Help me get some feminist vocabulary: I need to stop telling myself to be a man and grow some balls

While climbing out of a long depression, lately, I’ve been challenging myself to be strong, to just DO things.

Mostly, I’m trying to challenge myself in a nurturing way instead of a derisive way. Less “do this or you are shit,” and more “everything’s going to be ok even if you dare to try!” You know, gentle motivations and all that jazz.

But, especially in moments of frustration, when I’m lagging behind expectations and stubbornly refusing to move forward, I give myself a tough-love pep talk. “You’re going to do this! Don’t deny yourself this opportunity! Don’t be a coward! Be brave, because I know you are worth the effort!”

Except, actually, before I take a moment to translate the sentiment nicely, it keeps coming out like this: “Be a man!” and “Grow some balls!”

It’s colloquial, you know? I just mean, “Get a move on!” But it’s starting to make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to be a man, and I don’t want to grow some balls; these metaphors don’t fit me. They’re not about me. Why do I feel compelled to use them? to surrender to their injunctive nature?

I’ve always sort-of defended the use of masculine words in a gender-neutral way—like, “be wary of mankind, for it is a dangerous species.”

English desperately needs a singular, gender-neutral human pronoun, but all we have is the male “he,” the female “she,” and the nonhuman “it.” And some things can’t be pluralized without losing a bit of nuance.

Of course I don’t mean using “he” for anyone who specifically identifies as anything else. I only mean referring to a singular, nonspecific person whose gender is not specified, or who typifies a group that includes both genders. (What does a writer do? He writes!)

Anyway, my position there is still in progress. But I know for certain, with no social or linguistic reservations whatsoever, that I want to stop using male-based words about myself.

Not when I’m challenging myself to be my best self. Not when I’m trying to form the best parts of my identity. I’m not a generic male-based humanoid, I’m a specific woman.

But there just aren’t any translative replacements for these masculine slang mottoes. Direct replacements don’t feel right:

“Grow some ladyballs!”

Just, no. It’s cutesy, juvenile, frat-boy, and all-around wince-inducing. Worse, it’s demeaning—suggesting that the only way for a woman to be amazing is to be like a man, except ladyishly. (What does that even mean?!)

It’s still a definitively male word, being balls-based; it just has a weak slap-on conversion label. It’s like ice cream bars that are “HAND-DIPPED!” or popcorn that is “GLUTEN FREE!” You’re still getting ice cream covered in chocolate or a bag of popped corn. Or like when Legos and rifles and pens come in hot pink to specify that it’s ok for girls to purchase them. Except that ladies actually have Legos and rifles and pens. We don’t have testicles.

We don’t need testes, we don’t have penis envy, and our lack of maleness does not leave us powerless. In other words, our quality of awesomeness does not need to resemble balls in any way.

Worse still, I kind of like to say ladyballs. It’s dumb and offensive, but it just trips off the tongue in a jumbly, giggly way that I enjoy. Maybe it’s just fun to say “balls”? Or do I just like to say “balls” because I like balls? Okay, anyway, do I value a word’s mouthfeel, or its meaning and effect? (Um, depends on how drunk I am.)

This just isn’t the direction I want to go.

“Grow some ovaries!”

Too on-the-nose? It feels defiantly feminist, instead of just helpfully descriptive. I want to stop using man-centric words about myself, but I don’t want to swing all the way from surrender to aggression. I don’t have any problem with men, I’m just not one!

Maybe it’s just awkward because “balls” is so slangy, whereas “ovaries” is so clinical. But there are hardly any slang terms for ovaries, and the few that exist feel like jokes. (See: “ladyballs.”)

There are tons of slang terms for every other gendered or sexual body part on a woman – breasts, nipples, butt, anus, vagina, vulva, labia, clitoris, pubic hair, pubic area; I’d bet this is the most slangified area of English. But how many slang terms for ovaries can you think of, off the top of your head? Especially any that are used casually, colloquially, and metaphorically, like “balls”?


