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Feminist Vocabulary: Words To Empower Yourself

Have you ever experienced something sexist but didn’t have a word to pinpoint what it was? Fear not: we have a list of feminist words to help describe your experiences and empower you.
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Feminist Vocabulary: Words To Empower Yourself

Feminism was named 2017’s Word of the Year by Merriam Webster — but the decision was practically a shoo-in. The word gained a lot of visibility thanks to the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, as well as to award-winning television series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies. And this isn’t just an American phenomenon — abuse against women was a topic recently addressed on the Brazilian soap opera O outro lado do paraíso (literally translated as “The Other Side of Paradise”), which reaches millions of viewers.

 

But what is feminism after all?

 

There are many branches and definitions of feminism, but it’s primarily a movement for equal rights for women and men (meaning equal pay, equal freedom for self-expression and equal safety on the streets, just to name a few points). While sexism entails oppressing women in different ways, feminism fights precisely to expose and combat this type of oppression. Feminism espouses that it’s up to each of us to assess our actions and change our patterns of behavior.

 

That said, you’ll find below a small glossary of words created (primarily) by women to refer to sexist behaviors. Keep in mind that these are only a few of the dozens of terms that feminists have created to describe their experiences, and that new terms are popping up all the time. Who knows, you might invent the next one!

 

Manterrupting (man + interrupting)

 

This expression refers to occurrences when men interrupt women while they’re talking and don’t let them finish what they’re saying. While you might be tempted to say that all people can be interrupted while speaking (which is true), there’s actually a significant body of research that confirms women are interrupted considerably more than their male colleagues. Now you have a word for it.

 

Mansplaining (man + explaining)

 

The idea behind this term was perfectly encapsulated by author and essayist Rebecca Solnit in her book Men Explain Things to Me. The first essay of the book tells the story of how Solnit was at a party when a man tried to explain the insights of a book to her, except she had written the book. While this is an extreme example, the book largely touches on how some men tend to devalue or even discredit a woman’s knowledge by explaining topics that she already knows more about. This includes when men want to explain obvious things to women and assume that, merely because they are women, they can’t truly understand the issues.

 

Bropriating (bro + appropriating)

 

The word “bro” is used in this context simply to refer to a male figure — but not in a positive way. Bropriating happens when a man appropriates an idea that a woman came up with and acts as if it were his, taking the credit for himself. You might also be familiar with this term in work or class when a man challenges a concept when you first introduce it to the discussion, but then brings it up himself a few minutes later and says it’s a great idea. Classic bropriating.

 

Gaslighting

 

This term originated from the movie by the same name (Gaslight, 1944), where a husband emotionally abuses his wife by slowly turning up and down the gas lights of a room and then insisting she’s crazy when she notices a difference. In the film, he manipulates her into thinking that she’s delusional so he can keep her inheritance, but today gaslighting is a documented manipulation technique. Abuse counselors consider it a form of emotional violence — and although it also happens to men, women are the most frequent victims.

 

This type of manipulation is perpetrated with the purpose of confusing and discrediting a person, even causing them to no longer trust their own judgment. In extreme cases, victims may feel like they’ve lost total control over their lives. Typical examples of gaslighting include statements like:

 

  • “You thought that last time and you were wrong.”
  • “You’re just being dramatic, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
  • “You’re making that up.”

 

Slut-shaming

 

This expression refers to when people judge women by saying that they’re “acting like a slut.” It’s most commonly used to degrade a woman who is confident enough to express her sexuality and her body freely. Of course, defining what’s appropriate behavior for women is, in itself, limiting and sexist.

 

Body-shaming

 

Like slut-shaming, body-shaming is the act of judging a woman because of the attributes of her body. And again, it usually happens when a woman isn’t shy about revealing her body. Beauty standards constantly promoted by the media (as well as social media) reinforce this type of behavior, because it reinforces the idea that only certain body types are celebrated and accepted in our society.

 

Those are a few of the most popular feminist terms of the moment, but if you’re still curious about other terms, a more exhaustive (and academic) list can be found here.

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