I often hear from friends and even strangers that my 6-year-old daughter has “balls” — you know, the figurative kind that imply she’s brave and therefore has masculine body parts. She’s got moxie, she’s independent, and she has confidence. All traits, apparently, which earn a little girl “balls.” I’m certainly grateful my daughter is naturally confident and brave. The truth is, she came out that way. Her moxie wasn’t learned. Lucky her.
From day one she kicked her swaddling blanket off and made it very clear that she had no interest in being constrained, even by a blanket. Even from birth, the girl had a strong sense of self and a strong personality.
When she was three years old she hurled herself into our pool (a grown-up was in there to catch her) fearlessly. There were other kids her age there that day but they were clinging to their parent’s leg or avoiding going in the water at all. “Wow, she’s got balls,” one parent said. Another nodded in agreement.
For fear of being one of those oversensitive parents who makes everything anyone else says or does in relation to her children an issue, I didn’t say anything. But I remember thinking to myself, “Why is bravery considered a masculine trait?”
Then, when my daughter easily switched to a new school, one in which she knew no one, I heard it again — this time from a relative. “The girl’s got balls.”
Again the term stuck with me. It’s not as though I wanted someone to say, “Your daughter’s brave. She’s got a labia.” But as ridiculous as that sounds, it’s also ridiculous to associate confidence and moxie with male body parts. I’ve seen as many brave girls as I have seen brave boys. And yet, a confident and brave kid is always complimented by saying he or she has balls.
Of course, the people saying my daughter “has balls” think they’re praising her. But honestly, they’re not. She’s too young to understand the figurative concept of “having balls,” but over time she’ll understand. The message she’ll get, that bravery and confidence are male characteristics, is the wrong one. And I’m concerned that she’s going to stop wanting to be so brave for fear that bravery is not a feminine quality to have.
So if you see a brave girl, just say she’s brave. Don’t tell her she has balls. Because we all know that girls can be just as brave as boys (or, let’s be honest, even braver).