(Photo: torbakhopper on Flickr)

(Photo: torbakhopper on Flickr)

On Tuesday morning, New Yorkers exiting the Bowling Green subway station were confronted by a grotesque statue of a hooved Hillary Clinton she-devil. Her shirt was flung open, leaving her exaggerated body exposed but for a white thong. She had a wild, ecstatic expression on her gargoylesque face as a gleeful Wall Street banker reached from behind her as if to suckle on her breast.

The sculpture was undeniably nasty, derogatory and sexist, and New Yorkers were outraged; so much so that one heroic woman, who identified herself only as “Nancy,” felt the need to attack and then sit on the statue until its removal. Its misogyny wasn’t lost on anyone: as Elizabeth Daley put it in the Advocate, “The statue creator also realized what he was doing when he depicted Clinton as a sex object.”

But while the demented Clinton statue was slap-you-in-the face offensive, the naked Trump statues unleashed upon New York and other cities in August, were subtly sexist too. Titled “The Emperor Has No Balls,” they were all more damaging for their subtly, for it went unnoticed.

INDECLINE’s ball-less Trump contained a problematic gender norm within its very concept: that having balls matters.

The colloquial use of the gendered word “balls” to infer courage is problematic to begin with. In his book I Hear America Talking, Stuart Flexner points out that “balls… has meant testicles since the 1880s and manly courage since about 1935.” Even if, 80 years on, we do not mean to invoke testicle-balls when we refer to courage-balls, its origin still matters. We can internalize underlying assumptions no matter how low they may lie; on some level, we are continuing to link strength and courage with masculinity.

Just in case we should have forgotten that origin, “The Emperor Has No Balls” reminded us so starkly where it came from.

The artist’s message also perpetuated that manliest of insults: emasculating in order to belittle. The titular phrase “having no balls”— like its brothers “being a pussy,” “having a mangina,” “being a little bitch,” and “acting like a girl”— draws on the idea that women are weaker, inferior in some way, to men. Men use such phrases to emasculate, deride and shame one another. Being likened to a woman is not just embarrassing; questioning the existence of a man’s genitalia is the ultimate How-To-Insult-a-Man.

The emasculation game is big in the manly man’s world of politics. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a point of characterizing his political opponents as “girlie men” to discredit their leadership. From Australia to the UK, the term has floated around in politics ever since, not least because Schwarzenegger has been parroting it at Democrats since 1988.

Many writers have noted the use of gender-loaded language to describe Clinton and other female leaders: “bossy,” “bitch,” “feminazi”… But we must take note also of the way we discuss men and masculinity. By insulting their manhood, we do women no service: by attacking a man for not showing manly qualities, we discredit women more.

While Tuesday’s depiction of the first female presidential nominee was politically incorrect and provoked immediate condemnation, the depiction of her opponent without balls was considered cheeky entertainment. Its subject matter (attacking Trump) caused it to go viral, and its inoffensiveness enabled its subtly sexist message (that courage comes from the testicles, that emasculating men is a clever insult, that balls are even relevant to the race for president) to go unchecked while being viewed by millions.

But we cannot afford to let such ideas— conscious or not— go unchallenged, especially at a time when a woman stands finally on the cusp of becoming the first female POTUS. If other first woman leaders’ first tilts are anything to go by, her term will be a time of renewed, aggressive sexism in parts of the media, in which any failings are blamed upon her gender. We cannot let these instances of muted sexism add kindle to their flames, and we must teach young girls (and boys) that balls don’t matter— at least when it comes to leadership.

So INDELCINE, if you’re revving up for a response to Tuesday’s statue, I would prefer to see your next Trump critique entitled “The Emperor Has No Brain.” At the end of the day, if we want men and women to truly be on a level playing field in politics, let’s cut the crap and focus on the organ that matters.