We Hate That These 6 Words Are Used To Describe Women But Never Men

You’ve heard them all: bratty, bossy, emotional, ditzy, high maintenance, diva, overreacting, loud, abrasive, promiscuous, bitch, slut…the list of derogatory words to describe women and girls goes on. 

If you want to compare terms, men are “assertive,” while women are “bossy.” We need to watch our language choices with our kids and grandkids and stop contributing to a culture which says it’s okay to interrupt women when they’re talking, give them worse performance reviews, body shame them, slut shame them, and more.

Why Do People Use Different Words To Describe Women and Girls vs Men and Boys?

The words that we use to describe women and girls are different from those we use to describe men and boys because our language is based on gender bias and sexism. Language favors one gender over another based on expectations and perceptions, but gender is also a learned construction, communicated to us by our environment and culture. You’ve likely experienced different cultural constructs and descriptive words based on where you live and how you identify yourself. 

It’s never simple or easy to understand and explain why people use different words to describe women and girls vs men and boys. In many cases, gender bias and sexism are innate, intuitively subconscious. They’re so rooted in our societal beliefs about men and women that it’s difficult to see a way out of this often derogatory and stereotypical language about women. 

Here are some words that are particularly problematic, IMO:


It’s one of those terms that’s often used to describe a Hispanic or Black woman on TV tropes. It’s not necessarily a bad connotation because these women often won’t take crap from anyone. They’re leaders who aren’t afraid to make tough decisions. In real life, though, a girl or woman might be called “sassy” because she’s full of life, and unwilling to put up with BS. 

She’s impertinent, even insolent or presumptuous or brazen. Some would call them shameless. They often aren’t willing to be sidelined by the idiotic ignorance of others. These are typically not the characteristics that are encouraged or seen as positive in women and girls. And, their male counterpart isn’t “sassy,” nor is he at all negatively impacted by terms like “assertive” or “straightforward.” In reference to a boy or man, you might hear the statement, “Boys will be boys.” 

But, if we go back to the examples from TV, movies, and even reality TV, media is allowing us to reframe the “sassy” terminology. Sassy girls and women are the ones who are so much fun to watch. Instead of “sassy,” we might call them brave and brazen, spunky or feisty, even fearless. 


I’ve heard of lots of girls and women who were called “bossy” when they are confident, bold, and self-assertive over the years, even though boys and men often show assertiveness. Sheryl Sandberg famously launched a campaign to ban the word “bossy” to describe little girls. The reason for the ban is simple. When a boy asserts himself, he’s a leader; but when a little girl does the same thing, she’s accused of being “bossy.”

It’s not just a matter of creating positive (instead of negative) reinforcement for early acts of leadership. It’s a matter of understanding the give and take of power and status. A young girl might be called “bossy” by exercising power and authority. It’s not fair, nor is it right. Honestly, I’d love to hear more women and girls called “bossy,” because I wish I had more of that assertiveness, that bold spirit and confidence. I love the idea of being “bossy” and fierce. It’s something we could all embrace and be more of. 


The idea behind “bubbly” is awesome. It describes a woman or girl who is friendly and outgoing. Really, it’s everything society tells us we should be. The problem is that the term “bubbly” is often associated with a woman who is called a “ditz.” It’s often stereotyped as a person who lacks intelligence. You might picture a blond who is blowing huge bubbles with her gum. Instead of using “bubbly” or “effervescent” to personify a young, beautiful girl who is friendly, there are so many better, descriptive ways to describe a woman. 

As the male version of “bubbly,” you might expect him to just be called “too happy,” “friendly,” “embarrassing,” “extroverted,” or “excited.” You probably wouldn’t make a connection between a guy being “too happy” and ditziness, low intelligence, or idiotic.

Bubbly is another term we can and should reframe. Why can’t a woman be happy and excited without being linked with ditziness and “bubbly” idiocy? Why does “bubbly” have a negative connotation anyway? Why can’t it just be a way to say you’re happy without making judgements about a person’s intelligence or why they might be “too friendly”?


