In this day and age, it is hard to believe that strong women are still paid less than men for doing the same work, they are more likely to be the victims of violence, especially perpetrated by someone they know and they are less likely to hold positions of power in business and politics in comparison to their male counterparts. For many, feminism is still a dirty word despite the movement being responsible for the emancipation of half the human population. We still have a long way to go. We can all contribute to a more equal world simply by being more aware and thinking about how we value women. We can start by watching the things we say to them directly and whether you are a man or a woman yourself, we have all internalized sexism and are likely to participate in common faux pas.
Here are 10 phrases you should swallow when talking to strong women:
1. Have you lost weight?
Although probably intended as a compliment and many strong women will say this to each other, drawing attention to a woman’s body shape by commenting on it is never okay. It implies that your approval matters; it doesn’t. A woman’s body and what it does or looks like is nobody’s business but her own. She doesn’t need your endorsement to look a particular way and you are better off commenting on her strength, her kindness or her success than on what she looks like. Women face enough pressure to adhere to a fabricated ideal of beauty.
2. Smile, you’ll look prettier
This usually occurs on the street by strangers after they have whistled or cat called. It also happens at parties, in bars or anywhere that unwanted male attention is rejected. It implies that the woman is surly or unhappy within herself, instead of responding to the unwanted and intrusive attention. She doesn’t have to smile. She doesn’t have to be pretty. She doesn’t have to do anything in order to please you or make you comfortable.
3. When are you going to get married/have a baby/have another baby?
Inviting yourself into a woman’s relationship or her uterus is a no-no. When you ask a woman when she is going to get married or find a mate and settle down, you are telling her that she is incomplete or inadequate on her own and needs another person to validate her. Similarly, asking a woman about her reproductive status is essentially asking about her menstrual cycle, her sexual activity, and ignoring her right to privacy. For all you know she might have faced challenges such as infertility or miscarriage and she is not obligated to discuss these things with you upon your inquiry. This information should be volunteered by her, not extracted by you.
Also, she may not want to do either; get married or have children and implying she does is imposing your desires on her life not hers. Whatever strong women decide to do is not of your concern. If they choose to share that information, by all means share in their joy or tragedy, otherwise wonder in silence.
4. You look tired
She probably is. Strong women work hard, but don’t tell her in not so many words that she looks haggard. Again, by commenting on her appearance, you are measuring her based on a superficial ideal not on her real worth. It is often an attempt to express empathy, it’s just misguided. Maybe instead of telling her what you think she looks like, ask her how she is feeling? What has been happening in her life? If she wants to disclose her troubles, she will. Better still, treat her to a leisurely lunch or a nice massage. She will definitely appreciate it.
5. Don’t get so upset
Telling a woman that she is overreacting is demeaning. It diminishes her feelings and dismisses her ideas and reactions. This is particularly condescending if she is upset because of something you did or said. You may be truly concerned for her and don’t want to see her unhappy or angry, but validating her feelings and working through a disagreement or a bad experience together is more valuable. Website Power of Positivity suggests saying something like “You seem very passionate about this” or “What do you think we should do about it?” This will ensure the situation does not escalate and tells her that she is entitled to feel what she wants, her feelings are warranted, but you don’t want to see her hurting.
6. It’s not lady like to swear/sit like that/dress like that
Pardon? No. Lady schmady. Strong women can curse. Language is just that. It is not a measure of her morality and she can express herself as she pleases. We need to stop telling women how to speak. She can sit however she wants and take up as much space as she wants (yes even if she wants to sit with her legs open; men do). She can wear whatever she wants; as much or as little. She can wear a bikini or a burka and what she wears does not determine how she deserves to be treated. Australian Feminist writer Clementine Ford says “We deny women any agency when it comes to their clothing. We assume that if they dress in particular ways they either secretly desire unwanted attention, or that they’re too stupid to realize that they’re dressed like walking billboards for sex and therefore need other people to carefully guide them through the rocky shores of life.” Daily Life.
7. Be careful going out by yourself at night
Whenever we hear of a woman being physically attacked, it almost always follows the same line of inquiry; where was she, what time of day was it, who was she with, what was she wearing. This is called victim blaming and is a product of rape culture. Telling women how to behave to avoid being attacked is reprehensible because it completely absolves the perpetrator of wrong doing. Women have every right to occupy this world wherever and whenever they see fit and although it is unfortunate that women need to be aware of their own safety and take precautions; don’t worry, they know. We simply need to change the public discussion about it. We need to stop telling women that they are responsible for the wrong doing of others and focus instead on telling people who attack women to stop. doing. it.
8. Is it that time of the month?
As a society, we don’t like talking about menstruation; at least not in a positive and constructive way. We instead stigmatize it as a time when otherwise strong women are irrational and uncomfortable. Asking a woman if she has her period is an implication that she is being unreasonable or unnecessarily emotional. That she is somehow not functioning normally and needs sympathy and will not be taken seriously. It’s time to stop demeaning and undermining women based on some outdated notion that their physical differences to men equal inferiority or requires subordination.
Strong women are reclaiming their menstruation. (Caution: Explicit Language) This smash poem by Dominique Christina is outstanding and every woman, every mother to a daughter needs to watch this and share it. Women are also having period parties these days, celebrating their daughters’ first time as something to be cherished and be unashamed about. So beware. You no longer have permission or credibility to shame a woman about bleeding.
9. Women can be so bitchy
The idea that men have camaraderie between them while strong women compete is untrue. Men are just as competitive among themselves as women and women can be incredibly supportive and affectionate towards one another. This statement is an attempt to divide and conquer. It relies on flimsy and superficial anecdotes and intends to cause disunity and conflict in order to obtain control. It’s untrue and sexist.
10. There is no wine or chocolate in the house
Never ever say this to a woman. It is just plain hateful.
It is not that difficult to hold your tongue and to become educated about gender equality. It isn’t fickle or unwarranted to expect respect and it isn’t an overreaction to recognize the historical oppression that women have experienced. So next time you are having a conversation with a woman; it’s simple. Just think before you speak. If you aren’t sure, don’t say it. Be kind, always. And if you say something offensive – apologize and learn from it.
Featured photo credit: Walking Around Town/Kris Krug via imcreator.com