3 things women say that weaken the power of their words.

If we're to believe the self-help aisle of every '90s bookstore, men and women talk and act so differently because we're really from two opposing planets.

While that's not factually accurate, there's no denying that men and women have unique communication styles, and that disparity can make things challenging for women looking to get ahead in careers still dominated by male voices. 

But when the first female presidential nominee for a major political party addresses the nation to describe her vision for America, only to be met by pundits dissecting her smile and her "shrill" tone instead of her proposed policies — it’s clear that words really matter. Not simply because we’re women, but especially because we’re women.


So, what makes language explicitly "female"?

Ask a linguist and they'll tell you that women's language is generally more expressive and emotional. Women learn to speak earlier and with greater complexity. We're more likely to use dramatic punctuation or emojis to help us get our point across. We're also especially likely to use words and phrases that soften an opinion or gently undermine a point in order to make others feel more comfortable.

That is particularly important because these language choices are not accidental. We live in a culture that values female voices more when they reflect traditional "lady" characteristics of humility, likability, and politeness above all. 

Others who've written about this topic have addressed more reasons why women might avoid using stronger language. Jezebel's Tracy Moore wrote about the reality of a male-dominated society where women live with the "the ever-present background fear of being perceived as a nag." Author Tara Mohr acknowledged that for centuries, "women did not have the political and human rights to protect our safety if we spoke up and threatened or angered those around us."

All of those are true and fair. But at the same time, they're holding us back.

It is 2016. If women can fight and die for a country; if we can bust ghosts and glass ceilings; if we can raise our voices for intersectional equality and fair, equal wages; then we are more than ready to match the way we communicate with this moment in history.

Here are the three biggest verbal tics women use that can make language lose its power:

Sorry, but we're just saying "just" and "sorry" too much.

Rosa Parks used powerful action and words to ignite the fire of the U.S. civil rights movement. Sadly, her memorable words lose a little something when they're coupled with two of the most common words in female language: "just" and "sorry."

Saying "sorry" when it isn't necessary is so common that a shampoo company made an ad about it. But researchers say using the word risks taking responsibility for faults and actions that aren’t our own — or aren’t even faults. Being mindful of when we apologize (and where and how) is good advice regardless of gender or workplace.

The use of "just" is a little more complicated. Some women, like former Google executive Ellen Leanse, believe that adding "just" to statements gives other people more authority and control and makes the speaker seem defensive. 

As she wrote on her blog

"It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a 'permission' word, in a way — a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on a door before asking, 'Can I get something I need from you?'"

Others argue that "just" can be used effectively as a way to give importance to a certain word, like the famed Nike slogan "Just do it." Though, to be fair, that famous statement wasn't written by — or inspired by — a woman.

Self-deprecating phrases can make us seem less smart.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has enough problems with people misattributing her most famous quote to other people; she doesn't need the power of her words diminished.

Using qualifiers that lessen female authority to make strong statements, like "I'm not an expert" or "You've worked on this longer than I have," are a common way that women couch their statements when they're afraid of offending others. 

Unfortunately, this can have the unintended effect of making a female speaker seem less credible and her ideas less worthy.

Being overly cautious can unintentionally undermine us.

It's very easy to end a statement, presentation, or even an email with a qualifying statement like "Do you know what I mean?" or "Am I making sense?" These phrases are subtle underminers, making it seem that women don't have faith in their own ideas and are asking for approval for them. 

Phrases like "What do you think?" or "Looking forward to your comments or questions" are a better way to make the same point.

Let's be real: If a woman wants to keep these words and phrases in her vocabulary, she is more than welcome to do so.

There are perfectly good reasons why someone would choose to soften language and make it more friendly. Maybe it helps move things forward with someone difficult. Maybe they've already been told — as too many working women have — that talking more like a man at work was making them seem "judgmental" or overly negative. Maybe they simply like using them — and, seriously, who are any of us to tell anyone else what they can and cannot say?

But in a world where women have fought so hard for what we have and still have so much further to go, being aware of the unintended implications of our language isn't a bad idea. 

Especially if it helps women eventually prove that the way we say things doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we’re saying.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."