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From hormonal to bossy: the 20 sexist words that women in Britain want banned

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Kayleigh Dray
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He’s confident, she’s an attention-seeker. He’s a man who knows what he wants, she’s a diva. And he’s the boss, while she’s just bossy…

There’s no point denying it; the language we use to describe men and women is deeply sexist.



So it’s unsurprising that, in a survey of more than 2000 British women, sisters everywhere revealed that they wanted to see at least 20 sexist terms banned from our everyday vocabulary.

From ‘hormonal’ to ‘ball breaker’, it was a definite case of terms of belittlement over endearment – with women insisting that the phrases undermined their strength. 

"Hormonal" was the sexist phrase that most women wanted to see banned

"Hormonal" was the sexist phrase that most women wanted to see banned

Keen to redress the balance, 72 per cent of women added that they would like to see more often women described ‘confident’, or ‘resilient’, and ‘courageous’ – just as their male counterparts would be.


Top 20 words women would ban:

1. Hormonal - 68 percent
2. Drama Queen - 56 percent
3. Bitchy - 53 percent
4. High Maintenance - 51 percent
5. Hysterical - 50 percent
6. Ball Breaker - 49 percent
7. Diva - 48 percent
8. Highly Strung - 46 percent
9. Mumsy - 42 percent
10. Princess - 40 percent
11. Attention Seeking - 35 percent
12. Emotional - 31 percent
13. Manipulative - 28 percent
14. Bossy - 27 percent
15. Controlling - 25 percent
16. Difficult - 21 percent
17. Sexy - 20 percent
18. Aggressive - 19 percent
19. Sassy - 16 percent
20. Feisty – 14 percent.


They also revealed the pet names they wanted to see removed from the vocabulary, and it seems as if bird most definitely is not the word; the term made it to the top of the list, with 56% of women polled saying they never wanted to hear it again.

It was followed closely by ‘doll’, ‘chick’, ‘babe’, and 'Queen Bee'.



The research was conducted as part of Special K’s new Strength Is… campaign, which seeks to redefine strength for women everywhere.

Speaking about the results, former Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts – who is one of the celebrity ambassadors for the campaign – said: “Female strength is something to be celebrated and encouraged, not diminished by unfair labels to undermine their passion and drive.

“Women are too often called ‘bossy’, ‘feisty’ or ‘attention seeking’, now is the time to change the conversation and rewrite the vocabulary we use to empower women and not let others define us.”

Meanwhile Emily Blunt, who is set to star in The Girl On The Train, has also spoken out against the language we use to describe women.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, she explained that her least favourite word in the film industry is ‘likeable’.

“With so many movies, women are held to what a man considers a feminine ideal,” she said.

“You have to be pretty. You have to be ‘likable,’ which is my least favourite bloody word in the industry. Rachel isn’t ‘likable.’

“What does that mean? To be witty and pretty and hold it together and be there for the guy? And he can just be a total drip?”

It is time, quite clearly to redress the engendered language we use on a daily basis.

In a bid to start this conversation, the campaign has asked people to share their own definitions of strength, by tweeting them using the hashtag #StrengthIs.

Louise Thompson Davies, from Special K, explains: “Society still has a way to go in expressing and describing strong women but together we can help advance the cause.

“That’s also why we are giving women their own say. Together, we can hope to inspire each other to embrace our strength and rewrite what it means today.

“We hope to help change the language used to describe female strength and really celebrate what makes women feel strong.”

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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