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Recently someone, again, showed confusion about why many here deprecate using the idiom of "balls" for courage. Although I have given a factual proof that this idiom is false in Notable Eunuchs, people need reminding even more than instruction (to borrow from Plato). Another widespread disproof is the abundance of families with more than one child.

   "She's really got balls!"
   "He needs to get some balls!"

Both of these statements, like many others, imply that testicles=courage. By that equation, they also implicitly state that women don't have courage.

Someone else had gotten the impression that it was the word "balls" itself that was a problem. Though crude, there are several vivid idioms that use "balls." These idiomatic uses of "balls" include "Balls!" as an expletive of dismissal or "all balled up" for a confused situation (not sure about the origin of that one), or "have by the balls" for putting someone in a tight spot. Though they are crude, they do not express misandry. Expressions like "bust his balls" express animosity towards someone, because the testicles are very fragile. I have never seen the expression used about a woman, but the metaphorical sense would transfer.

Using "bust X's balls" is a vivid but very crude way to express animosity; it derives from the real fragility of the testicles.

Using "X has balls" for courage uses a false equivalence; it reflects centuries, millennia of misogyny, oppression and abuse.

"No balls" as an expression for cowardice has another and equally deep and dark significance when used to describe a black man. I am not competent to extend that discussion and will refer any interested readers to that diary.

"But," I can hear you say, "It's just an idiom! It's just a vivid idiom."

"It's an idiom" offers no justification.

  • He gypped me!
  • I jewed him down on the price.
  • That's really white of you.

are all idioms - idioms that express contempt. They draw their force from a world view of exclusion and superiority. If someone doesn't feel contempt, they would not want to knowingly use idioms that express contempt.

Perhaps the problem can be solved by expanding the idiom?

"That took gonads!"

Well, yes, it is non-gender specific but if there weren't a background of "balls" would this phrase occur to anyone? Speaking for myself, I don't feel my ovaries are a source of much except children, periods and hot flashes.

There is no lack of vivid, embodied metaphors for courage. We say that something takes spine, guts, heart - all of these do real work, and do not disparage women. We straighten  up our spines when we get ready to do something frightening. We feel a twist in the guts in the face of danger - and go forward anyway. We feel a pounding of the heart and choose to ride that steady steed forward into the thick of battle.


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Originally posted to Wee Thoughts on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 11:22 AM PST.

Also republished by Sluts, Sex, Body, and Gender, Sexism and Patriarchy, and Courtesy Kos.

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