"Hello Ladies."

I'd like to ask for a gender relations consultation.

Growing up I was taught to use the words "gentlemen" and "ladies" when addressing people. Even homeless people were gentlemen and ladies (or "Sir" and "Ma'am" in Texas). It was a way, I was taught, to be respectful. To recognize dignity regardless of station. So I've continued this practice into adulthood and into my workplace. I address groups of male students or colleagues as "gentlemen" and groups of females students or colleagues as "ladies."

In fact, and what prompted this post, I just did this a minute ago when I entered my building. Two of my co-workers were coming out. And passing them I said, "Hello Ladies."

But I've heard rumblings that the address "ladies" might be offensive to some women. To call someone a "Lady" smacks of a Victorian patriarchy. So I'm wondering, is that correct?

(And let me be clear here, I like being Politically Correct. If I'm saying something that is offensive, even unintentionally, then I want to be alerted. I don't, as a rule, blame the offended party for being offended. Yes, I know this PC stuff can go too far. But I don't want to get into that with this post. Mainly, I worry about PC just for the sake of staying aware. I like having a clue. I think PC protocols should often be broken, but I want to do it intentionally, with thought and for a particular purpose. I don't, generally speaking, want to be a jackass.)

So back to the question at hand: Is "lady" or "ladies" inherently problematic? Or is it an issue of context and relationship? That is, "ladies" might be condescending when used by a particular person in a particular manner. But my passing and friendly "Hello Ladies" might be fine as I'm not using the word in a hierarchical context.

I don't think anything huge is riding on this, but I ask out of curiosity. I'm a psychologist after all.

Thanks to everyone about the heads up about Demetri Martin's help on this topic:

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