The language we use to describe a difficult woman versus a difficult man.

What I do care about is the language we use to describe a “difficult woman.”


After listening to another round of Meghan Markle bashing this month following her interview with Oprah Winfrey, I found myself in the unusual position of standing up for her. It’s not that I’m normally critical of her, I normally don’t care. What I do care about is the language we use to describe a “difficult woman.”

Someone I know described Meghan Markle as a ‘narcissistic psychopath’. I found it ridiculous to be so extreme, so I turned to my dear friend Google for some ideas to describe a difficult woman that didn’t mean she had a personality and psychological disorder. I was blown away to see such a difference between the top words used to describe a difficult woman versus a difficult man. Frankly, I’d like to be perceived as a difficult man – I’m efficient, productive, committed, hardworking, conscientious diligent, etc.


the language we use to describe

The power of language

However, if I pluck up the courage to stand my ground on something as a woman, I’m a tough woman, a tough lady, a tough girl. I’m hard or awkward or a troublesome woman. Notice that my gender gets dragged into it too. I didn’t register this until my daughter pointed it out to me.

As a coach, one of the early insights I share with clients is the power of our language. To nutshell it, while we use words to communicate, we also use words to create our reality. Words have power and they don’t have to be spoken to work, so if I think ‘she’s an idiot’, it is spoken. I don’t need to say anything, it will be picked up by others in my energy, my body language, and my lack of words to the contrary.

Worth a look: Free hidden inclusive language tips

Bias alert

This simple Google search woke me up to my own unhealthy bias. Looking back at my professional life where I’ve worked with a plethora of difficult people, mostly men. I found it more difficult to manage a difficult woman than a difficult man. If I’m honest I justified difficult men’s behavior as quirky and charismatic, while difficult women’s behavior as spoilt and irrational. There, I’ve confessed. And I’m appalled that I’ve let that one run unchecked for so long. So, I have unconsciously contributed to those Google search results, and I’m not proud.

You’re probably way ahead of me on this, but if you are seeing a side of yourself that you aren’t so proud of, join me by choosing to check in on your socially conditioned thoughts, and invite some new thinking.


And here are a few questions to get you started:


📌Is that woman being awkward or is she being committed?

📌Is that man being diligent or is he just playing tough?

📌If a man did this, would I be so judgmental and damming?


If your organisation needs support creating bias-free communications to attract and retain female talent get in touch with 3Plus NOW     



Helen Dunnett Contributor
Helen is a coach and trainer supporting individuals and teams overcome blockers to great performance by upgrading thinking, behavior, relationships and motivation.
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