Are Women Broads? The Power of Words

A ViewPoint by Deb Vaughn

JL's Hand - Photo by Marg HerderI recently received a promotional newsletter from a healthcare agency well known in my area. They are sometimes regarded as the benchmark of hospice caregivers. So it was with some surprise that I read an article that began with these words:

“I believe in old women who learn new tricks — gutsy, wrinkled broads who eat alone in restaurants and pump their own gas.”

I about choked. GUTSY, WRINKLED BROADS? Are you kidding me? And who doesn’t pump her own gas these days?

I did some digging and discovered that the author, Amy Lyles Wilson, is a highly respected writer, author, blogger, and speaker. The article in question included a vignette about her own mother. She is known for her slightly sassy, in-your-face way of communicating. And she’s a student of life while grieving.

I took a deep breath. Considered the source (check). Chalked it up to humor or exaggeration to grab my attention. (It worked.) Ratcheted back my indignation (check). Give it a rest. Uh… nope.

I believe and have taught my daughters that language matters. How we talk about ourselves, as well as how we describe others is important. The words and adjectives we use can carry a different message, depending on what we choose. Words can motivate or destroy. They can inspire or distress. And among the more damaging ways we use words are those off the cuff remarks that slip in a quick bit of slang.

There’s that old saw titled Semantics:

Call a woman a kitten, but never a cat;
You can call her a mouse, cannot call her a rat;
Call a woman a chicken, but never a hen,
Or you surely will not be her caller again.

In my young adult years, to call someone “chick” or “broad” was a put-down. It was used instead of woman or lady. It suggested that you were only a piece of ass. Everything else – intelligence, ability, talent, skills – was disregarded. To call a female a “broad” was not a compliment. It was a step up from “bitch”.  And it wasn’t used in polite company (or, for that matter, in proper writing!).

Times changes and so can the connotations. I am aware of that fact, so I did a little social media querying.  A quick survey, a highly unscientific sampling of my Facebook friends, yielded about a 50/50 split for offensive/inoffensive.

But language matters, particularly when the back-story is not known, or the quote is taken out of context. (You see what I did there?) And hearing expressions that border on the derogatory side of communication just bug me.

It’s about showing respect for one another. Using language that affirms and builds up instead of being sarcastic or derogatory. It’s also important to remember that one person’s “joke” can be perceived by another as an insult. A case in point: To many people the Washington, D.C. football team has the name of a racial slur, while others feel it to be representative of a proud tradition.

It’s not political correctness gone mad. It’s something my mom used to refer to as “good manners.”

Gutsy? You bet.

Wrinkled? I’m collecting them. Let’s not advertise it.

But call me a Broad? Not on your life.

© 2013 EEWC-Christian Feminism Today and Deb Vaughn

Rev. Deb Vaughn
Rev. Deborah (Deb) Vaughn is a professional chaplain in the Washington, DC area, where she lives with her husband and young adult daughters. Besides music, her many interests include public speaking, photography, and blogging. She bakes a mean loaf of bread. Deb is an occasional gardener and an avid Ohio State football fan. Occasionally, she even catches up on the laundry. Check out Deb’s blog, An Unfinished Symphony. (photo – Eileen Gannon)


  1. I really don’t like the term ‘broad’. It ranks right up there with the ‘b’ word. Some years ago as I began to deal with being sexually different, the word Queer made my stomach turn. But there is something about taking a word back from those who have used it as an epithet. I would not want to do this with the word “broad” because I do not choose to make peace with a male-dominated term of diminishment. And while I don’t find any of the terms, gay, lesbian, queer, as being able to describe who and what I am, I do find that the word ‘broad’ still being used to dismiss the really important qualities of being that strong, gutsy women. Perhaps it is being from a different generation but it is not a word that I can feel comfortable with.

  2. Thank you, Deb, for this outstanding article on the power of words! I totally agree. I never liked “broad” or “chick.” And I don’t want to be called “guy.” People of all genders are in the Divine image, and our language should support our sacred value.

  3. I have just been in Vancouver Canada where I learned that the LGBT Community has now requested to be known as the LGBTQ Community, the Q standing for queer which is acceptable as a non gender identifying word. My education was never to use that term to label anyone. The use and meaning of words change in our language so maybe the label “broad” may be a complement one day.

  4. As Hannah points out, reclaiming words is part of what cultures and subcultures do. It is an example of why we describe language as LIVING. It morphs with time and place and culture and subculture, the morphing itself adding certain shades of meaning. I will use the word ‘broad’ in certain circumstances, often as not to express feminist solidarity with another grayhair. This is a totally different situation than, for instance, if a real Man’s Man says to me while I am filling up my gas tank: ” Good for you! I rarely see broads filling their own tanks!”


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