To Be, Or Not To Be…. “Ballsy?”

I recently found myself involved in an online discussion with some colleagues regarding the use of the term “ballsy.”  Let me set the stage: one colleague posted a link to an article and suggested that the content of it was “ballsy” considering the platform used.  A female colleague agreed.  Another male colleague pointed out that the use of the term “ballsy” could be perpetuating a sexist stereotype.  A discussion ensued as to whether or not that term was bothersome to women, and if it, in fact, perpetuated a sexist stereotype.

My contribution to the discussion was that I’ve known women who in fact had bigger said anatomy than some men….figuratively speaking, of course.  To me, the term has never bothered me, I’ve often used it myself, and it never really occurred to me that it could be perceived as sexist.  My friend and colleague Rayanne Thorn, said the following:

 

I guess I’m pretty “cocky” AND “ballsy” when I need to be.

…it doesn’t bother me.

I’m more bothered by the cat calls when I walk my dog or a Service Manager at my car dealership telling me, “perhaps your husband should bring the car in.”

Maybe women have to be cocky and ballsy in order to garner respect from certain men.
This discussion got me thinking about a few issues surrounding the terminology.

 

Ballsy or Gutsy?

Is the term “ballsy” inherently sexist?  As women, should the term bother us?  Should we insist on instead being referred to as gutsy?  Or fearless?  Or daring?  Do those words convey the same meaning, or is there a nuance to ballsy that we should embrace if we are, in fact, referred to as such?

Is it demeaning for a women to be called ballsy in that it implies that we are somehow trying to attain the standard of a man that we would not normally reach?  That such a level of daring in inherent to men and not women?

 

The Real Issue?

Or is the real issue what Rayanne referenced; that women in some instances NEED to be cocky, ballsy, or whichever word you may choose to command respect from some men.  That there are still men in the world that objectify women, continue to see us as a lesser sex in regards to certain issues, or refuse to see us as equals.

I don’t believe that’s the case with most men.  The men I choose to surround myself with, those whom I call friends, my family members….they are respectful and appreciative of successful and accomplished women.  I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in such environments where I haven’t felt implications of gender inequality.  But clearly there are still some who, intentional or not, make it necessary for women to embrace their cocky, ballsy, or gutsy side.   Does the ability to be ballsy put us on more of a level playing field with these types of men and do we need to embrace being so in such circumstances?

 

The Gender Equality Debate

The debate about gender equality in the workplace continues to rage on.  Women are under-represented in C-level roles.  Gender pay gaps still exist.  Women have to conform to men’s way of “playing the game” in order to gain respect, or struggle with “old boys networks” in some companies and industries.  Does the use of words such as ballsy or cocky perpetuate these issues, or should we embrace the ability to be so when we need to?  Are we too focused on the words used, rather than the approach required in some instances and the mindset that makes it a necessity?  What’s the real issue here?

 

As I mentioned earlier, the term has never bothered me.  I admire and respect the strong, successful women around me who have the guts to stand up for what they believe.  I hope that the men I associate with both personally and professionally respect me for my accomplishments.  Generally, I haven’t needed to be ballsy in many situations.  But if I had to, it wouldn’t bother me to be called out as such.

 

What do you think?  Are you bothered by such terminology or do you embrace it? 

 

Photo credit

 

About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent acquisition and development in the retail grocery industry.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.

About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has almost two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.

3 Comments

Jennifer Payne

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments…clearly this is a topic that strikes a nerve. I love when we can have such discussions!

Reply
Mary Faulkner

Thought-provoking post. I’ve never had a problem with any of those terms, but I also have never really stopped to think about them because confident is confident, risk-taking is risk-taking, and, well…ballsy is ballsy.

I guess a good test would be to switch it and consider whether calling a man “bitchy” is considered sexist. Are we questioning his masculinity when we use that term? Maybe it’s not a good comparison because bitchy is seldom used as a compliment, but do you get my drift?

Anyway, good stuff. Great comments.

Reply
Rayanne Thorn

Jennifer–

Thank YOU for being “ballsy” enough to write this. I, too, have been lucky — but here’s the thing, I think we make our own luck and we also may not realize the extra work we have to put in and the extra gutsiness we have to exude in order to simply compete in this world.

I’ve been called out for being “bitchy” in emails simply because I didn’t ask how someone’s weekend was… Do you think my male counterpart was called out for the same reason? I can assure you, he wasn’t.

Trust me, I don’t wake up every morning and say, “Oh damn, I’m a woman and here I go, fighting the good fight again!” I just get up and go and do what I need to do in order to do my job better than I did the day before.

Am I ballsy or am I bitchy? Am I a confident leader or am I bossy? The older I get the more I realize that I HAVE been fighting the fight all along, and it won’t end any time soon. But the women and men who fight for equality will NOT give up any time soon, either.

The standard must change and the fight must be fought by those who see the injustice in ANY type of inequality.

Fight on.

-Rayanne

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