25 Gender-Coded Words To Avoid And Better Alternatives

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.

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