I love the term “firecracker,” but it’s not really intended to be a compliment. Just think of what a firecracker is. It explodes with bright lights and sound. When you’re talking about a woman, she might be exciting and attractive. The person is someone who stands out in a crowd and refuses to be discounted. 

According to Urban Dictionary, a firecracker is a “seductress.” It’s a woman who is sexy, romantic, exciting, confident, passionate, and of course strong-willed. She’s a strong, independent woman. A girl or woman who is a firecracker might be free-spirited, full of energy and love of life. When she walks into the room, the party takes off. Of course, that “sexy” and “seductress” stuff also means she’ll be linked with negative slut-bitch-whore connotations.

The closest male equivalent to a “firecracker” is a man or boy with attitude. He stands out in a crowd and they may call him a born leader. Like a “firecracker,” he would be seen as strong, decisive, independent, and confident; but there wouldn’t be negative connotations or insults about his sexuality, promiscuity, or proclivities. Similarly, we can and should reclaim the “firecracker” terminology. Why not believe that a “firecracker” is simply a person who’s ready to set the world on fire with their genius, passion, and love of life? It could be that such a person really could change the world. 


The media described Hillary Clinton as “shrill” when she was participating in debates of the presidential election. Women and girls are often criticized for having “shrill” speech when their perspective is controversial or unpopular. The gist of such an expression is to compare the woman or girl with the voice of a shrill siren, a monstrous creature that lured men to their death in ancient mythology. 

While never used to describe men, “shrill” is a sharp sound, which is not altogether negative. It could describe a bird call that was high-pitched. When used to describe women and girls, though, it’s more often associated with nagging, hysterical, shrewish, or even blatantly annoying behavior. Laura Bates explains: “The words that are most irritating are the ones that are used to subtly undermine a woman who is strong or successful.” 

I’m not entirely convinced there is an appropriate male version of the word “shrill.” It’s certainly designed to denote the worst-of-the-worst behavior by a woman. I’m imagining William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where Katherine or Kate was the shrewish woman who spurned any man’s advances. She was quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and violent; but who wouldn’t be when it’s obvious they were trying to marry her away to dimwitted fools?

I suppose the closest comparison to “shrill” for a man would be to call a man an “old woman,” or call a man a “nag.” You could call him a “rogue,” “unruly,” or even “loud.” But, those terms don’t quite have the same monstrous association as “shrill” or the health-crisis dimension of “hysterical.” I think we have started to reclaim the essence of “shrill,” even though it might be happening more slowly than we’d hoped. 

After all, I believe that we, as women and girls, sometimes have a right to be considered “shrill” when our sharp tongues and quick wits are speaking truth and maybe even making others feel at least a little uncomfortable. Using words like “shrill” appears to mean that the speech is hitting a nerve, which indicates that we all should be doing a better job of speaking out more and loudly. 


You may describe a man as sensitive, but when you do, it’s probably in a positive way. It usually means he’s a caring and supportive brother, father, husband, or dad. He’s fulfilling the roles he should, while demonstrating a sensitive and caring nature. And, that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive if it means you’re a caring human being. 

For women and girls, though, you might be called “sensitive” if you speak up or stand your ground about something that bothers you. That super sensitivity is also linked to being on your period. In other words, your level of sensitivity and bitchiness must be linked to hormonal issues that are beyond your control. The thing is that sensitivity often involves your ability to cope (or not to cope) with an issue. 

That’s not really “sensitivity,” but rather common sense and the real stuff that we deal with every day. Instead of judging a woman who starts crying by saying she’s too sensitive, I’d love to flip the narrative to focus on how we can help support one another, men and women alike. We should all celebrate a kind, sensitive, and caring nature in ourselves and each other. Then, perhaps we can figure out ways to stop judging each other and offer words that support and build up, not tear down and abuse one another. 

Words are important, and how we describe ourselves and others matters. Instead of using words that are wrong or problematic, it’s essential that we all carefully consider the words we use. The way we use language can and will encourage gender stereotypes, while insulting women who dare to stand up against the status quo. LINE

Which words do you use to describe women but not men? Are you going to revisit them? We’d love to hear your comments below.

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