5 Words and Phrases to Stop Using if You Want to Empower Women and Girls

Do you want to empower the women and girls you know? If you do, the language you use matters. Subtle sexism lurks in many commonly used words and phrases. Choosing empowering language is so important.

If we want to help society progress toward equality, we need to be continuously working on improving the way we talk about minority groups such as women. Work on eliminating these words from your vocabulary starting now!

1. “Working Mother” 

Okay, first of all, this phrase is pretty redundant. All mothers work. Full stop!

That said, how many times have you heard the phrase “working father” used? Chances are, probably never. This saying is sexist for two reasons. One, it implies that motherhood is somehow incompatible with having a life outside of the home. Secondly, it takes dad out of the equation nearly entirely. 

Women already perform a higher amount of unpaid work than their male peers — let’s stop regulating papa bear to the role of “helper” and acknowledge him as an equal partner in baby making, childrearing and homemaking. 

2. “Wearing X Makes You Look Y” 

Okay, fashion police, it’s time to put your citation book away! While it isn’t always inappropriate to comment on how a woman looks, insisting she must present a particular image to get ahead is sexist. For example, telling a woman to wear heels in the workplace because they make her look more professional negates the damaging physical impact these shoes have on female physiology. 

Granted, many women can’t see the point of male ties, either — but at least a scrap of cloth at your neck doesn’t throw your back out of whack! Unless you’re writing for a fashion magazine, keep your advice on how to dress for success to yourself. 

3. “Girls” — When Referring to Adult Women

The word “girl” refers to someone under the age of 18, and it draws to mind a mental image of someone much younger. Using this word to describe adult women demeans them, making them seem infantile. There can be a bit of a generation gap in this terminology. For example, one survey showed that while 70% of folks aged 70 and older think it’s acceptable to refer to women as girls, only 48% of those aged 18-24 feel the same. 

It should always remain the province of the marginalized to dictate the terminology they prefer, so get with the times. There’s nothing wrong with the word “women.” 

4. “Sweetie” or “Hon” 

Unless you’re her significant other or a very close friend or family member, referring to a woman by a pet name is typically seen as downright creepy. This advice goes triple if you identify as male. Many of us women have seen the stalker movies on LMN and Investigation Discovery. We grow suspicious of unwanted terms of endearment! If you’re not sure how to refer to someone, why not try asking her name? 

5. “Aggressive” or “Shrill” 

In ancient times, people believed women who spoke publicly were prostitutes or madwomen, and modern language reveals many still share this attitude. Like it or not, women have every much of a right to assert their opinions as do their peers who identify as male. Stop trying to silence the sisterhood with disparaging remarks about how vocal they are — the female chorus will only increase in volume! 

Be a Better Voice for Women and Girls

Language allows sexist attitudes to persist into modern times. To create a genuinely equal society, we need to change the way we speak. So, I urge you to examine your everyday colloquialisms and see which phrases you can put to rest!


Kate Harveston enjoys writing about and sharing advice on women’s wellness topics, whether related to mental health or physical. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her personal blog, So Well, So Woman.


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