Gendered language isn’t anything new. The English language has repeatedly identified people as male or female through titles and other descriptive words. Think waiter/waitress, policeman/policewoman, and so on. Fortunately, many of these words have been replaced by gender-neutral terms (server and police officer), but at the same time, some of the latest neologisms assign gender to terms that were previously neutral .
We’re talking about terms like girl boss, SheEO, and Boss Babe. At first, they may sound empowering, but the overall effect of these words and others like them is more patronizing than anything. They’re unnecessary and undermine efforts to take gender out of conversations in which it is—or at least should be—irrelevant.
Not only that, but not everyone identifies as male or female. Some prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they and them. And “them boss” is just confusing.
So let’s take a look at some of the most unnecessarily feminine words … and where they came from.
Let’s start with girl boss. This is a term that took off in 2014 after Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal, wrote the book #GIRLBOSS. The message was great—that outsiders can carve a unique path to success—and while there’s a certain amount of pride in announcing that you’re a female and in charge, the fact is that it should be expected that women are bosses, just like men. Adding girl before boss makes the title sound cute rather than capable and competent.
The definition of boss certainly doesn’t include gender: “a person who employs or superintends workers; manager.” This Americanism is first recorded around 1640–50, stemming from the Dutch word baas, meaning “master, foreman.”
A portmanteau of she and hero, shero is used to describe a woman who performs heroic feats, inspires others, or is a general badass. Think Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example. The term isn’t actually new. In fact, there’s some evidence that it dates back to the suffragette movement of the late 1800s, but that doesn’t make the prefix any more necessary. Some may argue that it’s better than heroine, which sounds just like the drug heroin. In the cases of heroine and shero … it’s clear that hero on its own suffices.
The definition of hero is “a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.” The word dates back to 1605–15, and it was originally used to describe only men. Over time, however, it has evolved into a gender-neutral term, so even if the she in shero was necessary in the past, these days the she should be shed.
WATCH: What Did The Word "Hero" Used To Mean?
Another she we should shed comes in the form of she sheds. Like man cave, she shed is a term used to describe a place a woman can escape to, usually a small building placed in the backyard. The origins of the term are a bit murky, but it seems to have first appeared around 2015. It was notably used in a 2018 State Farm commercial featuring Cheryl and her she shed, which seemed to accelerate the term’s popularity.
The she here is superfluous at best. Shed by itself would do just fine, though many of these fancy so-called she sheds are more like tiny houses or backyard offices instead of what the definition of shed (“a slight or rude structure built for shelter, storage, etc.”) implies.
Now, just for fun, say it fast five times: “She sheds she sheds down by the seashore …”
There are a couple versions of this term that put a female twist on entrepreneur, including mumpreneur and entreprenHER—none of which are necessary. Have you ever heard anyone refer to a man as a dadpreneuer? We think not.
The term entrepreneur will do just fine, no matter one’s gender. Defined as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk,” there’s no need to add gender into the mix. Entrepreneur first appeared around 1875–80 and stems from the French word entreprendre, which means “to undertake.”
Clever, but unnecessary and far too cutesy for the role is how we’d describe the term SheEO, which substitutes the C in CEO (the abbreviation for Chief Executive Officer) with she. If they earned the title, their gender shouldn’t matter, and it’s patronizing to imply that it does by using this term.
We’ve already discussed the term boss, which is fine on its own. Adding the term babe to it, however, evokes a whole other image. In this case, it isn’t used in the traditional sense to describe a baby or a child (though some bossy babies probably deserve it). Babe here is used as a slang term, which is defined as “sometimes disparaging and offensive; a girl or woman, especially an attractive one.” Notice anything problematic?
There’s no need to bring anyone’s looks into the picture when it comes to their title and their ability to lead a team. We’ll say it again, a boss should be a boss, and their gender or looks should have nothing to do with it.
First evidence of mean as an adjective meaning “offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious” appeared before the year 900. It comes from the Old English gemǣne, meaning “common.” Evidence of the word girl dates back to around 1250–1300. It comes from the Middle English words gurle, girle, and gerle, which were all used to describe a child or young person regardless of gender.
Put them together, however, and the phrase implies that girls are innately mean or at least mean more often than boys. How often have you heard anyone refer to a group of young men as “mean boys”? Boys get called jerks, fools, and idiots, and we think girls should too—you know, if we’re calling names. Mean people suck, but the phrase sucks much less than mean girls.
A combination of feminist and Nazi, feminazi is an offensive term on several levels. While first evidence of the word dates back to the late 1980s, it was Rush Limbaugh who gave it a modern-day boost in the 1990s. In his book, he described feminazis as “obnoxious” and “militant” women “to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.” He argued that these super feminists want to wage a “modern-day holocaust” of men.
So for one, the term is sexist as heck, as it’s often used to pooh-pooh women’s rights. But, even though some have tried to reclaim the word, it’s a double-don’t, as using the word Nazi to describe anyone other than members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which controlled Germany from 1933–45 under Adolf Hitler, makes light of the atrocious crimes they committed.
Have any other feminized words we missed? Share them with us and we’ll make sure they get added to this article!
Interested in more? Here are some necessary feminine words … that have no male counterpart.