Vaginas are incredibly strong. They are miraculous. They clean themselves. They heal themselves. They expand for pleasure. They bleed. Vaginas endure untold violences and trauma. They push entire people out. Humans. Whole humans come crashing through vaginas into this complicated world. So, when women are called weak or fragile, I feel truly baffled. When we call boys, men, or anyone, really, “pussies,” I don’t get it. How is it even possible that we are conflating weakness with vaginas? The only answer I can come up with is deeply terrifying: vaginas are considered weak because they can be overpowered. They can be raped. This is the very definition of rape culture: the normalization of sexual violence. Don’t be a pussy, because bad things happen to pussies. At its core, this type of language is a scare tactic. It keeps our minds and hearts separated and divided.
Recently, when I heard one of my closest friends tell her young boys to “stop acting like pussies,” I was concerned. My friend is a woman of integrity who believes in equality and social justice. She is an excellent and inspirational mother. I look up to her. So, hearing these words used jokingly and casually, made me think about how this language is so deeply ingrained and its immense and insidious impact on our subconscious. Calling people pussies isn’t just “locker room talk.” Making fun of or threatening women is institutionalized. Even The President of The United States proudly declares that he grabs women by the pussy. Pussies and the violence enacted against them are punch lines, are jokes. Sometimes we call people pussies when they are crying or complaining, but neither act is inherently feminine. All children cry. It’s toxic masculinity that teaches us boys shouldn’t cry, but what besides violence has come from this lack of compassion and repressed emotion? And, men certainly complain. Just look at our current administration. I can’t help but shudder when I think about what we are teaching little boys when we call them pussies. We are teaching them that vaginas, that girls and all that they embody, are weak and bad and are never, ever something you want to be. And, worse, what are we teaching girls about their self-worth and value? What does it mean if you own a vagina?
Here’s the most ironic part of us calling men pussies: do you know what’s actually weak? Testicles. Testicles are necessary and fascinating, even, but they are pretty freaking fragile. Sperm is fragile. By design, scrotum are vulnerable. They are, essentially, a crazy amount of nerves without any protection! Have you ever been hit, tapped, or smacked in the testicles? Have you seen someone get hit, accidentally or on purpose, in the testicles?! That dude is down and out. He might even be vomiting. On multiple occasions, it has been described to me as “the most pain I have ever felt in my entire life.” Despite this extreme frailty and delicacy, when we want someone to “step up,” we tell them to “grow some balls!” But, why? Because they are attached to a man? This logic is bananas.
I am not actually suggesting that we should be calling anyone names of genitalia of any type, nor do I believe it is truly helpful or particularly productive to tell someone they are weak when what we really mean to say is, “I need you to be brave.” Or, “I am uncomfortable with your emotion or sensitivity.” Or, even, “find some strength."
There is reason, however, for optimism. My friend, when I discussed my observations with her, responded so beautifully. I only hope I, too, can respond with such grace when confronted with an opportunity to grow and stretch in the direction of inclusion, empathy, and humanity. These one-on-one conversations are essential to reaching people’s hearts. Let’s have them with each other, even when it’s difficult and scary. And, men, I need you to be brave and find some strength to hold your friends accountable, too.
So, please, stop calling people pussies, unless you are trying to say, “I think you are strong as hell.”