Triggering Things Men Should Never Ever Say to Women

Updated on November 9, 2018
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In talking with girlfriends, co-workers, aunts, and nieces, I discovered we women get highly triggered by these words and phrases men use.

There are certain things men shouldn't say to women because they cause an immediate negative reaction.
There are certain things men shouldn't say to women because they cause an immediate negative reaction. | Source

5 Words and Phrases That Men Should Never Say to Women

  • Have you ever shushed a female co-worker only to be met with her instant wrath?
  • Have you ever told a young woman on the subway that she'd look so much prettier with a smile only to receive a disgusted look and an eye roll?
  • Have you ever remarked to your girlfriend that she may want to deal with her "daddy issues" only to get an icy stare and no sex for six weeks?

There's no doubt about it. Whether we admit to it or not, certain things men say trigger us women. They instantly rub us the wrong way and make us feel disrespected. They hit a deep nerve, what the author Michael Singer calls our "inner thorns," causing us psychic pain even though we may not understand why. Now that you've been warned, here are the five triggering words and phrases men should avoid saying to women:

  • Shhh!
  • Calm down!
  • Are you having your period?
  • Smile!
  • You have daddy issues.

Certain Words and Phrases Poke Our Past, Causing Us Pain

Some words and phrases bring up bad memories from our childhood, struggles with our fathers, pain from past romantic relationships, and deep-seated insecurities about ourselves. A decent, compassionate guy gets jolted by our charged response, wondering what he said wrong and wanting to make it right. An insensitive clod says them (consciously or unconsciously) to hurt us, to get a rise out of us, and to make us look unhinged so he feels in control.

In my half century of life, I've dealt with guys from both camps, including a nurturing husband who'd never say or do anything to intentionally hurt me and a verbally abusive father who called me fat, stupid, and gutted my self-esteem. Like too many women, I lived with the deep shame that comes from having an unloving father, and it makes me ultra-sensitive when something pokes my past. While these words and phrases may seem innocuous to a man, they are emotionally-charged for many women.

5 Triggering Things Men Should Never Say to Women and Why

1. Shhh!

I joke with my husband and teenage sons that I'm 99.9% sure I'd be found not guilty by reason of insanity if I killed a man who had shushed me...if the jury were all female! That's because getting shushed is something that happened to many of us as kids when our dads wanted to quiet us down and take control. It hits us hard, making us feel angry, indignant, and wanting to rise up in revolt, especially if we were introverted girls like I was.

We've struggled our entire adult lives to reclaim the voices our fathers once silenced, and we don't want to go backward. Many of us have a visceral reaction to getting shushed. We see it as rude, dismissive, and degrading. It's much better if men use words rather than that triggering sound, saying something like, "Just a minute, please. I need to finish and then you can speak."

Every man I know knows that if he wants to see his next birthday--you don't tell a woman she is overreacting--and you never try to shush her--let alone in public. Not EVER...Sadly, when they do this they are attempting to shush us all.

— Janet Bertolus, "Don't Ever 'Shush' a Woman"
Shushing a woman in public makes her feel embarrassed and angry.
Shushing a woman in public makes her feel embarrassed and angry. | Source

2. Calm Down!

There are no two words uttered by a man that are more condescending to a woman than "calm down." When a guy uses them, he's adding kerosene to an already raging fire and can expect an explosion. That's because those two words trigger the exact opposite reaction to what he's commanding. They can make a woman go berserk as she sees his misogynistic manipulation. By suggesting she's hysterical, It's his way to feel in charge, rational, even-keeled and, most of all, superior.

As women continue to make strides in politics, medicine, science, law, and media, they are held to a higher standard than men to control their emotions. They're expected to be zombie-like or face getting labelled "unhinged." As a result, women are now facing the same stress-related illnesses that men have dealt with for decades: heart disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and headaches.

Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher who's studied vulnerability extensively, says it's not only unhealthy for women to constantly suppress their emotions but it's bad for workplaces. She argues that our feelings are not a sign of weakness but a sign of courage and strength. She champions vulnerability as "the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."

