Why guts will never equal balls

by Mark Pleiss

I sat reading my column last week and realized it just didn’t have it.

It was all there, my ugly mug shot, my headline and my normal 500 words. But it wasn’t the story I necessarily wanted.

It was a five or six in my book, but what really peeved me was that a few days earlier, it was an eight or nine.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The original title wasn’t “Organs play key role in modern academic world.” It was, “Genitals play key role in modern academia.” It wasn’t the lack of conciseness in the second headline that bothered me; rather, it was the good-looking word, “Genitals.”

The column went on to substitute another key word. My opening line was, “define guts.” But originally, it read, “define balls.” After two intense, pensive days of thought, I wused out. I went with guts.

And I’m still not sure if I made the right decision.

The question I battled with was this. Would the repercussions of “balls” outweigh the value of the phrase?

I already had the picture in mind. I would wake Thursday morning to dozens of shrill e-mails concerning “inappropriate language,” maybe a disconcerting Letter to the Editor and probably a few students ready to spit on me because they learned in class that day I was sexist pork.

I could either wake to this, or I could just have another dull walk to my 9:30 a.m. Latino Politics class.

It’s down in my diary as my first great ethical dilemma.

In the end, I didn’t change the word because I feared criticism.

If I wrote to please everyone there would either be no column at all or a column so boring that I wouldn’t read it myself.

I changed “balls” to “guts” because I think balls would’ve been deemed an insensitive, ignorant wording. This would have distracted readers from the real purpose of the story, which had little to do with balls at all. I also didn’t want readers to think I didn’t understand the weight of what I write.

“Balls” did make it to the page, and I loved it. It literally jumped off the screen. But it just couldn’t stay. I hit the delete button. I had weighed my thoughts carefully, then put on the shoes of a feminist and had a conversation with Feminist Mark.

This is what that conversation with myself looked like:

Mark: I’m just using those words to make my story interesting and hook more readers.

Feminist Mark: But Mark, saying “balls” infers that “guts” is something natural to men, not women, which means you’re putting men above women, which means you’re being sexist.

Mark: But that’s not the purpose of my story. I’m just using “balls” as a device. It’s also a commonly used phrase. I thought of saying the people in the story “have big breasts,” but that didn’t make any sense, and it would probably just end up being more offensive.

Feminist Mark: It’s a commonly used phrase to you because you’re a product of a chauvinist society. “Grow some balls;” “You’re a pussy;” “You’re playing like a bunch of girls;” these are all common phrases because we’ve been trained to see women as an inferior sex.

Mark: You know that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s funny, snappy and effective writing. It worked for the “It’s just a boob” column I wrote last year.

Feminist Mark: No it didn’t.

Mark: Is there any way I can win?

Feminist Mark: Not when your underlying defense is sexist. You’re using words that don’t have a lot to do with the story itself. You’re just saying them to get a rise out of people.

Mark: Fine. I’ll change it to “big ones.”

Feminist Mark: Mark…

Mark: All right, I’ll change it to guts.

It should also be noted I didn’t publish a conversation with conservative Mark because using “offensive language” doesn’t bother me in the least, as long as I’m using it in a purposeful manner.

What I learned from all this is that sometimes wit should be cut down for a greater good.

I need to understand when I’m writing things, they should convey my point, not just get a rise out of people.

But it could be that I’m just going soft.

Or maybe I’m just being a … wimp.