My dispute with cute

I often meet other walkers—usually tourists—during my morning trek and today a man and woman approached and she was already talking, saying "We were laughing because you look just like my mother. Your gait is just like hers and she's tiny like you; she's 70 but very heathy and active and if she was here she'd be walking too. You could be her!"

Well, there's not much one can say to all that except, Oh really? or How funny. But that didn't end it, she talked on, while my three-miles-in-50 minutes goal floated away on her volubility and I nodded and tried to be polite, and eventually mentioned that I too was 70. This sent her into hyperspace, where she said I and her mom must be twins separated at birth, ha ha. And then she said, "You're so cute!"


That's when I said goodbye.

I have written previously about the curse of ageism, of which this usage is a symptom, so I won't belabor it. But promise me you will never use cute to describe an adult female. It is condescending—though that would be denied—and is a common symptom of the infantilization of older women—and sometimes men. And, of course, that would also be denied.

Why not cute? Because cute describes babies, toddlers, kittens, and puppies. Cute babies pee their diapers and spit up milk. I do neither, and if I did it would be because I'm sick, not because I'm old.

Cute in its most egregious form modifies "little old lady," a description I resent but bow to because I'm little compared to some and I'm old compared to some (but young compared to others and in my own mind). I deny the word lady, however, which rightly belongs to royalty and women who identify with dinosaurs.

Cute erases experience, education, maturity, and wisdom and reduces its descriptee to a minor player in life's adventure. Personally, I don't know a single older woman who believes she has stopped contributing to the world she lives in; the idea is laughable—and insulting.

Being old does not stop commitment, or loving, or appreciation, or understanding. The sadness of senility and Alzheimer's are not the common lot of older men and women, despite what fear and the media might have you believe. Intelligence, if we're lucky, expands into wisdom.

I'm sure the woman I met on the path this morning meant well, and I don't blame her for what was probably an unconscious remark. But it's time to bring cute out of the closet. From now on, call me smart or stupid, witty or dull, awkward or graceful, ugly or lovely; but never, ever call me cute.

And I know that woman's mother would agree.