Saying goodbye to these hurtful words (and what to say instead)
I remember the first time a word really, truly hurt me. In seventh grade, another girl in my history class called me a b***h for asking her to share the scissors. I spent the rest of the day in a horrible mood and promised myself I would never make another girl feel that way by calling her a b***h.
Recently, I’ve realized that b***h isn’t the only word that hurts people, especially other women, and I’ve tried to stop using those words. Here are a few words that cut other people (and ourselves) down and why we should stop using them.
As in “she’s so basic.” Recently, this word has been on the rise, often to describe women who like coffee and leggings. As a girl who loves coffee and has no problem with leggings, I object to these being considered negative traits. This word definitely promotes girl-on-girl competition and gossip, and simplifies people down to just a few traits. People aren’t basic. People are complex and have complicated lives that deserve to be appreciated and respected. As a feminist (and a decent person), I’m done calling others basic.
What to say instead: If you absolutely must complain about someone, focus on the specific action or trait that annoys you. Don’t attack their entire personality just because you think they post too much on Instagram.
I tried to stop saying “awkward” when I realized it was one of the main adjectives I was using. I described almost any situation, my writing, and myself as awkward on a daily basis. Then I realized that these things don’t have to be awkward — I was feeling awkward because I wasn’t 100% perfectly together and eloquent all the time, and that’s just normal, not awkward. Calling myself awkward was tearing me down and making me unsure of myself. Once I stopped describing myself as awkward, I was more confident in my interactions, my writing, and myself, giving me a way to build myself and others up by using more positive language.
What to say instead: Use words that mean what you really mean. Awkward shouldn’t be a universal term for everyday situations. Using words that truly describe situations and people and say what we mean has the power to change how we feel about ourselves and build confidence to feel less awkward.
I’ve never described other women as sluts out loud, but I’m working on not thinking it about them or their choices. Wearing a short skirt isn’t slutty, seeing as clothing has nothing do with sexuality. Even if it did, I have no right to judge anyone’s decisions about her own life. Especially as a woman, it’s important to realize that degrading other women harms not only them as individuals, but women as a whole. Feminism requires us to accept other women and resist judgment.
What to say instead: Nothing. Slut is a horrible construction, and no one has a right to place that detrimental label on another person.
Aside from this word being terribly offensive to individuals who struggle with mental illness, “crazy” just isn’t how we should refer to other people. Calling names of any kind, whether to their face or not, doesn’t build others or ourselves up. Especially since “crazy” is often used to shame women for showing emotion, like the trope of the “crazy girlfriend,” it doesn’t help anyone when emotions are represented as a negative part of life. Calling someone crazy essentially tells them that their feelings are invalid or unjustified, and that’s no way to support others.
What to say instead: People can be emotional, sensitive, or overreacting. Whenever talking about emotions, just make sure you’re giving a fair evaluation and not being offensive or judgmental. Listening before responding is a great way to limit how much we judge people and learn more about them and their ideas.
“How are you?” “Fine.” If I counted the amount of time I’ve spent in my life saying the word fine, it would be probably more time than I’ve spent watching Gilmore Girls (and that’s a lot of time). The problem with fine is that it says nothing about how you actually are. It can be sarcastic, snarky, or the truth, making it hard to know what “fine” actually means. Saying “fine” essentially says, “I don’t want to talk about how I feel.” Talking about feelings can be uncomfortable, but at least saying “good” or “kinda bad” has helped me to be honest with others and myself about how I feel.
What to say instead: If you really don’t want to talk about how you’re doing, you can tell people that you don’t want to talk about it. Saying “fine” leaves people guessing and doesn’t let you express how you feel. Whatever you say when people ask “How are you?” try to make sure it’s a real answer.
In theory, bossy could be a compliment. It means “someone who wants to be in charge and not be told what to do,” which sounds great. However, bossy is used as a way to tell girls that it’s a bad thing to be in charge. I’ve never heard a boy be called bossy, but growing up I was called bossy whenever I tried to instruct or lead. Not saying bossy is a great way to stop telling girls they can’t be in charge, and that advocating for themselves is a cool thing to do. I want bossy to stop being an insult, and being the boss to start being a goal.
What to say instead: Leader, advocate, assertive. Vocal, open, honest. Anything that tells women they can be the boss, and that being the boss is awesome.
Changing the words I use has been such a great way to give me more power over how I think about other people and myself, and has shown me that I can create change just by watching my vocabulary. Changing the words you use can be an amazing way to grow, be more confident, and support others. These have been transformative words for me to stop using and I would love it if more people would change what they say to build everyone up, create positivity, and give support through words.
Elizabeth Yost is a high school student in the suburbs in Nebraska, with a love of vintage clothes, coffee shops, and great books. She can usually be found photographing wonderful people or using all of her school assignments to talk about feminism. You can see her photography on Instagram and read her feminist ramblings on WordPress.