19 Ways We Talk About Relationships That Dehumanize Women

We need to start talking and treating women like people.

man being sexist to girlfriend Timur Weber | Canva

By Andrew Smiler

Like most American boys, I grew up knowing dozens of terms that objectify women’s bodies and diminish women by reducing them to just a single part. It wasn’t until my 20s that someone taught me, and I started to understand, just how dehumanizing and common all this was. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly videos have been particularly eye-opening.

In thinking about this weekend’s tragedy — and how normal and perverse is the notion of “this weekend’s tragedy”? — the misogyny that fueled Elliot Rodger’s worldview and rage was hard to miss.


I again started thinking about words and all the ways we use them to diminish women. But I didn’t want to write another column about the words men use. I’m pretty sure you can find a million of those already.

RELATED: This Simple Response Shut Down The Misogynistic Guy Where I Work — For Good

Instead, I’m listing terms that describe relationships in ways that demean women. We do a very good job of dismissing relationships as unimportant in American culture, even though most guys value them very much. These expressions below need to go the way of the dodo. And yes, some of these could be applied directly to men by women or have easy parallels. Those expressions need to go away too.


Some of these are blatant, but some are more subtle like the notion that you can “steal someone’s girlfriend away from them.” Money, cell phones, and cattle can all be stolen because they can be legally owned.

None of them, not even the cattle, have anything like human free will. But if you believe that a guy’s girlfriend can be stolen, then you’re saying that she’s an object — property — and not a thinking human being who can make her own decisions.

Here are 19 ways we talk about relationships that dehumanize and disrespect women:

1. Steal someone’s girlfriend

She’s an object without free will.



2. Do the right things and she’ll be yours

There’s a formula that applies to all women because they’re all the same.


3. Win her heart

You win prizes, not people.

4. Trophy wife

She’s not a prize, she’s a person.

5. Take her off the market

She’s an object you can buy?

RELATED: If He Does These 12 Things, He's Secretly A Woman-Hater (And May Not Even Realize It)

6. If you buy a woman a drink then she “owes” you some type of intimate favor

First, if you buy her a drink without her permission, she doesn’t owe you anything. That’s a gift and she is under no need to accept it or reciprocate.

Second, if she agrees to let you buy her a drink, then she’s only agreeing to talk to you for the length of that drink; she is not agreeing to do whatever you want for the rest of the evening. Finally, if you think you’re being taken advantage of, then stop buying drinks for people.


7. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free

She’s not a cow. See “owes you some type of favor” for the rest.

8. Kept woman

Paying someone’s rent, keeping them in fine clothes, and otherwise paying their expenses does not mean you control every aspect of someone’s life, including what they do with their genitalia.

In theory, relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Even in “traditional” relationships that feminists disdain, there’s an assumption of separate spheres of expertise (paid work vs. childrearing). These expressions show no respect for a guy’s partner.

9. Treat them mean, keep them keen

Women don’t deserve to be treated nicely, and, doing so will lead to bad things.




10. Old ball and chain

Your girlfriend or wife is a nearly immovable weight intended to limit your movement.

11. Battleaxe

Your girlfriend or wife is a lethal weapon.

RELATED: Sexist Men Most Likely To Have Psychological Issues, Says Science

12. Harpy

Your girlfriend or wife is a mythical, filthy monster who lives for vengeance. Hmm, living for vengeance sounds a lot like Elliot Rodger.


13. Bit on the side

She’s a person, not a “bit” which I’ve been told means “piece" in this context. And I won’t bother to comment on the dishonesty inherent in having a second partner.

14. Make an honest woman out of her

Turns out honesty is based on intimate activity inside marriage and not the ability to keep one’s word. Who knew?

15. A lady on the streets but a freak in the sheets

Because double standards are so respectful.


I have to admit that I’ve never understood the whole fascination with being with a virgin. I wouldn’t want an inexperienced accountant or surgeon, so why would I want an inexperienced partner? Whatever the deal is, these expressions say the only thing important about a woman is whether or not she’s been intimate with someone before you.

16. Popping someone’s cherry

Do you need someone with no experience so they’ll think you’re great in bed?

17. Sloppy seconds

Odds are anyone you have been with who is 18 or older isn’t a virgin. Get used to it.

18. Leftovers (dating someone’s ex)

See sloppy seconds.

19. When you get to heaven, you’ll be rewarded with virgins

Intimacy slaves in heaven? Seriously? Doesn’t sound very heavenly for them.


Do I think that using different words would have changed Elliot Rodger? No. He had years of frustration at not getting what he thought he was entitled to have. He needed a perspective transplant. But I do think that if we start giving credence to the importance of relationships and stop belittling them, we might make our culture a nicer place.

RELATED: 20 Things We Don't Teach Our Sons (But We Should)

Andrew Smiler, PhD, is a freelance writer, blogger, author, and licensed therapist.