For women, perception is everything.
What your grandmother might have called a “woman’s intuition,” we’d rather label as an exceptionally astute gut instinct. That's because women habitually sift through layered conversations, trying to unpack the motivation for each comment that comes our way.
When you’re a woman, the world often feels as if it’s forcibly attempting to undermine you with a series of domestic, sexual and professional obstacles.
The office isn’t just a space where you work, but rather a series of verbal land mines.
You may be wearing a killer black number that gives you the swagger of Michelle Obama, but it only takes a single catcaller on the street to remind you of a more unfortunate reality. To many, you’re nothing more than a piece of specially succulent meat strolling down the street.
With every sexist comment made it seems as if you're cut down just a little further, forced to work extra just to maintain your spot on the corporate food chain.
In the feminist battle for gender equality, it’s words that leave the deepest emotional wounds. And, ironically, it’s often those intended to be complimentary that make us feel the worst.
When Misty Copeland became the first black ballerina to earn the coveted principal dancer spot in the American Ballet Theater, writers applauded her as a “strong” and “successful” woman. Physically, Copeland has musculature comparable to a cheetah on the hunt, but the term wasn’t being used in reference to her body. Rather, it was a generic statement about her confidence.
As writers learn early, a modifier placed without intention means nothing. With that in mind, these are the words we wish people would stop using to describe women who truly slay at the hustle.
The last time I checked, the adjective “strong” had more to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger than any female professional. Unless we’re discussing fitness routines and weights lifted in the gym, the word doesn’t need to come up.
The unfortunate reality is just the opposite: Jennifer Garner is staying “strong” during her divorce from Ben Affleck. Selena Gomez shows “strong” is beautiful in a new haircare commercial. When used colloquially, the word just doesn’t make any sense.
Emotional and physical strength are both qualities we praise, but the general term doesn't imply any real meaning. Instead, the modifier becomes a generic way to compliment a woman without actually wasting any ink on her accomplishments.
Tell us about Copeland’s lifetime of intensive ballet training, her role as an icon for young women of color or the landmark shows of her career. Please, just talk about anything other than strength.
Every time we spot an editorial about the things independent women do, we wonder, “Independent of what, exactly?”
The adjective often gets thrown around as a mode of describing females who travel solo, avoid the ceaseless rat race for a partner and enjoy spending days at a time alone. Interestingly, none of those habits has anything to do with independence, just personal preference.
Although we popularly perceive it as a compliment, the word indicates a cultural understanding that women should be defenseless, reliant on someone else to keep them happy. We’re trying to remember the last time of any of our girlfriends curled up into a helpless ball because there was no one around to claim them, and examples aren’t coming to mind.
Instead of promoting the stereotype of the “gentler sex,” choose a descriptor that says something about the ladies in question. Women who love to see exotic places are adventurous, for example, while those who stay home alone are introverted or hermetic.
Pandas rolling around with stalks of bamboo, infants sleeping quietly and two lovers making goo-goo eyes at each other in the park are things we’d confidently label “cute.”
Adult women? Not so much.
To call something cute is to take a condescending tone, looking down your metaphorical nose at the subject. We love to use the word for YouTube videos of cats stuck in boxes, subconsciously noting our top-seated position on the animal food chain as we do so. Because we are fundamentally the supreme overlords of our pets, we can appreciate the adorable, inconsequential things they do.
However, the same idea becomes problematic when applied to women. Referring to a “cute” gown is harmless, but the same word about person implies some inherent hierarchy. A man or media outlet who uses the word confirms the subconscious idea that women are somehow lesser, meant to be looked down upon.
In full makeup and going out clothes, she’s unquestionably beautiful and attractive. But, “cute” assumes a power dynamic that doesn’t need to be encouraged any further.
In gender relations, there’s always a power dynamic that hangs in the air like thick cigar smoke. Women fight for recognition as independent contributors to the value of society, managing Fortune 500 companies and creating businesses.
These women are admirable, but it’s important to notice the words we use to describe them. A simple turn of phrase, for example, can turn a #GirlBoss into a girl working under a boss.
When we call businesswomen like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg powerful, we acknowledge the countless hours and meetings she’s pushed through to succeed. However, referring to Sandberg as “empowered” implies that someone has graciously bestowed that power upon her.
Instead of the protagonist of her story, a change of semantics makes Sandberg into a passive damsel. With a history of “leaning in” that made Sandberg renowned amongst career women worldwide, her formidable career path is not to be considered lightly. Neither are thousands of women like her.
At age 70, Dame Helen Mirren is a stunner. With a thin silhouette and excellent taste in accessories, the English actress continues to raise the temperature of men and women across the globe.
Although breathy media photo captions are quick to call the star “ageless,” that’s certainly far from true. Just because she’s lovely and vivacious doesn’t mean she hasn’t aged. With added years come wisdom, intelligence and a thought-provoking body confidence that women in their thirties would give anything to possess. So why are we so quick to make aging a negative concept?
Feminists proudly proclaim that women are worth more than just sex appeal, with complex brains and emotions that deserve equal treatment. When we call a woman “ageless,” the adjective implies she’s still relevant because she maintains a sexuality comparable to that of a younger woman.
Having seen Mirren act, we can all agree she deserves more than that.