Better World

Simple Language Swaps to Make Your Family Vocabulary More Feminist

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Put simply, feminism is about seeing women as equals—and that’s something we all want to instill in our kids. If you want your child to grow up a feminist, using the right language can make a big difference. Parents may not have power over a child’s outside influences, but the language we use, even with our youngest children, can help ensure that kids grow up respecting all genders as equals.

Instead of: Fireman, mailman, and lunch lady

Say: Firefighter, mail carrier, and lunch worker

Our tendency to revert to the male when identifying certain careers or jobs can inadvertently lead children to believe that some jobs can only be filled by men, and some only by women. Using gender-neutral descriptions allows children to consider jobs and careers without confinement, allowing them to dream without thought to whether they’re male or female.

Instead of “Act like a lady” or “Boys will be boys”

Say: “Please behave yourself” 

Using gender as a reason to behave a certain way tells children that being born male or female is synonymous with how a specific way you should act. Phrases such as “boys will be boys” also give males an out for bad behavior simply for being born male, while expectations on girls are higher. Focusing on the behavior itself, independent of gender, removes all those stereotypes.

Instead of: “Boys don’t cry,” “Man up,” or “Girls are so emotional”

Say: “It’s OK to cry” and “Let’s talk about your feelings”

Assigning gender to how a child should act can cause them to feel shame about something that comes perfectly natural to them: their feelings. Over time, it can impact their ability to express themselves, causing both boys and girls to push down their emotions and stunting their mental and social growth. Validating their feelings instead is a gender-free alternative.

Instead of: “She throws like a girl” or “Shake hands like a man”

Say: “She threw the ball” and “Shake hands firmly”

Phrases like these teach children that girls are weak and boys are strong. Simple language swaps keep actions and abilities gender-free.

Instead of: “Brotherhood” or “mankind”

Say: “Humanity” or “Humankind”

Inclusive terms that don’t reference gender at all encourage a more accurate perception of the human race, rather than conjuring an image of a man by default. Otherwise children get the idea that the people who count the most are males, or that man is somehow the same thing as “everyone.” Using terms like “humanity” better reflects the reality of increasing gender equity, which is really important for children’s developing minds. 

The more you role model these types of language swaps, the more you’ll realize how often we use phrases that send mixed or altogether wrong messages. Even subtle changes can make a big impact, paving the way to more inclusive, gender-equal communication that allows children to grow up with limitless boundaries.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.