10 Examples of everyday sexism in the English language

The other day I was talking to an acquaintance about a trip he took abroad and the difficulties he’d faced. However, the conversation left me with a niggly unpleasant feeling. You see, as a woman – despite his best intentions – I’d found the conversation offensive. How? Well, it was with one little phrase: “I was such a girl!”

By attempting to describe himself as impatient, scared and moody whilst abroad , he was equating masculinity and “acting like a man” with strength and women and “femininity” with weakness. For someone to unintentionally perpetuate negative sexist stereotypes through a very common expression, sadly shows just how deeply engrained sexism is in our society. This got me thinking about the many other sexist expressions that we (yes even me!) commonly use.

As both men and women, we need to identify sexist language and call it out for what it is. So, here’s 10 more examples of everyday sexism in English.

1. To man up

Telling someone to “man up” means what you’re actually saying is that “being a man” means being “strong”, fearless and confident. You’re saying that men should not show and feel (perfectly normal) emotions. You’re in fact discouraging a sense of positive masculinity and declaring that women are instead weak, over-emotional, scared and un-daring!

2. To grow a pair (of balls)

Women don’t need male genitalia to be strong – despite what the opposite rather vulgar “female equivalent” of this expression would imply! A person is strong irrespective of their gender/sex. We are all on various journeys and paths of development and there are many kinds of strength (emotional, physical, spiritual) which are also irrelevant to sex/gender.

3. To be a sissy

This horrible expression is both sexist, homophobic and transphobic. By calling a man a “sissy”, you’re referring to him as feminine (female-like), “unmanly”, weak and cowardly, as opposed to an apparently strong, brave, “rugged” male specimen…

4. Man and wife


Announcing that the woman is the man’s “property” (instead of declaring “husband and wife”), this expression is thankfully nowadays less common than it used to be. In other languages however such as French, the term “femme” meaning “woman” is still commonly used to refer to your wife. So, it’s not just here. Equal partnerships folks!

5. Maiden name

I won’t get into whether a woman should or shouldn’t change her surname when getting married. What I will say is that the term “maiden name” is incredibly patronisingly sexist. A “maiden” is an outdated term referring to a young (teenage-ish), “innocently naïve” unmarried woman (usually a virgin). This old-fashioned term implies women should be married at a young age and that women above a certain age are “past it”. No. Women have the right to get married whenever they like and should not be defined by their marital status.

6. To wear the trousers in the relationship

Trousers are traditionally associated with masculinity as in earlier days they were only worn by men (when women were seen as men’s property). However, many women now choose to wear (or not wear) trousers, men also don’t own women and nor should women seek to dominate men. A couple is (supposed to be) an equal team made of two individuals with their own strengths and flaws, complete with dialogue, consensus and compromise.

7. Man flu


Does the man flu even exist? I’m sorry fellas but this just wreaks of a sense of self-entitlement. Women and men both get colds and the flu. The flu is completely debilitating – a cold is not. Don’t shoot me here but women often have more household and childcaring responsibilities and I for one know that when I’m run down I get ill. Male or female – deal with your health issue and if it really is the flu then rest but please don’t make everyone else suffer!

8. Sew your wild oats

The age-old double standard of “sew your wild oats” legitimises male promiscuity and objectifies women as sex objects. Women instead who do the same are however called all number of derogatory names. I’m not here to comment on people’s own sexual behaviour but to point out that there is a clear double standard here. “Sewing your oats” is portrayed as some kind of masculine biological-anthropological “natural need” even in the 21st century.

9. Boys will be boys

Parents and relatives may say: “Ah well, boys will be boys” to excuse all manner of things at any given moment (usually during their youth). At the same time, the same would not be said for the girls. Using this expression implies that men can do X, Y Z freely but girls must not. Once again, there’s a clear double standard here.

10. To get your knickers in a twist


Going back to number six and the stereotype of men as strong, dominant and independent, knickers (a female garment) are instead associated with awkward moodiness, over-sensitivity and irrationality. Men obviously have their own undergarments and as with examples 1 and 2, are portrayed as strong, emotionless, brave specimens in their masculinity in the crudest of terms!

So, there you have it. This language ultimately boils down to a sexist, misogynistic dichotomy of:

Male / man / masculine = strong vs. Female / woman / feminine = weak

Well, let me tell you this: women are strong. We all have emotions and how we feel is certainly not a “weakness”. Every human being is an individual and we should not to be defined by our martial status, age, gender etc. So please, let’s avoid such sexist language and spread a more positive egalitarian message!

By Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Credits and acknowledgements

This article was first published via She Speaks We Hear on 04/02/2018.



Ladies: Beware of the fake (male) feminist

Feminism. The word’s got a bit of a bad reputation, hasn’t it? Mention you’re a feminist in a crowd of people and they may think you’re a man-hating “modernist” out to take over the world and crush all menfolk.

Now mention the word equality and you might be onto something. We all want to treat each other fairly and equally, don’t we? Or, so we think…

See, whilst we all know how to spot an out and proud “anti-feminist” and the worst cases of discrimination and furthermore violence against girls and women (FGM, child marriage, eradicating female education and so on), an equally worrying dilemma is that of the fake feminist.

Now, when I say feminist, let me be clear from the word go. The men I’m talking about in particular (like many people in fact) won’t call themselves feminists. “Feminist” is a “Western”, quirky word apparently…. No, definitely not. But they do quite openly believe in women’s equality – despite cultural and traditional pressures both behind the scenes and out in the open. So, how do they do this you might ask?

Well, here are some examples:

  • They encourage their sisters to go to university
  • They openly state that men and women are equal
  • They’re repulsed at and denounce child marriage, FGM and other forms of gender-based violence
  • They believe that women should (if they wish) be active in the workplace and their female relatives often work
  • They claim to be looking for a “partner”, an equal or a love-match – not simply a “wife” (in his words: a submissive maid with whom he’s got nothing in common)

Right, sounds good so far. So, what’s the issue you may ask? Well see, feminism i.e. gender equality isn’t (simply) about women going to work and not being locked up at home. It’s not just about being safe from violence, it’s about equality: financially, sexually, spiritually, socially, culturally and emotionally.

Here’s the definition from the Cambridge dictionary just to clarify:


See, it’s there in black and white: “the same rights, power, and opportunities as men…”

Now – whilst I’m not trying to tar all men with the same brush – the fake feminist will do all the things I’ve already pointed out but at the same time:

  • He won’t help out with the housework/equally share chores when both partners are working (or even see it as his responsibility)
  • He won’t encourage his wife in her career and community pursuits
  • Equally so, he could also be demeaning to his wife who decides to stay at home and care for her children (a full-time job in itself!) when the family are in no financial hardship
  • He won’t prioritise his wife’s sexual needs

In short, the fake feminist hides behind sexist outdated stereotypes, attitude and norms. In reality, the male fake feminist actually feels intimidated by a successful, independent, confident woman. When challenged as to why one standard exists for men and another for women, he’ll simply say: “Well, my sister is happy doing it” or “It’s just the way it is”.

So, to these men I ask: why do you feel do intimated by women? You know what equality is surely? Or do you…? It’s quite simply (on a basic level) what you have and enjoy! It’s the things you do, the places you go and the dreams you pursue. Yet, such men appear to be so engrained in their socio-cultural bubble, so threatened by the reality of female equality that they struggle with the very concept – just like all openly proud misogynists who’d automatically denounce feminism and female equality in all terms, regardless of semantics.

Yes, the fake male feminists I’m talking about claim to want an independent woman but in reality, what they’re really looking for is often an educated woman that will still do all of the housework, that will still put him first and that will still take full or primary responsibility for the childrearing.

The question I’d therefore propose to these men is: are you ready to handle a woman who demands to be treated as your equal? Are you ready to share the housework? Are you passionate about encouraging your wife to follow her interests? Are you ready to feed the baby and change nappies? Are you ready to put on an apron if you come home early from work and your wife’s still on the way home from the office?

See, a confident, self-assured man who truly believes in female equality doesn’t feel intimated by his wife’s success. Like a jealous, insecure “fake friend”, such behaviour reveals more about such men (not women) than they realise. Remember, if you truly believed in equality of the sexes, what you wish for yourself is what you’d wish for you wife.

So, ladies: watch out for the fake feminist. Put him to the test before you dedicate your life to him. Actions always speak louder than words… And gentlemen: don’t be a fake feminist. Be the man she deserves and encourage her to be the woman she so proudly is

Credits and ackowledgments

Article written by Elizabeth Arif-Fear – first published by She Speaks We Hear (23/10/2017).