The 7 Most Sexist C-Words To Stop Using Against Women Immediately

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The 3 Most Sexist C-Words You Need To Stop Using Against Women Immediately

Language has the power to heal but it also has the power to hurt and it is often used to deepen some of society’s most damaging wounds.  

How women are spoken to — and about — is one of the most prolific ways gender bias is perpetuated. We see it all the time in the words and phrases weaponized against women that would never be used in relation to men. 

Women are “bossy”, men are “bosses”. Running, throwing, or fighting like a girl is a sign of weakness. Detail-oriented women are high-maintenance, women who are bold or passionate are sassy or emotional. 

We spoke to two women whose work intersects with female empowerment about how sexist language is used to recreate gender bias and deprivilege women in the workplace and all aspects of life. 

Jennifer S. Wilkov, the founder of the Speak Up Women Conference, has made a career out of encouraging women to advocate for themselves. She says her work with women is about constantly pushing back against disempowering language.  

“When certain words are used to describe women in an unfavorable light or to insult them, it impacts their self-esteem, their sense of self-worth, and their ability to communicate more dynamically and energetically,” Wilkov tells us.

Dr. Erica Wollerman, a psychologist whose work with women of all ages often requires them to engage with some of the societal stereotypes placed on genders, had a similar take.  

“Language mirrors the sentiments that are hidden in our world and can communicate expectations, priorities, and stereotypes as well as serve to essentially ‘keep people in their place,’” she says, “Particularly in the way that they can be wielded against groups of people who have less power in our world, such as women and any minority group.” 

Language learning app Babbel made it their Women’s History Month mission to highlight some of the “other c-words” that are rooted in sexism and misogyny.

These are words often used in disparaging or undermining ways to deliberately or inadvertently delegitimize women’s behavior or feelings. 

And before you think, “They’re just words,” ask yourself if you would or have ever used these words to describe men? Why not? 

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Here are 7 sexist words you need to stop saying to women:

1. Catty

Applying animalistic traits to a person is almost never flattering. But ‘catty’ seems particularly reductive given that it is typically used to undermine women who are expressing strong, albeit somewhat rude, opinions.

When it comes to men, we are much more accepting of their spitefulness or hateful behavior but women somehow require their own adjective for the same things. 

Babbel points out that in the Collins dictionary all the examples for this term use female pronouns while in the Oxford dictionary they deliberately specify that ‘catty’ only applies to women. Wonder why that is?

2. Catfight

The only thing more threatening than a so-called ‘catty’ woman is two ‘catty’ women. Note that there is no equivalent for men when they quarrel. 

Oxford, Collins, and Merriam-Webster dictionaries each define a catfight as a “fight between women.” 

Of course, it is not just men who perpetuate misogyny through language. Women often fail to realize how patriarchal society straddles them with their own biases. 

“Often, as women, we are unaware of the fact that patriarchal and misogynistic ideas permeate our culture to the point that we internalize these ideas as well,” says Wollerman whose clients occasionally grapple with these issues.

“In therapy, my clients and I work to unpack this systemic influence to help us recognize what we are unintentionally conforming to and make more conscious choices about who we strive to be.”

3. Clucky

Clucky, or broody, is a term used to describe a woman’s desire to have a child. In itself, it is dehumanizing by likening a woman to a hen sitting on its egg or pecking after its children. 

But it is also often used in demeaning ways to imply that a woman is waiting around, desperately wanting to start a family while men, for whom there is no equivalent term, are never pressured to or pillaged for wanting to have children. 

4. Coquettish

This word in and of itself certainly isn’t the most offensive on the list. It is simply an adjective to describe a woman’s playful nature or behavior. 

However, dictionaries and popular usage of the term make the assumption that a woman acts ‘coquettish’ as a way of appealing to male interests. 

Oxford, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Collins dictionaries each specify that a woman only acts ‘coquettish’ to “make her make or sexually attractive” or to “gain the attention and admiration of men.”

The term is deeply rooted in patriarchy by defining a woman’s behavior as being exclusively for the male gaze and not driven by a woman’s own personality.

5. Crone

Crone is once again rooted in the male gaze by existing only to comment on the appearance of women, particularly older women. 

All four of the previously mentioned leading dictionaries define ‘crone’ as an “ugly old woman”. The word pushes forward the notion that a woman’s worth or beauty is based on youth and physical features alone. 

Men are given the dignity to age without judgment or insults while women are not. 

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6. Cougar

Women who pursue relationships with younger men are singled out and likened to a predator or an animal that is hunting prey. 

We actively normalize men pursuing relationships with younger women, so much so that there is no singular word to describe this act. 

All dictionary definitions define being a cougar as actively seeking or pursuing relationships with younger men which appears to negate the reality that the men are just as actively participating in these relationships. 

This unnecessarily makes women out to be predatory or overbearing. 

Wollerman recognizes that though words like this aren’t always intended to be cruel, they can demean women more than we realize. 

“It is crucial that we become more aware of the power of words, the importance of choosing words that do not cause and perpetuate further harm, especially for those who do not do so intentionally, and empower women to rise above the limits that language can place on us in our current world,” she says. 

7. Cow

Yet another dehumanizing animal comparison only used against women. 

Cow is particularly popular in the UK as a way of insulting a woman. Each of the main dictionaries specifies that this term is only directed at women and defines it as being a synonym for “stupid” or “annoying”. 

For Wilkov, this kind of language is damaging in how it impacts the way women see themselves.

“When words like these 'c-words' are used in conversations or descriptions of women, it takes the wind right out of their sails,” she tells us.

“They feel disempowered and 'less than'. It puts them at a disadvantage in any relationship, conversation, or community to show their true selves and feel like they matter."

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.