Feisty. Feminist. Bossy. Strong. Ambitious. Headstrong.
How many of these words feel insulting or slightly distasteful, especially when applied to women? And, are they used to describe men as often as women?
For example many women, myself included, struggle to describe themselves as ‘ambitious'. But the truth is that many of us are ambitious: we want to fulfil our potential, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However the phrase “ambitious woman” still makes us cringe. It has connotations of being hard, cold, impervious to the feelings of others. And yet an ‘ambitious man’ is often seen as confident, powerful, positive and bold.
Arguably “stubborn” is also one of these ‘dirty’ words. Something that when applied to a man implies that he knows his mind, has a strong personality, and sticks to his guns. It almost commands a certain respect. Meanwhile a labelling a woman as stubborn can imply difficult, uncompromising, hard work.
But being stubborn about certain things can be incredibly powerful. Is it time to reclaim this word?
THE POWER OF LANGUAGE
Remember when Donald Trump called Hilary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the third presidential debate in 2016? And similar slurs are uttered in the House of Commons with worrying frequency. But do we hear many tales of such name calling in reverse? “Nasty man” anyone?
Obviously politics is hopelessly littered with pettiness and bitching in general… but that’s not really an excuse. Why do men seem to think that such behaviour is ok, when women would rarely engage in it?
Traditionally, such language would have been ignored, and shrugged off. It would have worked in squashing women. But times are changing; such slurs are losing their power, as women increasingly call out their inappropriateness. Social media has provided a useful platform for women (and other groups) to come together and make it known that ’this is not okay’. Increasingly they can take back control of the situation by reclaiming words.
Reclaiming words that are used to degrade connects people to the anger they need to keep fighting. And it can be used as a tool to help others understand the problem. Recently, reclaiming words has contributed towards huge feminist movements.
“Nasty woman” became a rallying cry in 2016, spawning a global movement that battles injustice and inequality. It has moved from a phrase intended to denigrate Clinton, to a statement of feminist intent.
It’s by no means the only such story in recent years; take the case of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose objections in the United States Senate were silenced. A male colleague late ‘mansplained’ the situation, stating that:
"Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Immediately, ’nevertheless, she persisted’ was adopted as a motto for women who were ready to break down barriers. Its meaning has expanded to celebrate the persistence of women in breaking barriers throughout history, despite repeated attempts to silence or ignore them. As such, it has since been associated with the work of suffragettes, determined female groundbreakers in business and politics, and resisters of modern day patriarchal regimes, such as Malala Yousafzai.
What is interesting about both of these examples are the broader themes that emerged. Daniel Victor observed in The New York Times, “women are too commonly shushed or ignored—[it] emerged on social media [that] a man silencing a woman struck some as all too common". Such incidences "rang familiar with many women who had their own stories of being silenced.”
Words are powerful and often rooted in the past, meaning that they carry the weight of ingrained cultural norms and expectations. But the world is changing, and our lexicon needs to change or be reclaimed, especially when it comes to the way women are often described.
IN BRIEF: GENDERED LANGUAGE
In the working world, women often face entrenched stereotypes that cast only men as "natural leaders." For example, a man is assertive, in control, hands-on; while a woman is bossy, cold, and micro-managing. Words like ambitious and feisty tend to follow women around workplaces, and it has been reported that women are described as pushy twice as often as men.
Look up words such as feisty, bossy and headstrong in the dictionary, and you will find that although they are arguably gender neutral, the example sentences used are dominated by females:
"He realised she was not a feisty woman after all”.
Ask yourself, have you ever heard anyone described as a ‘feisty male’? And what about working parents; why do we hear so often about the ‘working mum’, but so rarely about the ‘working dad’? Are both not accurate?!
I’m only scratching the surface here, but I’m sure you get the idea.
A STUBBORN WOMAN IS POWERFUL
Stubborn is so often seen as a negative trait, and it can be when used in a certain way. It ultimately means that someone is not going to let up on their thoughts, beliefs, or grudges for quite some time. This can be quite annoying for some, but it is actually really powerful. It demonstrates persistence, tenacity, perseverance in the face of everything.
A stubborn woman is not one to mess with; she has her own plans, boundaries and values which do not falter. And with that, you can be sure that she will never falter when helping you out as well. She’ll go after the things that she wants, and is fiercely loyal: she’s all in.
Stubborn doesn’t have to mean single-minded or inflexible. With the right arguments, perspectives can shift. And if not, opposing views does not mean lack of empathy; one doesn’t need to capitulate to understand.
The truth is, being stubborn can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you use it. Wielded mindfully, stubbornness can be a powerful tool:
It is being doggedly determined to meet your goals.
It is persistence and tenacity.
It is being resolute about your purpose, and steadfast in your pursuit of it.
It does not need to mean inflexible; after all, things that are rigid are more prone to breaking. You can be stubborn without being closed-minded or uncompromising.
It is this stubborn determination and grit that we witness in the women around us who fight for equal pay and opportunities, who fight sexual assault and discrimination, and so much more. We see it in the women who stand up for their beliefs, even when society tells them that being a stubborn woman in a bad thing.
So let’s reclaim it. Let’s use it as a tool that we can call upon when we really need to stick to our plans, work through obstacles, and just bloody well keep fighting.
Hilary “nasty woman” Clinton summed this up when she tweeted: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. So must we all.’
So must we all.