Children pick up on the subtleties in the world around them and use them to form their view of how things work. We believe intercepting societal biases and challenging them at a young age can have a huge impact – it’s why we do what we do!
We asked a selection of women some of the words they hear on a regular basis that have an underlying message that undermines, belittles or discredits women.
The response was overwhelming and the most shocking thing we found was that most of these are words that we sometimes use ourselves; around colleagues, friends, family and even children, reinforcing gender stereotypes that hold everyone (women and men!) back.
Changing old habits is not an easy thing to do, but for those who want to try, here are some of the words that came up most frequently and the words we’ll be trying to replace them with in 2020.
This one has had a fair amount of media attention over the past few years. If a girl or woman is perceived as ‘bossy’ they are showing leadership skills and confidence that would be celebrated in their male counterparts.
Instead, try ‘confident‘, ‘powerful‘ or ‘assertive‘.
It may seem fairly innocuous, but a good rule of thumb is to test whether or not a word would sound odd if it was use to describe a man.
While on the outside, a word to describe women who are outgoing and energetic seems positive. But a Google search shows how the word has come to have more negative connotations, suggesting the subject is ‘annoying’, ‘silly’ or ‘over exuberant’.
Instead, try ‘outgoing’ or ‘engaging‘.
The official definition of nagging is to repeatedly ask someone to do something, usually that they do not want to do.
Every dictionary definition we saw also gave a description like this “my girlfriend nagged me to cut my hair”, “my mum is nagging about my homework” or “the more Sarah nagged her, the more stubborn she became”.
We did not see one instance of “he nagged”.
Our real answer to this one is to know that if something has been asked, it’s because it’s important to that person. Rather than dismissing them as a nag, show them respect and courtesy by either doing it, or explaining why it won’t be possible to do it.
However, if you must, try ‘she’s persistent‘ rather than nagging.
Using ‘girl’ to describe an adult woman is incredibly common, however the reverse is rarely true for ‘boy’ and man. The use of child-like term can undermine a woman’s power and make her seem vulnerable.
Instead, try ‘woman‘, ‘young woman‘, ‘teenager‘ or simply ‘person‘.
Often a woman voices that they find a situation to be unsatisfactory or uncomfortable, she is characterised as ‘high maintenance’. This creates a culture whereby women find themselves either having to agree to things that they are unhappy with, or develop a reputation as being unreasonably demanding.
Having standards is not something to be ashamed of or reserved for men. And fear of being shamed for it has been a way of controlling women for too long.
Instead try ‘she knows what she wants‘ or ‘she has a good eye for quality‘.
Have you ever heard of a working dad? Of course not. Because people assume that a father who goes to work is out of the norm, while a mother who works is out of the ordinary. The assumption of these roles is limiting for both men and women.
Instead, try using the person’s profession, if you know it. For example “Erika’s mum is a Marketing Consultant” or “she works in IT“.
There were actually a lot of words submitted (more than once for most of them) in this vein…
Irrational. Emotional. Hormonal. Hysterical.
But we’ve realised there’s so much to say about these words and the way we use them for both men and women, boys and girls, that it’s a whole blog for another time!
NB hormonal is an exception here and should never be used to describe a girl or woman’s emotional response to a situation.
Some easy gender-neutral language swaps
They say it’s a man’s world – well it is all the time we keep using man-centric language! It may take some getting used to, but these alternatives can make a difference:
- Everybody instead of guys or ladies/gentleman
- Humankind instead of mankind
- People instead of man/men
- Machine-made, synthetic, or artificial instead of man-made
- Partner, significant other, or spouse instead of girlfriend/boyfriend or wife/husband
- Flight attendant instead of steward/stewardess
- Salesperson or sales representative instead of salesman/saleswoman
- Firefighter instead of fireman
- Police Officer instead of Policeman
- Piece or counter instead of ‘men’ in a boardgame