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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at DCU chapter.

Photo by Catherine McMahon

To be powerful is, by definition, to have great power and strength. However, when looking for the text book definition online, I was presented with a list of synonyms including robust, muscular and strapping. Perhaps I am the only person that’s never heard a woman described as a “strapping young lady” but have heard the term “strapping young lad” frequently. Maybe I am the only one to have on no occasion heard the term robust used to complement the strength and stature of a woman? I could also be the only person to draw few examples of women being described as positively muscular. How can so many synonyms of such a positive word like powerful, carry such strong male references? I could spend hours lecturing on the origin of language and the way in which male influence on the way we speak has been so strong. However, I think it’s more important to consider the future and all the ways that we can change the textbook definition and the synonyms of the word powerful.

Emma Watson, UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, addressed the UN in 2012 for the launch of the HeForShe equality campaign. In her speech, she spoke of her struggle with sexism growing up. Emma states that she began questioning gender based assumptions from as young as eight, “I was confused to be called ‘bossy’ because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents”. She continued to question these assumptions when she was sexualised at the age 14 by aspects of the media. Emma was upset at 15 when her girlfriends dropped out of sports teams because “they didn’t want to appear muscly”. Each of these adjectives – bossy, sexual and muscly are examples of words that can carry a negative connotation for women. Our words have the power to influence, empower and sometimes upset others, so we should be aware of how we describe ourselves and one another.

As 21st century women, looking to accept responsibility, act bravely and make changes, we should each be encouraged to consider the adjectives we use to describe the strong, influential and significant women around us. When you hear bossy don’t think pushy, controlling and aggressive, instead think authoritative, learned and confident. When you hear sexual don’t feel victimised, limited and vulnerable, instead feel self-assured, poised and decisive. When you hear muscled don’t think overly-masculine, rugged and harsh, instead think strong, commanding and independent. Encouraging one another to make change, be proud of our gender and of men accepting the rise of women in power and altering the perception of strong women are all tasks that we, simply as people, can work on.


20 year old student of Communication Studies. Grew up mostly on the South coast of England and moved to Ireland at fifteen.
Hey guys! I'm Megan and I'm from Ireland. I'm studying Journalism in Dublin City University.