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?
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.