paid to help you set up an email account and request books for you and troubleshoot your ebook problems. Or, I am a complete stranger you happened to bump into on the street.

We are not friends, buddies, pals, or whatever. I am not your daughter or your sister** or your girlfriend or your wife***. It is, therefore, inappropriate for you to call me (or any other customer service rep or stranger you meet by happenstance) by any term of endearment, and especially inappropriate if you are a man speaking to a woman.

“But I’m just being nice,” all the “nice” guys are collectively saying.

No. You are not being nice. You are being condescending and paternalistic. Even if you don’t intend to be condescending and paternalistic, you are. And it’s your responsibility to change your behavior.

Call me by my name, or don’t call me anything. Just say, “Thank you!”

Thank you is enough. Thank you goes a long way. “Dear” and “sweetie” do not. “Dear” and “sweetie” make me cranky. Of course, I risk retaliative action from you and those in my organization if you complain that I’ve been a horrible mean person to you by telling you not to call me “dear.”

Oh, if only it were as easy as saying, “Please don’t call me that,” or “I am not your dear, thank you, please use my name.” Every. Single. Time. I say that, I get “I was only being nice” or “That’s not very nice of you.” I’ve even had people complain to my boss that I treated them poorly by telling them not to call me dear.

Reality check: My niceness isn’t the issue. Your condescending paternalism is.

So, guys: Don’t call your service reps “dear,” “sweetie,” or “hon.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.


*You can determine if you pass this test by asking yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to two or more, congratulations! You can call me whatever the hell you want, and I’ll still love you.

  1. Have we ever lived in the same house?
  2. Have we ridden roller coasters together?
  3. Have we gone to nerdy conventions together?
  4. Have we ever stayed up all night watching anime or making costumes together?
  5. Have I cried in front of you?
  6. Have you cried in front of me?
  7. Did we meet as tweens or teens and continue to be friends?
  8. Do you know two or more characters from the Star Wars expanded universe because of me?
  9. Do we have at least one inside joke? (Leave your favorite one in the comments so I laugh and everyone else feels left out!)
  10. Have we done something slightly dangerous or illegal together? (Don’t worry Mom, I survived, and never got caught!)

**Unless you are my actual brother, which you aren’t, because my brother would never ever call me “dear.” Seriously. Never. If he did it would mean he was taken over by pod people.

***Unless you are my actual husband, which again, you aren’t, because he would also never call me “dear,” because he knows how much I hate it, and, surprise! he respects me.