Words That Hurt; The Power of Casual Insults
Written By Maddy Crehan
Language is an incredibly useful tool in the development, progression and understanding of society. However, it can also be used as a way of belittling or demeaning another person or group. So it’s no surprise that negative language towards women is used frequently and un-apologetically. The language used to describe women differs significantly to the language surrounding men.
There are so many words used to de-value women or suggest they are the property of men – from labeling them as animals (cow, dog, etc) to centuries of women changing their last name from their father’s to their husband’s. Of course, men are subject to insulting language also, but there is a significant number of words we seem to reserve only for women.
Here are some words we hear everyday (used by both males and females) to describe women and why it’s actually not okay.
BOSSY – FEISTY – BITCH
These words are often used to describe women in power or authoritative positions in the workplace. So often women are more harshly judged than men in similar roles. These words undermine a woman’s authority and are often an attempt to alienate her from her audience, colleagues, peers, etc. They are also suggesting that it’s insulting for a woman to not assume the traditional feminine, passive role expected of them.
She’s not bossy, she’s the boss.
CRAZY – HYSTERICAL – PSYCHO
Crazy is one of them most common terms used to describe females I have ever heard, and it’s been used for what seems like forever. These terms are used to discredit the thoughts and actions of women, deeming them unstable, unreliable or god-forbid different. This word ‘crazy’ goes back to the age-old diagnosis ‘hysteria’ given to any woman with apparent problems, which not only discredits women in general, but silences the lived experiences of mental illness in both men and women.
She’s not crazy, she’s flawed (like everyone).
BABY – DARLING – SWEETHEART
Unless spoken between close friends, family or romantic partners these words should just not be used. (That includes you, random guy on the street. You too, Chris Gayle.)
She’s not a baby, she’s a woman.
How often have you been told you’re being too sensitive or too dramatic when simply expressing an opinion or concern? Like calling a woman ‘crazy’ these labels are used to discredit her ideas and thoughts, by depicting her as irrational. This is a classic case of ‘blaming women for their reactions to men’s poor actions’. (Not accepting her opinion because she is female and therefore must be emotional is a pretty lazy argument tactic in my view). As well as suggesting that women are by nature overly sensitive or emotional, this also denies men the social acceptance to show emotion and distress, which is incredibly damaging to their well-being
She’s not too emotional, she is a person with thoughts and emotions.
SLUT – WHORE – LOOSE
If a woman is sexually active or even dressed (what is considered) provocatively she is verbally abused and slut-shamed. But men are more often than not praised for their sexual activity, and are referred to as legends, players, studs. These words are used to describe women so often they’ve almost lost their meaning, and are thrown around casually in conversation all the time, by both men and women. The problem with these terms are not the words themselves but the malicious intent sometimes used behind them and their contrast to male labels.
She’s not a slut, and it’s none of your business anyway!
Everyone knows that age-old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. Well, I hate to burst that bubble, but I call bullshit. Words CAN hurt, insults CAN do damage and language CAN fuel sexism. Let’s not let it.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.
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