Women are complicated, loving creatures, meant to be treasured and adored. But we aren’t perfect beings, and the limits of our patience can (and often are) tested beyond what is practical or considered. We are only human, after all, and as such, we have triggers that can send us into a tailspin of annoyance, resentment, and good ol’ fashioned rage. A lot of these hot buttons come in the form of off-hand phrases that, on their own, might be innocuous, but in the context of gender politics, can be very dangerous.
For anyone who has ever spent even a little time with a woman, this list might seem somewhat familiar. In fact, when I was doing the research for this article, all the women polled unilaterally agreed on the top five phrases on the list. We hear these things over and over, so I’m doing everyone a public service by consolidating them all into one place.
I’ve compiled a list of the top 15 things you should never, ever say to woman, and the (mostly) logical reasons why it’s such a bad idea. Scrub these from your vocabulary now, and you can thank me later.
15. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
Although this question might be completely innocent, it has the potential to ignite a firestorm of anger, self-doubt and recrimination the likes of which you have never seen before. You might actually want to know if she’s wearing that, and you might have asked in a neutral tone without malice or ill-intent, but you might not get a reciprocal reaction. What she heard was criticism, judgment and control.
Some women are keenly aware of their appearance and are methodical about deciding what to wear. So, when she walks out, after having spent all that time and energy figuring out what to wear, and you throw shade (even if it’s unintentional) you’ve just undermined all the work it took to make this happen. Just don’t do it.
Unless she has toilet paper stuck to her shoe or her skirt is tucked into her underwear, never, under any circumstances, criticize what she has on.
14. “I don’t care.”
This is the ultimate form of rejection. When a woman feels comfortable enough to share something with you, whether it’s about her new promotion at work or the fight she’s in with her mom, it means she trusts you. Telling her you don’t care about the things she does is pretty much telling her you don’t really care about her either.
In a different context, telling a woman you don’t care when faced with some sort of choice is not only annoying, but mildly disrespectful. Have an opinion about where you want to eat, what movie you want to see, which party to attend. It shows you care enough about what’s happening to get invested. When you can’t even muster a short list, it means you don’t really give a crap.
13. “Where’s my _____?”
Just because you have a badass, capable superwoman in your life, doesn’t mean she’s been granted the powers of clairvoyance and omnipotency. She does not know where your keys/wallet/socks/cell phone is and nor is it her job to find them. Asking the woman in your life to keep up with all her own stuff, plus your stuff, (plus your kids’ stuff, if you have them) is just plain dumb, and reinforces some pretty antiquated gender norms.
This can become particularly annoying when said superwoman is busy with her own things, and you interrupt her to ask her to sort out your things. It may seem like a small thing to you, but you can bet she’s probably rolling her eyes when you aren’t looking.
Sure, she might actually know where your things are, but you’re a grown human with eyes and deduction skills, too. Right?
12. “How much do you weigh?”
Unless you are her doctor, then this is never, ever acceptable. No matter how confident, strong, beautiful, and self-assured a woman is, asking her about her numbers (age, weight, sex partners) is just bad business. And it’s not always because a woman is insecure about how much she weighs.
It’s mostly because there is so much cultural pressure attached to these numbers, especially weight. It’s scary to say them out loud without fear of being judged. Your girlfriend could weigh 200 pounds and be the most beautiful woman on the planet, but all the cultural associations with it might not really match how she feels about her own weight. It’s best to concentrate on how she makes you feel and how beautiful her spirit is, rather than some arbitrary number on a scale.
11. “I don’t mean to be rude, but….”
Anytime anybody prefaces a statement with this, it means they are probably about to say something rude. Forget about whether or not to say this to a woman, just don’t say this to anyone, generally. Just because you say you don’t mean to be rude, doesn’t absolve you from the rudeness of the words that will inevitably follow this statement. It’s not a thing. You are being rude, so don’t insult me by saying you don’t mean it.
Don’t be a dick. If you have to say something that is hard to hear, do it with kindness and compassion. These six words will put someone on the defensive, and will likely cause a fight. If things need to be said, say them, but don’t hide behind this as a way to say whatever you like. It’s not cool.
10. “You’re acting just like your mother.”
This is a landmine waiting to be stepped on and blow you into pieces. Mother-daughter relationships are notoriously fraught with complicated female politics that people who are neither a mother or a daughter will ever understand. The dynamic is so loaded with baggage and history, that it’s not a safe space through which to tread. You just don’t know what you’re getting into when you compare a lady to her mother.
If the lady in your life is exhibiting signs that remind you of her mother, it’s not really your place to point them out, like, ever. Telling a woman she is just like her mother could explode all over you and suck you into a world of repercussions the likes of which you may never be able to climb out from under. Even if her mother is a damn delight, don’t go there.
9. “How many people have you slept with?”
You just can’t ask women about their sex number. Similar to all the icky stuff surrounding their weight, a woman’s number of partners is something very personal. And truthfully, it has very little to do with who she is as a person. We still have a long way to go, as a society, to be as accepting about women’s numbers as we are about men’s, so think before you try to get too much into her sexual past.
It’s also a slippery slope right into slut shaming that will leave a mark on her for the rest of your relationship. Think about what would happen if she reveals her number and your reaction is disappointing or upsetting. This judgment could damage the current relationship and make her unlikely to share things with you in the future.
8. “Are you really going to eat all of that?”
Yes. I am going to eat all of that, and the last thing I need is you policing what I put into my body.
