On Wussy-ness and Badass-itude

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked a question on a social networking site. They are trying to eliminate sexist, homophobic, and otherwise problematic language from their vocabulary, and were therefore looking for a replacement for the word ‘pussy’ in the usage of ‘wuss’. Later in the conversation, they added that they tend to use this in reference to themselves, for example “I don’t want to watch {a horror movie} with my friends, I am such a ___”.

So, I thought about this, and arrived at the thought that aside from the word ‘pussy’ being problematic in this context, that context itself is problematic. Because, whatever word is being used for it, the point is that it is a derogatory word that is saying ‘you don’t want to do something because it causes you feeling you don’t like, despite the fact that someone else thinks you should do it, and this is a negative quality’.

And the problem with this is – that’s not a negative quality! Some people like horror movies and some people don’t. Some people enjoy fear-as-enterntainment, and some people don’t. Different things cause different feeling in different people, so people have different likes and desires, and there is nothing wrong with this.

I recently also ran into the opposite side of this. A few weeks ago at an event I attended, another person attending electrocuted me with a stun gun seven times (consensually on both sides). And, this was utterly awesome and I enjoyed it greatly.

This weekend, this person mentioned that they tried the stun gun on themselves, since they like to try all toys they will use on others on themselves as well. They found this pretty strongly unpleasant. And, when they were talking about this, in the middle of the statement they turned to me and said, “you’re badass”.

Now, on one hand, I am glad they think positive things about me (largely because I’m rather hoping they’ll do something like this again). But, on the other hand, I felt rather weird about that attitude. Because, well, I hardly did something virtuous. This particular sensation happens to feel good for me and not for them, so I like and want it, and they don’t. And I don’t believe one way is in any way better or superior to the other.

Yes, sometimes, it makes sense to commend someone for doing something unpleasant. If someone really wants to watch horror movies, but has bad associations with them for whatever reason, and they’re finding ways to bring themselves to the point they want to be at – that can be something to be proud of. If someone endures electrocution to defuse a bomb that would otherwise kill people – that’s badass.

But wanting and doing something because it feels good in some way and you like it is not a virtue, and not wanting or not doing something because it doesn’t feel good and you don’t like it is not shameful.

And, the issue is that not recognizing this often leads to trespassing on people’s boundaries. It leads to people feeling pressured into doing things they don’t actually like, because being ‘badass’ or not being a ‘wuss’ is social-value prioritized over respecting limits. It leads to people thinking badly of themselves for their wants, and being ashamed of their not-wants. And that is not in the least bit OK.

Yes means yes, no means no, and there no more or less merit in one than in the other. That’s consent culture.

[Note: there is a meaning of ‘badass’ that I think isn’t problematic like this, which is basically “what you do/can do makes me go ‘wow!’. I’m not saying this is somehow superior to not doing it, but it causes this emotional reaction in me”. And, I am in fact pretty sure this is how the person who said it to me meant it. But there are a lot of people who do use it in the ‘this is superior’ meaning, so my point stands.]

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One thought on “On Wussy-ness and Badass-itude

  1. Yeah, you nailed it in your note. I think there’s 2 definitions. first, when it is used to admire something you aren’t capable of and second, when it’s used to indicate illegal/socially inappropriate things. The first one is ok but the second is definitely problematic.

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