The phrase “grow a pair” (of testes) is a common one, usually used to mean that one needs to toughen up in the face of some minor adversity. “What if I ask her out and she rejects me?” “Grow a pair, man!” Because of the overt link to male genitalia, it is often claimed that this phrase is sexist, with the go-to argument being that it implies that only men can be tough, and for a woman to be tough she has to – if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor – “man up”.
But that’s wrong. Because the phrase is not sexist – it’s just stupid.
Put yourself in the biological engineer’s shoes for a moment. You’ve nearly completed your greatest creation. You’ve one last thing to place – the source of the male contribution to reproduction, the testicle. From an evolutionary biology point of view, this is arguably the single most important organ that exists in the male body.
Where do you put it?
Well, there’s the skull. It’s well-protected, basically an inbuilt helmet. Unfortunately, it’s packed to the gills with the brain and numerous sensory organs, not to mention that it’s also the first stop for food on its way into the digestive system. So that’s not going to work.
Alright, moving down, how about the rib cage? Plenty of room in there, and it’s well protected. Unfortunately, it’s too far from where we need the semen, so that’s out.
Well, what about the abdomen then? It doesn’t have solid bones protecting it, but given how small we can make the testicle the muscle, fat, and other organs will provide ample protection. But it’s still a bit far, so let’s keep looking.
Ah ha! The pelvis! A thick, heavy bone structure that provides a wonderful cradle of protection; it is, after all, where we put the female counterparts to the testicle. And it’s right there where we need the semen it produces – it’s perfect!
Instead, let’s make a new place for it. A thin sack of skin dangling free between the legs, because nothing bad could ever come from that! Of course, this is vulnerable, so let’s add redundancy by making two testicles – after all, it worked for the kidneys! Still pretty vulnerable to an otherwise minor injury eliminating a potential contributor to the gene pool, though, so let’s pack them with so many hyper-sensitive nerve endings that the slightest blow – resulting in not even a minor bruise – is completely debilitating. An instant “Off” switch for both flight and fight, to be most likely triggered when you most need either (or both)!
Of course, since we also plan to impart intelligence into these creatures at some point, they’re going to quickly realize the sheer stupidity that we just invested in this design. Let’s go ask Marketing what they suggest. “Invent a phrase that links these ‘testicle’ things to toughness; like, rather than saying ‘toughen up’, say ‘grow a pair’. And when they advance to the state where they start to question such a thing, just make sure they’re more preoccupied with finding something like sexism in the littlest places, and no one will bother to dig deeper.” Perfect! Now we can couch our idiocy behind an impenetrable wall of propaganda that says exactly the opposite of what we’ve just created!
So you see, using the phrase “grow a pair” to imply that one needs to “toughen up” is not being sexist. Rather, the one saying it is themselves a victim of that most vile of all evils, Marketing.
It’s not a sexist phrase, it’s a marketing phrase. A stupid phrase. (Please pardon the redundancy here.)