Phrases such as “that took balls” and “grow a pair” are problematic in today’s world. We’re increasingly aware as a culture that rigid gender roles and enforcing stereotypes hurt everybody, yet everything from courage to fortitude is still represented by testicles.
As has been noted by such eminent scholars as dedhed1841, it’s a terrible and ridiculous metaphor anyway. Sensitive hacky sacks aren’t really exemplars of rugged strength.
Nevertheless, I think that for a replacement word to catch on it should maintain the tradition of using a vulnerable anatomical target to represent toughness. It should just be something that the majority of people actually have.
At first I was enamored of the big toe. It’s completely senseless, and it sounds pretty funny.
“You’re gonna need some size 20s for those big toes, Carl.”
“You wouldn’t dare! Your don’t have the big toes for it!”
The problem with that is that we’ve just swapped sexism for ableism. There actually are a significant number of people who literally do not have toes of any size. Plus there are some whose big toes have been transplanted onto their hands as substitute thumbs, and the whole metaphor just starts getting sidetracked.
Then I realized that there was an obvious feature that most-but-not-quite-all people have.2 It can be made of glass or steel, it’s already in common expressions, and best of all it sounds ridiculous.
“Grow a chin!”
Plus, it’s great for substitutions in other masculine phrases.
“They plopped their chins on the table. It was a total chin waving contest.”
I think it could really take off, if I ever had the chin to try it.
1. I mean, probably.
2. I’m really sorry. This is the best I can do without putting any actual effort into it.