Why We Should Stop Calling Women Badasses

Written in 2016, this mini-essay explains why the term “badass” is merely code for “female who doesn’t suck.”

This afternoon I saw one woman mending a fence and another walking out of a hardware store with supplies and all I could think was, “Some asshole out there would call them badasses.”

Look up the word “badass” online and you’ll come across a lotta blog posts about Bruce Lee, sites dedicated to video game Vikings and reviews of some flick starring Danny Trejo. You also might read about Patton Oswalt calling Hillary Clinton badass for campaigning while ill (Personally, I’d call it dumb but unavoidable). Or you may stumble on a women’s apparel site selling suits and other tomboy-ish garb “for badass women.” In this case, evidently all it takes to be badass is to be seen in public not wearing a dress.

Clearly the term badass has attained a variety of meanings since Ralph told Richie he wished he could be as badass as the Fonz. But there’s one meaning I’m annoyed by on a near-daily basis, and the stupid clothing site for badass women typifies this. It’s the one in which the word badass is employed as code for “female who doesn’t suck.” To elaborate, it’s code for “female I actually want to talk to,” or “female doing a lot of the same shit men do without anyone calling those men badasses.”

The first time I recall use of the word badass actually making me cringe was the time a close male friend was telling me about his female friend who runs a small business. “She’s a badass,” was his conclusion. Now this gets to the core of why I wish people would consider what they’re actually saying when they flippantly call a woman a badass. To me, when I heard a female business owner referred to as a badass simply because she owns a business all I could think was, “I’d never hear a man who started a business referred to as a badass.”

So, let me get this straight: Somehow, an industrious woman with gumption is a badass? A woman with confidence or interests outside the very narrow scope of traditional feminine interests is a badass? An independent woman who makes something of herself and is productive and successful is a badass? Even a woman who wears pants sometimes is a badass?

Well, to me, calling someone a badass for exhibiting those traits implies that she is outside the norm, that most women out there do not deserve the badass title. It implies that we believe that the standard woman is timid and boring, that she isn’t especially interesting, cool, or good at shit. Hell, she should be praised for even just trying.

So when a woman is actually cool or interesting or good at shit — or even simply does something that isn’t on the woefully incomplete list of shit women usually do, our collective reaction is, “Whoa, that’s so badass!”

And this isn’t just about dudes calling women badasses. I hear women praising their female friends as badasses, too. But if you believe women are as powerful and capable as your you-go-girl fist-bump emoji Facebook comment suggests, why do you perpetuate and embrace this veiled back-handed compliment?

The next time your knee-jerk reaction is to refer to a strong woman as a “badass” consider the implications.