Playing into gender stereotypes the world over, a judge in Italy this week ruled that using the phrase “no balls” against another man in a disagreement is punishable with a fine, AFP reports.
The decision, which came from Italy’s highest court, was made because the judge argued that saying that a man has “no balls” hurts a man’s pride and can materially affect him in the workplace. The AFP quotes the judge, Maurizio Fumo, as saying the following about the decision:
Apart from the vulgarity of the term used, the expression definitely also has an injurious quality…
It refers not only to the target’s lack of virility but also to his weakness of character, lack of determination, competence and coherence — virtues that, rightly or wrongly, are still identified as pertaining to the male gender.
The legal proceedings were brought about between two cousins who work in the courtroom environment, one was a justice of the peace, the other a lawyer. One man used the phrase against his cousin, causing the plaintiff to take the case to court.
The judge clearly realized that the phrase is highly gendered, playing into understandings of masculinity that are central to Western understandings of sexuality, yet his decision also suggests there is not much anyone can do about those gendered understandings. The decision only refers to a very specific phrase when used in professional environments, and appears to apply only when used against a masculine person. As the Cosmopolitan points out, “As far as we know, they didn’t pass a ruling about inappropriate things to say to women.”
For now, the ruling has produced a mixed bag of reactions across the internet. Twitter users were quick to comment on the ruling and what it means for men and women in Italy, ranging from disbelief to a pointed mockery of the decision.