I Think We Say Badass Too Much

We need a new word for women.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

International Women’s Day, which is first of all every day, was yesterday, and it was apparently prime real estate for social media and subject lines. As I scrolled, I spotted a recurring theme used in tributes and messages of gratitude that I’d seen hundreds of times before but never gave much critical thought to. But now I’m thinking about it, and I don’t think we should call women “badasses” anymore.

“She’s a badass.”

“You’re such a badass.”

“To all the badass women in my life…”

I guess I’ve always taken it as a positive message. When an entire gender has been labeled the weaker one since the beginning of whatever theory of our existence you believe in, I suppose that a term connoting power can really only be taken as a good thing.

My stance on, you know…gender equality, is that our historically marginalized gender shouldn’t have to become more like the dominant gender in order to be see as on par with it. Said more plainly, I don’t think women should become more like men to be treated as equals. “Badass” is a masculine term. I’ll explain.

There’s a cold, tough, almost superhuman exterior to the word “badass.” When you hear it, you think of someone that other people don’t fuck with. Try and tell me someone in a military uniform climbing into a cockpit (of all things) doesn’t come to mind immediately when you hear it.

Granted, when assigned to women, the term “badass” usually refers to that woman’s accomplishments, perhaps to the way she carries herself professionally or politically. No one’s using the term to say she literally beats up riffraff in alleys, it’s more of a figurative label.

I think we deserve our own label, is all I’m saying. Even in our praise of women, our default is to assign a word to them that’s masculine. I get why we do it, to emotionally and mentally remove women from a place of smallness and rocket them onto a plane that feels more comparable to the way we have traditionally viewed men. I don’t mind the motivation.

The notion that femininity, and traditionally feminine words and labels connote less strength and power than their masculine counterparts is a dying a one, and I’m grateful for that. Women are an impactful presence in their femininity and any idea that something female is also something weak is shut down further with every march, every athlete, every CEO, every mother, and every mentor that comes next. Femininity—and masculinity, while I’m at it—is a multi-faceted item. There is soft and strong, power and desire, and above all endless possibility. So let’s get out of this linguistic rut, why don’t we?

Yes, there are badass women in the world. And I’m happy for them and their badassery. But I’m also really proud of all the successful, empowering, philanthropic, loving, nurturing, inspiring women who deserve praise that doesn’t assign hyper-masculine qualities to them simply because that’s what we’ve been trained to when we want to congratulate someone who’s accomplished. I think women deserve their own words for accomplishment.

“She’s such a positive presence.”

“You are a wonder.”

“To all the awe-inspiring women in my life…”

I think words can have power without aggression. I think in terms of gender equality, words need just as much of an overhaul as society does. And I think women can command a room, a reputation, or an army without being described in a masculine way.

To accomplish the tasks of our lives from the massive to the mundane and to live in ways that empower and inspire others—this is huge. This is female. And when we praise each other, and we often should, I think it’s imperative to remember that we can do so without assigning ourselves qualities that make us sound or feel more like men. Women don’t have to be more like men to be viewed with the same regard. A woman doesn’t have to come across as more masculine to draw in more accolades, power, or presence. Because her femininity already makes her deserving of those things. She is not a badass. She’s a woman.

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NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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