I’m sure at some point or another, you’ve used the word “crazy” to describe someone. Maybe you said to a friend, “wow, my boyfriend’s ex sure is crazy”. Or maybe you scoff under your breath “what a crazy woman to think that we can get this project done by Monday” when given an impossible deadline. Even Google uses the example “Stella went crazy and assaulted a visitor” when you type the word “crazy” into the search bar to look for a definition.
In the above examples, my own and even Google’s, it’s a woman being described as crazy. Certain words in the English language are used exclusively to describe women. Women are feisty. Women are bossy. Women are frigid. Women are crazy. Why do we never hear of a bossy man or a feisty man?
While these adjectives appear to be gender neutral in their definitions, dictionaries almost always use a woman’s name in the example sentence, like poor Stella who assaulted a visitor. Thus, these adjectives are showing a gender divide in vocabulary, which is a divide that leads to the sexism we see at work and school. These words almost always have a negative connotation as well, and unfortunately, these words and their negative vibes tend to stick.
When did it become a bad thing to be ambitious? When working women started being described as ambitious, that’s when. Model Cara Delevingne has claimed that she receives criticism and jealousy for her ambition (especially because she’s always falling asleep when she isn’t maxing out her work ethic).
There exists a gender bias, fueled by vocabulary, in the workplace. According to a Fortune study, performance reviews for high achieving men and women used different words to describe each gender. Women tended to receive reviews with negative feedback and criticism, while men received reviews with constructive feedback and criticism (but some without criticism). Most feedback for women included words like abrasive, bossy, strident, aggressive, emotional, and irrational, while feedback for men only included the word aggressive. Women are told to step back and pipe down, while men are told develop their skills and given suggestions on how to do that.
Natalie Portman is even so fed up with people calling women crazy and difficult that she’s urging Hollywood to stop. Men dismiss women in Hollywood by calling them crazy, not only discrediting their reputation, but also doing it because they feel threatened by something the woman has done.
Natalie Portman gives a step by step guide on how to help women. Step 5: "Gossip well. Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult. If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him: what bad thing did you do to her?" #PowerOfWomen https://t.co/1PJ3dEgBuu pic.twitter.com/1mX6EAHYZN
— Variety (@Variety) October 12, 2018
Ban Bossy is a self censorship campaign started by LeanIn.org, Sheryl Sandburg, and the Girl Scouts that criticizes the word bossy for being stigmatizing and discouraging to assertive women. Celebrities like Jennifer Garner, Victoria Beckham, and Beyoncé have even taken a stance to end the use of the word bossy to describe women. When a man asserts himself, he gets labeled as a leader. When a woman does the same, she gets labeled as bossy. Thus, women are less likely to raise their hands, speak up, or seek out leadership positions.
We can get rid of words like bossy, feisty, and crazy to stop diminishing a woman’s worth. We can stop using words like frigid, bitchy, abrasive, and emotional to close the wide inequality gap between men and women. We can put an end to using words like shrill, sassy, pushy, and ditsy to exercise the power over our language. And we can do it today.1
Also published on Medium.