Common Expressions That Are Sexist as Hell

April 15th 2016

Almie Rose

Words can have a tremendous amount of power. A common phrase you've heard a thousand times and never flinched at could be a phrase that makes someone else cringe. In that spirit, here are some words and phrases that are, in some cases, obviously sexist, and in others, not as much. (We're not saying you should stop using these words. We're not the language police.)

1. Bitch

Let's start with the obvious ones: bitch — bitch as in, "quit being such a little bitch" or "I'm gonna make you my bitch." Most people know that the original meaning of the word refers to a female dog. Merriam-Webster places the origin from Middle English ("bicce", from before the 12th century). When bitch became an insult towards women, it was primarily used to refer to a sexually promiscuous woman. It was Ernest Hemingway who helped popularize the meaning to shift to describe a woman with "ferocity, edginess, grit" according to The Atlantic.

Of course, when people (particularly men) say to their companions, "quit being such a little bitch", the implication is that said person is being annoying, argumentative, whiny. Nowadays, the insult of "basic bitch" is seen as perhaps being far worse than just "bitch."

But women are trying to take the word back. In 1996 Bitch Media was founded. In an interview with NTK Rochester, cofounder Andi Zeisler explains why they chose that name:

"In 1996, [the word bitch] wasn't used in the multitude of ways it's used now. It was very specifically used toward women. And more specifically, toward women who spoke their minds, who said things people didn't particularly want to hear and who stood up for themselves. And so, for us, that was really key. My cofounders and I grew up in New York City, and we were very used to hearing that word on the street when we didn't respond to catcalls or something like that. So our feeling was, 'what would it look like if we reclaimed this word? What would it look like if we took away this power to make us feel small? And not just small, but small for being women?'"

The 1990s also saw a rise of using "bitch" in rap and hip hop, and with that trend emerged female rappers who sought to reclaim the word as a proud title. Lil Kim and Missy Elliot paved the way for Nicki Minaj, who isn't shy about declaring herself a bitch.

2. Take it like a man/Man up

If someone were to tell you to "take it like a man" or to "man up", you'd assume they meant they were asking you to remain strong and unemotional. It's unfair to women and men, for assuming that women aren't in control of their emotions, and for assuming that a man isn't ever allowed to show emotion. Originally "man up" came from phrases "buck up" or "own up." Buck up was first used in 1844, cites Merriam-Webster.

3. Like a girl

Chances are, if there's a boy or adult male who is doing some type of athletic activity, and someone shouts that he does said activity "like a girl," it is not a compliment. In 2014, Always sought to change that, with their #LikeAGirl campaign. "We believe women are incredible," Always declares. "Ever been told you do something like a girl? Great! Be proud of that, because girls rule! That’s the whole point of our #LikeAGirl movement."

4. Grow a pair/you don't have the balls

pair of fruit on tree

In addition to telling someone to "grow a pair" one could also suggest he/she "doesn't have the balls" to commit to whatever action he's unsure of taking. "Having balls" means having bravery. This idiom suggests that it is only men who are brave, as no one ever tells a man to "have some ovaries."

In 2012, Italy's highest court of appeals actually outlawed the phrase "you don't have the balls," punishable by fine, according to The Guardian. Why? Because the phrase suggests "lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male sex."

Like "man up," the phrase "grow a pair" links masculinity to strength and vice versa. The "pair" in question is testicles. By suggesting someone "grow a pair" they are suggesting that person is weak and/or cowardly, as Urban Dictionary points out:

grow a pair definition from urban dictionary

And Urban Dictionary, in their example of using "grow a pair," used another common sexist piece of slang...

5. Pussy

Most people know that "pussy," before it became slang for a woman and/or her vagina/vulva, it was simply another word for cat. The double meaning of the word has been around longer than you may have realized. Here are Barrison Sisters, a vaudeville act from the late 19th century, posing with cats in their skirts:

Barrison sisters with cats in their skirts

And like "bitch," pussy is also a popular noun and verb for describing a cowardly person or a cowardly act, respectively. It is this particular usage of the word that makes it particularly sexist.

6. Office mom

An "office mom" is a woman in an office who takes on a stereotypical mothering role, like scheduling, bringing cupcakes, or raising morale, according to The Wall Street Journal. But why is there never an "office dad"? And, as The Huffington Post points out, why are the "office mom" activities usually regulated to "women’s nurturing skills at the office rather than their professional contributions"?

A 2014 article from The Washington Post explored this office mom mentality by looking at how women were treated in the workplace compared to their male colleagues. They found that women, even in senior positions, were asked to do office work that men were never asked to do, like notes in meetings, order lunch, or make coffee.

Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had incidences where as a Harvard Law School professor she was left "holding the mop" for her male coworkers, meaning, she was the one they assumed would be there to clean up after them, in a metaphorical (and possibly literal) sense.

RELATED: Common Words and Phrases That Have Seriously Racist Roots