Physiologically, ovaries are the parallel organ. But linguistically, they’re in different sections of cultural lingo. If you look up “ovaries” on the thesaurus section of Urban Dictionary (which apparently doesn’t work anything like a normal thesaurus), these are the top 10 results: 1) vagina, 2) balls, 3) sex, 4) penis, 5) UTerus, 6) testicles, 7) pussy, 8) female, 9) slut, 10) sperm.

There is a problem here. All the entries are tertiary; none of them are directly about ovaries. They’re also inaccurate, male-centric, unrelated, or critical. “Sperm” makes pretty good sense, as it’s one of the biological couriers between ovaries and balls. But it shouldn’t come up before any word that actually means ovaries!

If you look up “balls,” on the other hand, you get: 1) Balls, 2) Balls, 3) balls, 4) Balls, 5) balls, 6) Balls, 7) balls, 8) balls, 9) balls, 10) balls. And so on. This means there a bunch of entries describing the many meanings, uses, and implications of the word balls. After all, “that’s balls!” can mean either “that’s shitty and wrong” or “that is the awesomest thing ever.” People use the word balls, representative of male power, to discuss many aspects of the human experience; it’s well woven into the tapestry of casual modern communication.

But ovaries just mean reproduction.

I browsed through to find the first non-“balls” entry, but I got really bored after seven pages of balls, ok?

(I guess breasts are a more colloquial equivalent to balls—the sexual pair of round things that hang off your body and like to be touched? But “grow some boobs!” cannot take the place of “grow some balls!” It is a whole different issue. #ThePubertyOfDisappointment)

“Be a woman!”

Nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but it feels too loaded. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A WOMAN? As a slang phrase, “be a man” clearly means, “Be strong. Be tough. Go for it.” That’s just good advice for anyone! (That’s why I’m attracted to using the phrase.)

But being a woman is damnably complex.

The male command simply tells you to strive, whereas I feel like the female command tells you to change. Should I be more feminine? (What if it doesn’t feel right? and what does femininity entail?!) Should I be softer? Stronger? Better at taking care of people? Better at influencing people? Better at communicating? (What if I don’t feel like talking?!)

And how wrong is it that “be a man” is empowering and positive, more like “you can do it!,” whereas “be a woman” feels chastising and limiting, like “you have failed”? Most of this is in my head, I’m sure – projection is one of my special talents! I’m sure view just reflects my own (apparently warped) wrestle with the concept of womanhood.

I’m taking it too personally, right? (Cuz women always do that? dammit, I did it again.) Or do other women feel this way? Are we interpreting the language with a bias, or has language helped build up that bias?

“Be a person!”

Clearly doesn’t work. It’s so neutral that it has lost all its impact. I am pretty sure it means absolutely nothing.

Why is gender so relevant here?

So, o ye conquering commentors, what should I say? I can’t come up with the perfect female-based casual metaphor for get out there and do it because you can!, but I believe in you. Or am I missing an awesome, motivating, gender-neutral-but-still-colloquial term? HELP!

Okay, I just binge-watched: THE KILLING (a detective/murder-mystery show from AMC, via Netflix)

Basically, it’s just a phenomenally told detective story: Two dedicated police officers hunting down the malicious murderer of a sweet teenage girl, Rosie Larsen. You want them to get the killer so badly, and that desire, that need, keeps you hooked like a bass on a shiny lure.

Pace and Style

Unlike a lot of cop shows, however, this one is realistically paced; you understand that it’s so hard to solve a case like this, a case with layers and layers. It’s a 3D object, with surface and depth and mass, an intricate web of many different emotional, personal, social, and political threads.

It’s actually easier to follow than most keep-you-guessing cop dramas, I found, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It’s a long story and slowly told. I’m in the middle of the second season, and I’m JUST NOW uncovering the real killer. I’m TOTALLY SURE this time . . . like last time.

But it doesn’t feel like they’re pulling my leg, either, like they’ve invested a silly amount of screen time in building up to a psyche! gotcha! moment. Instead, it feels authentic to the intricate complexities that compose each person’s life. They’re peeling back Rosie’s whole story, slowly revealing the interweaving fractals of messed-up humans interacting, bonding, and fighting in a swirl of energy and hate and love and shame and hope.

