16 words that are used to describe women politicians that are never used for men


Kamala Harris has been selected as Joe Biden's running mate for the 2020 US election.

You're likely to see a lot of adjectives being used a lot more, as it's fairly well documented that politicians as well as we in the media use slightly different language for men than we do for women.

Here's a run down of some words you may see used a little more in speeches, headlines and tweets in the coming weeks, which are well past their sell-by-date.

1. 'Self-contained'

This has previously been used to describe Theresa May in contrast to David Cameron, the odds are if you were describing a man you'd use a word that plays the trait to an advantage, say 'pensive' or 'reserved'.

2. 'Ice Maiden'

Nick Clegg reportedly used this phrase to describe May after a difficult meeting, which for obvious reasons is gendered:

She's a bit of an Ice Maiden and has no small talk whatsoever - none. I have quite difficult meetings with her. Cameron once said, 'She's exactly like that with me too!'

3. 'Bloody difficult'

The phrase repeated off-camera on a microphone by Ken Clarke has been used repeatedly to describe Theresa May over the years, especially by herself.

You're far more likely to find it used in conjunction with her, than Cameron, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove.

4. 'Feisty'

Bar one use in the Spectator to describe David Cameron, this word is almost exclusively used by mainstream media to describe female politicians, implying a show of strength should be diminished as playful, rather than be considered a force.

5. 'Headstrong'

David Cameron, in his tribute to Margaret Thatcher, read aloud words from ICI after her rejecting her job application:

'This woman is headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.'

Mr Speaker, even her closest friends would agree she could be all those things but the point is this: she used that conviction and resolve in the service of her country and we are the better for it.

Good similes are "determined" or "assured".

6. 'Shrill'

Used to describe Andrea Leadsom, the word conveys a grating high pitch, which we don't regularly use to discuss our male politicians who take great care to use a baritone.

In fact, it's known that Margaret Thatcher had voice coaching to help rise to the top of the Conservative Party, mostly because it's been proven the electorate respond more positively to a leader with a lower voice.

7. 'Mother'

There was the infamous row over Leadsom's comments over Theresa May's family life and motherhood, so it's probably the best time to go over the whole "as a Mum" debacle.

When was the last time you read that David Cameron has been a father to four children in a news article, or that Michael Gove has had two children, likewise for Dominic Cummings?

The ability of politicians to procreate and exercising of said ability has no bearing on their job and shouldn't be a factor.

When was the last time you heard the phrase "'working dad' Keir Starmer".

8. 'Bombshell'

They're politicians, not Hollywood actresses.

9. 'Sassy'

Much the same as 'feisty', or 'pushy', or 'emotional'. They all fall into roughly the same camp of diminishment and are used far more to describe women than they are to describe men.

How about 'commanding' or 'passionate'?

10. 'Bossy'

Do you mean authoritative? We think you mean authoritative.

11. 'Glamorous'

They may have bought a new suit, it might be a bit loud. It seems like a word to go for, but when was the last time you heard "Barack O'Glama" when he put on a nippy new number?

Picture: Getty

12. 'Fiery'

A few weeks ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines for a passionate speech she gave in Congress about misogyny in politics which won her a huge amount of support. However, the speech was described as 'fiery' which isn't a word we can ever recall being associated with a speech from Donald Trump, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

13. 'Nasty'

Nasty isn't a word that we have heard be linked to a man since 'Nasty Nick' in Eastenders or Big Brother but Trump loves to use it when talking about female politicians. The president used it throughout the 2016 election to describe Hillary Clinton and now he's already using it to describe Harris. Speaking at the White House on Tuesday he said:

She was extraordinarily nasty to Kavanaugh — Judge Kavanaugh, then; now Justice Kavanaugh. She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing. The way she was — the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh. And I won’t forget that soon.

14. 'Horseface'

This is a pretty horrible and reprehensible example from Trump's repertoire which he used to describe Stormy Daniels, who isn't a politician, but is still a disgusting way to refer to a woman not matter the beef he had with her.

15. 'Pocahontas'

This is an example born out of pure racism and xenophobia from the president who has repeatedly used the name of the famous Native American woman Pocahontas to refer to Elizabeth Warren, the US senator who is of Native American ancestry.

16. 'Unf**kable'

It's staggering that anyone would ever use this to describe a woman, let alone another politician but it actually happened after former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi had described the German chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011. Berlusconi was talking to a newspaper editor on the phone when he called Merkel an "unf**kable lard-arse." He was questioned about this in 2014 by Jeremy Paxman, which he refused to comment on.

The Conversation (0)