Stop describing powerful women as 'badass'; it's just patronising

In the run up to International Women's Day, I'm bracing myself for the rhetoric that has become the default in communications which aim to empower women in industry, but in fact patronise and segregate them.

Stop patronising us with terms like 'fierce' and 'badass', says Hannah Watson
Stop patronising us with terms like 'fierce' and 'badass', says Hannah Watson

"Fierce" and "badass" seem to be the terms of choice, used by both male and female communicators alike to refer to powerful, influential women.

These terms are almost never prescribed for male panelists or speakers, but solely reserved for describing women, which is problematic and frustrating for three main reasons.

The first is that these terms are patronising; inadvertently making a joke out of the women they describe and stopping their opinion from being taken seriously.

I cannot imagine a time when we might describe a panel of men as fierce or badass, making these words highly gendered.

The second is the implication that the reason these women are being heard is that they are badass or fierce, when apparently men need not be either of these things to warrant airtime.

Describing women in this gendered way increases their 'othernes's to men, which in my view alienates women further from conversation.

Women can just be women, a part of the conversation whether they are deemed 'badass' or not.

The third reason is that these terms imply that there is a difference between fierce women and women in general, and that women must be considered fierce or badass to qualify for opportunities to be heard.

The more these words are repeated in communications, the more women feel the only route to success and the only way to be heard is to become these adjectives, instead of just being themselves.

We still have a long way to go to redress the gender balance in the industry and one way will be to stop lazily describing every successful woman as badass.

We don't talk of men in this way, so to me, it sounds a little too much like: "oh hasn’t she done well".

I know there are men and women on both sides of the debate, who would eye roll at this point of view, as its language that's striving for the greater good.

However, continuing the everyday use of this highly gendered language may actually be having the opposite effect of what was originally intended.

It certainly alienates me, someone who forms part of the demographic such communications hope to inspire.

I want to play on a level playing field with men, but if women continue to be patronised in this way we will never be considered equal.

Hannah Watson is head of communications at Jungle Creations

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