10 common phrases that women use against other women without realizing the impact they have

We’ve all said the wrong thing sometimes. We’ve all laid awake in bed at night thinking, “I really shouldn’t have said that!”.

Usually, we know when we’ve stepped out of line. It wakes us up at 3am and doesn’t let us rest until…well, actually I’m not sure!

But sometimes we don’t know when we’ve said the wrong thing. Some phrases are just ingrained in us and we say them flippantly, without care.

Yet they do a whole lot of damage to the person on the receiving end…

Let’s take a look at 10 common phrases women say to other women without realizing the impact they have.

Up first:

1) “You’d look much better with [insert thing]”

Blonde hair? Brown hair? Bangs? Clearer skin? More meat on the bones? Nicer clothes or a face full of make-up?

Whatever it is, it’s unnecessary!

For centuries, unrealistic standards have been thrown at women for how they should look. When we say these things to each other, we’re just fuelling these standards.

We’re telling the women in our lives that they don’t look “good enough” the way they are right now – and they should do X, Y, or Z to look “better”.

2) “You look tired”

I’ve had many people say this to me when I didn’t wear makeup that day or even when I just didn’t curl my lashes that morning!

I’m not going to lie, it cuts deep. It’s also pretty unnecessary. What does telling me I look tired achieve, other than making me feel bad?

In my opinion, there are only a few times you can tell a woman she looks tired:

1) If she’s sick (and has told you so) and 2) if you’re going to follow it up with something compassionate or an offer to help.

Otherwise, it’s just a little bit rude. Plus it fuels those unrealistic standards that we talked about earlier…

3) “You should take a break”

My partner tells me I should take a break sometimes if I’ve been working for too long – and he’s 100% totally right.

But sometimes, “taking a break” really isn’t that easy. It’s also kind of demoralizing to hear, like someone thinks you can’t handle life or yourself right now.

A friend of mine once told another friend (who’s a single mom) that she should “take a break sometime”. I’m not sure how she thought it would go down, but it wasn’t very well!

Just because her life was busy, that didn’t mean she was struggling. And two, I’m sure if it was that easy, she might’ve already taken one by now!

Unless you’re helping them take that break, they probably really don’t need to hear this right now…

4) “You’re good at … for a girl”

I remember hearing this phrase over and over in my school days – and in later life. It typically related to physical fitness achievements, but I heard it a lot when it came to my career, too.

When anyone has said it to me – man or woman – it’s put me out. Why? Because it dismisses your accomplishments and is also a bit of a backhanded compliment.

It especially cuts deep when a woman says it to another woman. It just feels like we’re fuelling the stereotype that women can’t be good at things men are good at!

And to be honest, I don’t see why we should have to add the “for a girl/woman” at the end at all. Why can’t we just say, “You’re good at [this]!”

5) “When you have kids/are a mother, you’ll understand”

Most women will hear this phrase and brush it off like it’s nothing. But not every woman can. Namely, the women who’ve tried to have kids and can’t.

Or the ones who have recently miscarried or lost a child. Or the ones who aren’t sure if they want kids yet. Not forgetting the women who are absolutely sure they don’t!

You never know someone’s circumstance, and while this phrase might be said flippantly, it’s presumptuous.

You’re passing a judgment that just because someone doesn’t have kids right now, that means they haven’t even tried. You’re also assuming that they actually want kids, too!

Let’s be honest, saying this can be a little patronizing. It’s like saying you’re better than another woman because you have kids and they don’t.

You also might be reminding them of what they want but can’t have…

6) “When are you getting married?”

This isn’t the 1950s! Women don’t have to get married if they don’t want to. They don’t even have to have a relationship with anyone.

When you ask this question, you assume that a woman wants to get married because she’s a woman and that’s what all women want! And, presumably, because it’s what you want too…

Some women do want to get married and that’s lovely. Some women don’t. There’s nothing wrong with either.

7) “That’s unladylike of you”

What even is it to be “ladylike”? I heard this a million times as a kid because I liked sports. I even heard it from my coworkers when I used to speak up about things.

In my experience, it was always other women who said this to me.

To be frank, I’m fed up with being told what’s ladylike behavior and what isn’t. If someone is just acting normally, why do we need to say anything remotely like this?

If someone is behaving badly, let’s just say they’re behaving badly.

Why do we have to bring it back to the 1800s and say they’re being uncouth “for a woman”? It might seem like a harmless comment, but it’s really quite toxic.

8) “You can’t do that”

I’ve had women say this to me when I wanted to buy a sports car. I’ve had family say it to me when I wanted to apply for the management job. I’ve had friends say it to me when I wanted to buy an apartment by myself. I’ve even had it said to me when I wanted to wear a certain outfit or pick up the phone and call someone!

In my experience, women mean well when they say this to other women. They’re just looking out for you and think they’re being helpful.

But it’s like a backhanded compliment. Because what they’re actually doing is dragging you down.

They’re making you question yourself or what you want. They’re implying that you shouldn’t do that because (I assume) you’re a woman and it isn’t the “done thing”.

It’s the total opposite of empowerment – and we just shouldn’t be saying it to each other when a woman wants to break out of the social norms.

9) “You’re very bossy”

I don’t know about you, but I rarely hear a guy get called bossy!

It sounds flippant – a throwaway comment that none of us should really worry about. But it can be a bit demeaning.

Being “bossy” is seen as somewhat negative. It makes you sound like a nag or a control freak. Like you order people around and get them to do what you want.

Whereas this behavior could quite easily be seen as more positive.

It could be seen as you demonstrating strong leadership skills. It could mean you’re highly organized and alert to what others are doing. It can mean you’re actually very confident and comfortable taking the lead on things.

Rather than being “bossy”…

10) “It’s just what we do, isn’t it?”

This is another comment that’s said with good intentions. No woman means any harm when they say, “It’s just what we do!” after hearing something amazing a female friend has just done.

But it’s just a little bit on the damaging side. It’s dismissive of you, your friends, or any other woman’s accomplishments.

You’re saying that what they’ve managed to achieve is just run-of-the-mill stuff – stuff we all do. It’s also a little disrespectful toward men and their achievements…

A better response is to offer sincere congratulations for what they’ve achieved. Make it clear that they aren’t just being a woman by doing these amazing things. They’ve achieved something great that they should be proud of!

Final thoughts

Few women mean to hurt other women with the things they say.

Some do, of course. I’ve met many women in the office who definitely meant to drag me down by saying certain things! The same as when I was in school and college…

But not everyone is cruel. Most women are simply trying their best, and the things they say get misinterpreted and do unintentional damage to others.

So if someone says any of these comments to you, maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably meant well by it.

Just like if you’ve said any of these things to a friend before, cut yourself some slack! Unless you were being intentionally mean, it’s just a slip of the tongue.

And there’s always time to make amends…

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

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