You don’t get to weigh in on what or how we eat. It’s just not any of your business, and when you make it your business, you immediately transform into a controlling, sexist pig. Unless I’m about to eat something I’m allergic to and could possibly die, and you’re merely trying to save my life, do not comment on what I eat.
This kind of behavior is fat-shaming in disguise and is destructive and incendiary to a woman. We face an insane amount of pressure from a lot of different places, so when we sit down with a loved one to enjoy a meal, and that loved one makes us feel bad about what we’re doing, it’s not good. In fact, if your wife reaches across the table to punch you in the face, you deserve it.
7. “You wouldn’t understand.”
SO. INSULTING. You’re pretty much saying that the woman is dumb and couldn’t possibly understand something so complicated with her silly little lady brain. But in truth, she can understand, maybe better than you, and to say she couldn’t is both condescending and ignorant. Telling a woman that she wouldn’t “get it” is not only extremely rude, but it’s also completely exclusionary.
If the implication here is that she couldn’t possibly understand something because she’s not a man, then there are other ways you can approach this without insinuating that she’s just too stupid to even fathom what you’re saying. Nobody wants to feel like they’re left out of something, so don’t assume she won’t understand. Explain it to her. Make her understand, because she probably really wants to.
6. “I don’t like your friends.”
Danger. Abort mission. Get out of this conversation while your head is still attached to your body. You will not win an argument over this, you will not convince her of your side, and you will absolutely create an awkwardness from which you might not recover. Saying anything negative about her friends (or her sister, or her mother, for that matter) is dangerous territory. Even if she’s in a fight with them, and she’s saying terrible things about them, you are never, under any circumstances, to offer a negative opinion about them.
I’ll concede that this is little illogical. But these friends were probably around before you, might be around after you, and have a lot of influence in her life. You don’t want to poison the well with them. She’ll resent you, they’ll hold it against you, and you’ll wind up being the asshole in a “them vs. you” situation.
5. “You look tired.”
You might as well say, “you look like shit.” It’s essentially the same thing. Telling a woman she looks tired is redundant (because she probably is really tired) and reinforces everything she’s probably feeling about herself in that moment. Maybe she had a long day at work, or the children were particularly high maintenance that day, or she stayed up all night studying, but you don’t say it out loud. No matter the reason, she deserves to be rewarded for her extra efforts, not criticized about the toll they’re taking.
In scenarios where you find yourself wanting to comment on how a woman looks or her general appearance, always default to a compliment. No woman has ever started a fight after her significant other uttered, “you are so beautiful.”
4. “You’re overanalyzing this.”
This starts the countdown to the top four most dangerous and micro-aggressive things you can say to a woman. When you tell a woman to stop “overthinking” something, or that she’s “overanalyzing” it, you’re dismissing her emotions and her process of working through them. Men and women calculate their feelings very differently, and neither one is right or wrong, but this statement comes close to saying she’s doing it wrong.
Perhaps it’s the addition of the prefix, “over” that is adding the extra level of condescension, but saying this is the equivalent to saying that she’s doing her feelings wrong. Which is ridiculous, because we are all having our own experiences, and you can’t really tell us how to have them. They belong to us. So, if we need to think and rethink and then think some more about something, then that’s what we need to do, and it’s okay. We get to do it the way we want.
3. “Is it that time of the month?”
Don’t you dare, EVER, blame anything on our periods. It’s a low-blow and wildly unfair. It’s a biological process that we have little to no control over, although we struggle to have agency over it every month. Yes, it makes us a little more weepy at sad movies, or a little more apt to order an extra egg roll, but it does not mean we’re “overreacting” when you’re being an asshole.
Assuming a woman’s human emotions are merely a function of her menstrual cycle is the most insulting and denigrating assumptions you can make about woman. It undermines the authenticity of her feelings, lumping them into an “irrational reaction” category, thus invalidating them about legitimate things.
Periods are a physiological process, that don’t turn us into aliens or hijack our personalities, so it’s never safe to blame our periods.
2. “You’re acting crazy.”
Sigh. This is the worst. The absolute worst. Chances are she’s not acting crazy, but rather, getting emotional in a way that is uncomfortable for you to watch, or in a way that you don’t know how to handle. Unless your girl has been officially diagnosed by a medical professional (and, actually, even if she has) this is not a smart tactic.
For most women, hearing this is a trigger. As in, “Oh yea… I’ll show you crazy,” because they probably don’t perceive their own behavior as anything but in-bounds. Now, I’m not saying women don’t lose control and have meltdowns— we all know that’s not true— but I am suggesting that it’s not a good idea to label these episodes as “crazy.” It’s like gasoline on a fire that will inevitably consume you and burn your life down.
1. “Calm down.”
No one in the history of the spoken language has ever actually calmed down after being told to “calm down.” It’s a terrible strategy for diffusing volatile situations, yet people continue to invoke it when a woman is upset. Yes, it would probably benefit her, in that moment, to find a little zen, but that’s not where her head is. Whatever she’s doing or saying is what she needs to be doing or saying, and you don’t get a say in that reaction.
Saying “calm down” is the verbal version of a pat on the head and makes it seem like she needs handling. Nobody likes to feel “handled” and by stepping into the role of “handler,” you’re invoking hundreds of years of patriarchy that suggest women aren’t fit to manage their own emotions. It’s a sticky trap that is impossible to get out of.
What to say instead: “Will you explain to me why you’re so upset?”
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