Don’t Call Me Honey, Honey

Taken from here.

Has a colleague ever called you “honey”? Cathy Relf, a British publishing industry employee who blogs at Rantings of a Sub-Editor, just posted an entertaining rant about a work phone call that ended with “thanks, honey.” She raises interesting questions about when “honey” is harmless, and when it’s a power play.

Relf’s story begins with a pretty typical professional encounter. She had to phone a male contact who needed to complete a task in order for their joint project to proceed. They’d only spoken once before. The conversation began with Relf in a position of power, because she was gently prodding him to finish up the work he owed here. Here’s how the conversation went down:

Relf: “Hi, it’s Cathy, we spoke yesterday.”
Guy: “Oh hi, yes, thanks for sending that through, I’m going to look through it at lunchtime and get it back to you early afternoon.”
Relf: “Super. Because I’m working elsewhere for the rest of the week, so I do need to see it off today.”
Guy: “Yep, definitely.”
Relf: “Great, speak to you later.”
Guy: “Thanks honey.” [phone down]
“With those two magical words,” Relf writes, “he’s put himself back in charge.” She continues, memorably:
Thanks honey? Sorry, did I just bake you a FUCKING MUFFIN? Do you know me? Did I pick you up a pint of milk, or compliment your hair? I did not. I phoned you to remind you that I need you to do a certain thing, by a certain time.
As Relf points out, that’s the potentially infuriating thing about pet names like “honey,” “sweetie,” and “babe.” In some contexts, they’re charming and familiar. If your boyfriend or your bodega guy calls you one of these names, you probably won’t mind. In fact, you might even like it.
Sure, some women bristle the terms in any non-romantic context, but most will agree that they’re harmless in situations where the two parties aren’t both in a professional setting. That’s why it seems pretty innocuous to me when a store clerk calls me “honey” — our exchange is technically professional, but we don’t share the same professional context. There’s no power dynamic, and even if there is, I’m on top as the customer.

In a shared professional setting — like, say, a phone conversation between colleagues — “honey” takes on a whole different meaning. It’s suddenly condescending and patronizing. It puts the speaker in a position of power, (figuratively) patting his “honey” on the head. No one calls a superior “honey,” because it’s not a word of respect; it’s a word of fondness at best, and infantalization at worst.
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