Since I totally believe they’re on the right track each time, I remember each segment, and how the different segments fall together, pretty vividly. Usually, I get lost. Like, embarrassingly easily. (Wait, who was that? Which guy had that motivation? Why were they searching here? What did that clue mean?) But not here. The story line is steady and compelling.  The show spends a decent amount of time uncovering each major lead or twist in the investigation. It’s not all magical, instant, digitized results. It’s a quiet, heartfelt, pound-the-pavement, work-your-ass-off, never-give-up pursuit.

And it never feels like the show’s writers tricked you, or like the detectives were an idiot for falling for a deceptive or irrelevant clue. The lead they hounded down was a part of the story, even if it didn’t play out the way they expected. Even when they’re wrong, it’s a clue to what they’re missing.


Honestly, the lead character, Detective Linden, irritates me. So does the mother of the murdered girl. But that’s life, some people are a little off. No one is astoundingly phenomenal, with charisma or talent taking the place of plot development. There are no larger-than-life, hard-to-believe divas. And all the other characters are immensely feel-able, easy to know and care about. Like Rosie’s aunt, who sticks around to support her sister, Rosie’s mom, and help take care of her two young sons – poor sweet boys whose sister has been murdered and whose parents are, understandably, but still unbearably, kind of losing their minds.

My two favorite characters: Holder and Stan. Holder, Linden’s partner on the case, is a lovable, tragic, skeevy, awesome guy with a troubled past, a douchey demeanor, and a big heart.

Stan Larsen is Rosie’s dad; he used to work for the mob, fought to get out, had to kill a man to strike a deal, and then left with his pregnant sweetheart to build a stable, moral family. Stan now has a small family business where he works hard, both manual labor and management, to support his family in an honest way. When Rosie was born, she was the apple of his eye, his inspiration to deny the destructive pull of the mob, and his motivation to give his family a decent life.

But he still has a rage issue, and he’s a passionate, powerful guy – which is why he was such a stud in the mob, and hence why it was so hard for him to leave, and so dangerous for him to stay.

Turns out, a temper problem + the brutal murder of a deeply beloved daughter + the publicizing and politicization of their family and situation + apparently incompetent police (who keep fingering the wrong guy, making the problem worse, and failing to crack the case or deliver any justice) = Welcome back to the dark side. And even as Stan slips into the darkness, you kind of feel like he’s doing the right thing. He just wants to feel like he has some power and purpose on earth, just enough control over the world to protect and hearten his family.

Anyway, it’s all great. Again, it’s slow and gritty, so give it time to pull you in. And it’s pretty dark, so, like . . . only if you like dark things.


How Does Dexter End? (Someone Dies—Dexter or Deb)

All right, I’m gonna hit you with it: Deb dies.

Debra Morgan is shot by Oliver Saxon, the son of Dexter’s mentor Dr. Vogel, who is now dead because Saxon killed her, which is why Dexter set out to kill him. Dexter’s and Saxon’s lives became intertwined. Debra is inextricably entangled with Dexter, now more than ever — since she knows that he’s a serial killer, she’s covered for him, and she’s even participated in his plots — so she gets involved, too.

As a result, Saxon shoots her, and the injury leads to her death. That’s what happens in the Dexter finale.

Rewind: Oh crap—in the last moment of the penultimate episode (season 8 episode 11), Debra lies dying on the floor. But no! She’s surviving and being put in an ambulance, at the beginning of episode 12. She’s practically spluttering blood while she talks, but she’s Deb, so that sure doesn’t stop her from arguing and swearing and fighting.

Dex feels guilty that he put her in that situation, AGAIN, but he also feels relief, because she’s recovering wonderfully. The bullet didn’t hit any crucial body part, and Debra hasn’t lost her spirit.

“The next word I want to hear you say is ‘goodbye,’” Deb insists, using a powerful persuasive technique available only to a beloved, doe-eyed sister who has been shot because of your screw-ups and hasn’t lost her spunk or her adoration of you. “Goodbye,” Dexter says fondly.

So Dexter’s still moving to Argentina with Hannah and Harrison. Living off Hannah’s millions, they’ll travel down the coastline until they find the perfect place to start their new, murder-free life as a loving family.

Then Deb gets a blood clot, it travels to her brain, and she has an aneurism. It triggers a stroke. Her brain is severely deprived of oxygen. She stops breathing.

