Ladies? Who You Calling a Lady?

The email subject line had so many things wrong with it that I just had to investigate further.

“Advertising to ladies is easier then (sic) you thought.”

The offer was for an email list (I think—the email itself was so poorly designed it was hard to tell) but the term “ladies” felt offensive somehow. Perhaps the problem was in my head. A previous employer had always approached any group of women gathered in one place and would slowly say, “Well… hello.. ladies…” in such a derogatory tone, that we would all cringe.

Or perhaps the problem is that my fairly strict British/Canadian upbringing always led me to think of the term “ladies” as a throwback to the 18th Century.

The email continued its pitch for the availability of lists of individuals “… awaiting offers related to ladies, men, zoomers, students, sports …”—and there was that term “ladies” again. Is it just me who finds that term offensive?

I checked out the definition at, and it seems my negative reaction may be well justified. While there were 15 different descriptions, the first was that a lady is, “a well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior.”

While not offensive, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t describe the available target audience because that would be a pretty small list circ. But wait … there’s more …

Perhaps this particular marketer felt they had a list of women who met one of the other definitions of lady:

  1. A woman regarded as proper and virtuous.
  2. A well-behaved young girl.
  3. A woman who is the head of a household.
  4. A woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way.
  5. A woman to whom a man is romantically attached.
  6. A wife.
  7. A general feminine title of nobility and other rank
  8. The Virgin Mary. Usually used with Our.

No, I’m fairly confident that none of these applied (unless it was lucky No. 3)—but the most interesting insight was in the Usage note: The attributive use of lady, as in lady doctor, is offensive and outdated. When the sex of the person is relevant, the preferred modifier is woman or female.

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.
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  • Rod Fowler

    I am speculating that "ladies" was a last minute substitution over "chicks". And he thought he was doing "so gud". lol

  • Whitewater

    Sorry, but there is nothing wrong with the term "lady." Yes, that particular email may have gone off the track, but if women are offended by being called ladies, they might want to get over it. It is a respectable term and I have never heard it used in an intentionally degrading manner. Men who use the term are being polite, not insulting. Everyone time someone says, "Ladies and Gentlemen…" can we begin expecting all the women to stand up and leave because their sensibilities have been ruffled? This is ridiculous. The old Grand Dames of English aristocracy would be puzzled knowing that the title they were proud of, has somehow fallen in the gutter. Granted, I don’t hear anyone calling women "dames" anymore. So… maybe those addressing audiences can change things up a bit and start with…
    "Women and Gentlemen"
    "Females and Males"
    "Females and Guys"
    "Girls and Boys of All Ages"
    RELAX LADIES — there is nothing wrong with the word lady. Take it as a compliment — if taking a compliment is even possible these days.

  • Barry Densa

    When will political correctness finally be outlawed. This is getting ridiculous already.

  • Amir Hussain Khadim

    Interesting perspective. May be its not the "ladies" that got you going….may be its the wrongly used"then" in the subject-line that might have piqued your curiosity in a subliminal way?

  • carolyngoodman

    I find it curious that everyone who has responded to my post so far, is male…

  • LizaK

    Oh gosh. I find that "ladies" is my own term of choice. I use it all the time and prefer it used for me. To me it has the right ring of politeness to it.

  • Cool

    Using the word "ladies" is condescending. I don’t want to be addressed like that with a group of women or just my self referred to as a Lady. Lady is the name of a dog in a Disney movie!!