Beside being rooted in misogyny, ordering a woman to "calm down" is no different than telling her to smile or stop being abrasive. All of these directives are in the same manipulative line of thinking: telling another person to act differently because her current behavior makes YOU uncomfortable. The real reason it makes you uncomfortable is because the woman is acting in a way that's contradictory to traditionally accepted feminine behavior.

— Avery Jane Spencer, "Don't Ever Tell Someone to Calm Down"
When a man says "calm down," he's manipulating the situation so he's in control.
When a man says "calm down," he's manipulating the situation so he's in control. | Source

3. Are You Having Your Period?

This is another one that pokes a woman's past, making her feel like an awkward adolescent unable to control her emotions during menstruation. Once again, it's something that many of our fathers said to us, causing us tremendous shame at a time when we were already struggling with cramps, bloating, breakouts, and headaches.

Making it worse was the fact that our dads said it in an accusatory manner with no compassion. If a man absolutely feels compelled to ask this question, he should do so with genuine concern and a plan of action. A husband can walk the kids to the park while his wife takes a leisurely bath. A boss can let his employee leave early so she can avoid rush hour traffic. A boyfriend can jog with his girlfriend, knowing exercise relieves her pain. Because my husband knows I get migraines during my period, he turns off the lights and makes the house quiet so I can rest.

Asking a woman if she's on her period when she's being emotional or demanding is a great way to undermine whatever she's feeling, and a tacit acknowledgement that menstruation makes a woman's needs and desires frivolous or unworthy.

— Kat George, "6 Insulting Questions That Men Should Always Avoid Asking Women"

4. Smile!

Since I'm no longer a young, pretty thing, it's been awhile since a stranger has ordered me to smile. I can still remember, though, how awkward that would be and how it would make my blood boil. Because I was brought up to respect and obey my elders, I always complied like a dog sitting on command but deeply resented it. I betrayed myself in order to satisfy someone I didn't even know.

While men may think they're giving a compliment, it comes across as an order to do what pleases him. Again, it takes us back to childhood, wanting to be the good little girl to secure daddy's love and attention. For many of us, his approval was won when we dressed, danced, sang, talked and, yes, smiled just the way he liked it.

To ask a woman to smile in public is making an assumption that my place in public is in some way, shape or form, meant to please you (a man). A complete stranger at that. It is not. Moreover it strips me of my personal autonomy, literally placing me as other...A thing meant to please or conform but never to disrupt. It places no significance on me as a human being, nor does it place any consideration on what kind of day I have had, what I am going through in my life...

— Silvan Marie Amore, "This Is Why You Should Never Tell a Woman to Smile in Public"

5. You Have "Daddy Issues."

The sad truth of the matter is a lot of us women do have problems with our dads that affect us as adults. In fact, one in three women identifies herself as a fatherless daughter because her dad was either physically or emotionally absent. Having this painful situation over-simplified by a guy with the cliched "daddy issues" is insensitive, infuriating, and unloving. It's yet another way of making us self-conscious of our emotions and putting us in our place. If you think your girlfriend or wife is hurting from being a fatherless daughter, actions help more than a diagnosis. Be the kind, reliable, and attentive man her dad never was.

When I was growing up, I had a dad who was a workaholic. He spent long hours at the office and, when at home, he was tired, grouchy, and verbally abusive. A perceptive boyfriend realized my childhood wounds and gave me lots of time and attention, showing me not all men were self-absorbed like my father. Not surprisingly, that boyfriend is now my husband!

Accusing women of having daddy issues when they display normal emotions or express their needs is part of a wider sexist trend, in which women are accused of being overly-emotional and unreasonable, even when they aren't. It's about time men thought more carefully about the term "daddy issues," and saved the psychological diagnosis for the professionals,

— Madeleine Holden, "Everything You Need to Know About 'Daddy Issues'"

Which of these things that men say to women do you find most offensive?

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    © 2016 McKenna Meyers

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