She will never have brainwaves again.  “She won’t be able to think, reason, or even know that you’re there,” the doctor explains.

Her body’s there, but Deb isn’t there. Deb is gone.

(If you’re anti-euthanasia, you might be all, “THAT’S NOT THE SAME AS DEAD.” But, to be fair, Dexter has a pretty different view of human life than, say, you or me, probably. To illustrate: Dexter’s first reaction is visiting Saxon in his jail cell and killing him with a pen.)

Dexter turns off the machine and pulls out the tubes. As the beep, beep, beep of the monitor slowly, gently fades, he caresses Deb’s pale and lovely face.

Personally, I’m not very anti-euthanasia, in such cases. Even if I was totally cool with taking a life, however, I would wait a few bloody days just to make sure the doctors were right! Angel and Quinn, after all, are still praying for a miracle and hoping for a recovery. (And if anyone’s a surprisingly strong fighter, it’s Deb.)

But that’s me. Dexter (a very different creature) absolutely takes Deb’s life because he loves her. It’s his final kill; he’s giving up his hobby, ejecting his dark passenger, and choosing human connection over human hunting. And, in a way that honors Deb’s effect on his heart, this last kill is a benevolent one. It’s a gift, a kindness.

You might be wondering how Dexter gets away with yanking out Deb’s IV, pulling off her blood-oxygen fingertip monitor, and removing her breathing tube. Naturally, the medical staff is distracted, because a tropical storm is coming. Hello, Inescapable Series Finale Deus Ex Machina!

All the patients are being consolidated into one wing in a panicked flurry. Deb, a long-term brain-dead vegetable, is pretty low on the consolidation list compared to, say, trauma patients and the ICU and the maternity ward. So Dex and Deb’s final moments together are not disturbed.

Dexter lets Debra die softly, a human laying peacefully in a bed. She’s a lovely and fragile tragedy resting on a soft pillow, rather than a pathetical and dreary corpse surrounded by invasive medical equipment.

Just before the last beep of the heart-rate machine, Dex whispers into her ear, “I love you, Deb.”

She fades away. He wraps her body in flowing white blankets and takes her out of the hospital on a gurney. The storm is rising, and everyone is busy with emergencies; all they see is a helpful guy moving a dead body. Once out of sight, he lovingly gathers her into his arms and carries her, like a big brother carrying his little sister to bed.

Dex is powerful and fit (and fairly delightful to look at, especially when he wears his unreasonably tight, consistently specific, brown waffle-knit Kill-Time Henley). Wiry Deb weighs approximately twelve and a half pounds. He is strong and tender; she is waifish and fragile.

He carries her to his boat, and they go out on the water. The sky, gray and foreboding, shadows his face as he gently but purposefully drops Deb into the water. Shrouded in filmy white linen, she floats for a moment, angelic, and then slowly sinks into the depths. Dexter lets her go.

In a last gesture of humanity, he calls Hannah, to hear her voice one last time. He doesn’t tell her it’s goodbye, but he tells her that he cares about her. Dex tells Harrison to remember, every day, that his dad loves him.

“I destroy everyone I love,” he mourns. “And I can’t let that happen to Hannah, to Harrison. I have to protect them from me.”

Then he puts the boat in gear and sails headlong into the ocean hurricane.

Just kidding, he’s not dead! He’s living in a foreign city, Prague maybe. He’s grown a beard and he lives alone. The End.

Presumably, Dexter returned to his serial-killing ways. Never again, however, will he let himself make connections with people. It is too dangerous. It’s not worth it, and it’s not right.

The whole story arc of the show is a struggle between Dexter’s dark side and his hidden longing to be known, accepted, and loved. Viewers think that Hannah, Harrison, and Deb have finally broken through his barriers and taught him to love. Shown him that he’s a human being. Helped him become something greater than a murder machine. So he’s going to give up killing in favor of being there for them, being there with them…

No. He’s a killer. He’s obsessive. And he’s a bad man.

So he returns to the beginning of the story: Stay detached. Stay discreet. In this way, Dexter can keep Harry’s Code by hurting only those who deserve it.


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