Since sexism is built into many everyday phrases, it's hard to even notice when our words could be perpetuating misogyny, let alone to find alternatives to sexist language. Making the points we're trying to make without using the terms we typically use is inconvenient. But it's also important.
Our language choices can have a subtle but troubling impact on how we think about different groups of people as a society. When we use expressions about body parts to discuss inner qualities like strength or courage, we perpetuate the notion that these traits are inherently linked. When we casually allude to rape as an insult, we normalize sexual violence.
On the other hand, when we use unconventional language to describe the same phenomena, we get people to question their everyday word choices and the understanding of the world that they reflect.
Devising new ways of communicating old ideas is an effective way to get people thinking, but it takes some creativity to work around the ways we're used to speaking. So in case you're short on creativity, here are a few alternatives I've come up with to some of the most sexist phrases we hear and use regularly.
1. Instead Of "Grow Some Balls"...
Most of us have heard this expression directed toward men to convey that they need to be braver — in other words, more masculine.
... Say "Do Your Kegel Exercises."
This is a funny, gender-neutral way to say the same thing. It also doubles as a PSA: We could all benefit from working out our pelvic floors, after all.
2. Instead Of "Don't Be A Pussy"...
... Say "Don't Be A Coward."
This gets across the exact same idea without the sexism.
3. Instead Of "He" Or "She"...
Obviously, these words aren't always oppressive, but they can encourage stereotypes when they refer to a hypothetical or unknown person — for example, when you assume someone's partner is of the opposite gender or refer to a doctor in a fictional scenario as "he."
... Say "They."
"They" is now a commonly accepted singular pronoun. In fact, The Washington Post currently prescribes the use of "they" when the antecedent of the pronoun is of unspecified gender or prefers to be referred to that way.
4. Instead Of "Men" Or "Mankind"...
According to a study from the University of Helsinki, most people don't consider women to be included in statements like "all men are created equal," so we should try to avoid them when we want to include everyone. While "mankind" is more clearly intended as all-inclusive, it still makes men the most visible members of humanity.
... Say "Individuals" Or "Humanity"
In order to discourage gender stereotypes, it also helps to eliminate "man" from terms for professions and instead say "police officer," "mail carrier," or "firefighter."
5. Instead Of "Wears The Pants"...
The idea that someone "wears the pants" in a relationship is problematic regardless of how we phrase it because it implies that one partner should have more power than the other. It also equates power with a traditionally masculine item of clothing.
... Say "Wears Whatever They Want."
This acknowledges that no item of clothing makes someone more or less powerful and shifts our conception of power in a relationship from domination to autonomy.
6. Instead Of "Like A Girl" As An Insult...
If someone fights like a girl or plays like a girl or cries like a girl, that is supposed to mean he is weak or incompetent — which does not say great things about girls.
... Say "Like A Girl" As A Compliment.
How about if you play sports like a girl, who are skilled and strong like the members of the U.S. women's soccer team and all the other women who have excelled athletically, and if you cry or scream like a girl, who are bravely engaging in healthy self-expression? Familiar phrases can taken on very different meanings when we use them more accurately.