By: Dani Kessel
The patriarchy relies on women to keep each other down so that we don’t pay attention to the ways society is structured to keep us away from positions of power. We do so dialectically often without even realizing it. Words have power to influence the way we see the world.
Fully grown adult women are called girls, infantilizing the gender as a whole. A woman airing grievances is called hormonal or hysterical, a term that origins back to the false idea of a floating uterus causing symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc. A woman who happens to be working and helping raise a family is a working-mom, denoting them as a caregiver first and foremost. These gender-coded words, among many others, wouldn’t normally be used to refer to a man. We need to reexamine the way we speak to and about one another to foster a culture of support and empowerment among all women.
Here is a list of 25 impactful gender-coded words and their neutral, often empowering, alternatives to which we should shift.
Girls 🢂 Women
Bossy 🢂 Leader, powerful, or strong-willed
Aggressive 🢂 Decisive
Sensitive 🢂 Emotionally intelligent
Frumpy 🢂 Unkempt
Know-it-all 🢂 Intelligent
Whining 🢂 Complaining
Slutty 🢂 Sexually liberated
Perfectionist 🢂 Detail-oriented
Brusque 🢂 Caustic
Shrill 🢂 Dissonant or outspoken
Bolshie 🢂 Stubborn
Nagging 🢂 Persistent
Emotional 🢂 Passionate
Uppity 🢂 Confident
Sassy 🢂 Cheeky
Abrasive 🢂 Blunt
Ballbuster 🢂 Authoritarian or successful
Frigid 🢂 Reserved
Ditzy 🢂 Goofy or silly
Pushy 🢂 Assertive
Catfight 🢂 Tension or conflict
Headstrong 🢂 Ambitious
Bubbly 🢂 Animated or enthusiastic
Emasculating 🢂 Strong
Tip: For those of you wanting to take steps to use more neutral and inclusive language but unsure of how to proceed, I learned a small trick to help me discern whether a descriptive word is gender-coded. First, put the descriptor in a sentence using a third-person gendered pronoun (he or she). Then, switch the pronoun out for a different gendered pronoun. If the sentence no longer feels like something you would say, the word in question is likely gender-coded.
All in all, it’s important to be aware of the way your words impact perception. Most of us learned as a kid that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The truth is that words can and do hurt individuals and society as a whole. Please remember to use kind and uplifting words today and everyday.
If you enjoyed this post, give it a like or share. Feel free to comment below with your ideas on how to create a more inclusive, empowering environment for women.