The other day I overheard someone talking about her daughter, a pastor, who presided at a funeral recently and later pitched in to help the “little old ladies” clean up the kitchen after the funeral luncheon. The point she wanted to make was about how great her daughter is (which I’m sure she is), but that wasn’t the point I got.
Another time, I heard a brilliant young pastor talking about his terrific ministry with homeless veterans, and he said that his best volunteers and his best donors were the “little old ladies.” And then he snickered. Whatever point he thought he was making wasn’t the one I took away with me.
And then a couple of years ago, I overheard two young women talking about their plans for Halloween costumes. One had the idea to dress up as a “little old lady.” Yeah, I thought, that’ll be just adorable.
[bctt tweet=”Have you ever heard the phrase “little old lady” used respectfully? I sure haven’t. ” username=”womenoftheelca”]
Have you ever heard the phrase little old lady used respectfully? I sure haven’t. At best it’s patronizing and at worst it’s dehumanizing. Any time that phrase shows up, you know the speaker doesn’t respect older women. (And at exactly what age do we become “older” anyway?)
And older women are people to be respected. After all, who keeps the church going? Older women. We all know it’s true. Older women are the ones who keep civilization civilized! And that’s the thanks we give the people who keep the lights on, simply because they’re women who’ve lived a long time? We pat them on the head and call them “little old ladies”? Now that’s just not right.
[bctt tweet=”Older women are the ones who keep civilization civilized!” username=”womenoftheelca”]
Therefore, here and now, I’m declaring war on the phrase little old lady. It’s sexist; it’s ageist and it’s demeaning. I won’t say it and I won’t let others say it in my presence. Who’s with me? Let’s drive that phrase out of our vocabulary!
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship and development for Women of the ELCA. She plans to be a wise old woman in a few years, and if anyone ever calls her a “little old lady” they’re in big trouble. )