As my bio suggests, I am nineteen. Unfortunately, in real life, I don’t have a handy bio to help people address me properly. I’m a woman who stands at 4″11 and I’ll admit, I look quite young. For this reason, not one person ever takes me seriously. I’m constantly sweetheart, lovely, darling, and most commonly, I’m the one who gets stopped on the door and asked for identification.
Bouncers at clubs scratch at my ID, checking its legitimacy. The guy at HMV tries to look me in the eye subtly before he sells me a DVD intended for those age fifteen and up, until I shakily pull out my university card and ask if they have student discount. I stand behind a friend who’s buying alcohol, they let her off but they ask how old I am to ensure I haven’t coerced her into buying a bottle of Malibu for me. Before I get into this, you must know that this isn’t what bothers me. I get it, it’s the law. It’s there to protect people.
What bothers me is the choice of words people use around me. Today I put a bottle of wine on the till at Tesco with my dad, to which I was immediately met with “Lovely, don’t do that again. I could get in lots of trouble.”, naturally I reassured him politely that I was nineteen. The response I got was no less patronising: “Yes darling, but you’ve got to understand that if you don’t look twenty-five, I could lose my job”. Is this mansplaining? Do I honestly look like I wouldn’t understand that? He continued to mansplain the issue until we left the shop.
I’m not your darling. Unless I’m your tired 1950s housewife, you don’t get to call me by that name. I find terms of endearment to be patronising when uttered by strangers, as if they need to talk down to me. It’s a microagression. I wouldn’t have this problem if I was a man, partly because I could grow a beard, partly because women never get taken seriously, right?
It’s not just because they tell me that kid’s swim time is over at the pool, and I should come back between 2 and 4 PM. That’s only a minor inconvenience. My issue is that this has become a larger problem for me. Nobody takes me seriously. I had no confidence when I was younger, and I ended up getting pushed around by friends and made the butt of every joke. Now I’ve found myself, and I self-loathe or shy away anymore, but nothing’s changed. I don’t think it’s conscious, but something in people must make them underestimate me.
But I quite like being a dark horse, I like surprising people, a small part of me likes how embarrassed people are when they’ve assumed that I’m under the age of 12. Again, it’s not that. As I get older and as things don’t change, I’m worried that I’ll never quite get anywhere. I’m worried that in every job I get, people will continue to think I’m on work experience and ignore my suggestions or ideas. I’m worried that any high-powered position is well out of my reach. I wish I was treated like an adult, and while I understand that I’m still young, other people my age just aren’t treated this way. They’re having babies, they’re getting married, they have careers. It’s like we all grow up so quick nowadays but they forgot about me.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor inconvenience in my life. I’m very lucky to be who and where I am. But everyone who tells me I’ll be thankful that I look young once I hit forty is wrong. Women are too often assessed on their age and how they look, young or old. I look to young to be respected, and adults look too old to be respected. One day, the teachers and the people who doubted me will see my talent, and then maybe I won’t look so young anymore.
So please, don’t underestimate me, and don’t call me darling.