Once upon a tipsy time, when I was under thirty, I gave a spiel about the word men use to call each other weak—you know the one. In this late-evening spiel, I objected to the vagina being referred to as the ultimate symbol of weakness, since it is quite a flexible and strong organ. Not only that, it serves as a tunnel to existence—a gateway to the universe. Now, shouldn’t such an organ be considered worthy of respect and admiration? Or, at the very least, freedom from insult?
Trouble is, men aren’t thinking of actual vaginas when they call each other names. They aren’t thinking of women at all. They’re just poking fun at each other, and women (encapsulated in their anatomy) are the inconsequential casualties.
Same goes for the supposed chutzpah attached to testicles. There’s currently a quote attributed to Betty White circulating the internet to the effect that testicles are rather sensitive organs, and perhaps not the best symbol for toughness. It seems that the quote has been around for a while, however—which makes sense, when you think about it. You don’t have to examine the language—symbolic or literal—very deeply to see the flaws in any logic that connects body parts and character traits.
The truth is that reproductive organs don’t mean a damn thing about strength, physical or otherwise. I’ve known weak men, strong men, weak women, and strong women. I’ve had moments of weakness and moments of strength myself. I bet you have too, whatever your gender.
However silly it is, this word game men invented matters more than we might realize. If half the population is defined as so weak that the other half considers your body the very embodiment of weakness—well, that’s an insidious idea. Add the unconscious weight of that idea to the conscious weight of the simple equation that testicles are equivalent to courage, and where does that leave a woman? Agreeing that, yes indeed, testicles are the thing to have, and she wouldn’t be caught without them. And that other thing? Best not call her that—she’s far too strong to identify with the part of her own anatomy that can both hold and birth a man.
Instead of agreeing with the male definition of mettle, I’d like to see women reclaim some metaphorical ground. There’s an idea in vogue—which I fully support—that we all start saying, “Wow, that took some ovaries!” when praising uncommon acts of bravery. As for that pesky p word, I have an idea. Women could say things like, “Remember that time Sarah battled cancer while raising her kids alone because Rob was in Afghanistan? What a p— she was that year!”
Maybe, if enough women use their voices to protest the insulting symbolism that has been flung in our general direction, one day there will be born a woman—you know how she’ll get here—who, once upon a freeing time in her twenties, will marvel out loud that the vagina was ever considered the perfect vehicle for degrading a man.