Advanced search

To be a bit uncomfortable at phrase "willy-waving" at a conference?

(127 Posts)
DadDadDad Wed 10-May-17 23:51:33

I was at a conference today in London aimed at senior people in my industry, so presenters and audience of professionals.

There was a panel discussion and one of the panellists (partner at a well-known consultancy) talked about how when some new rules were coming into the industry, some big companies were bandying about financial information relating to those rules, and then he dismissed that as little more than "willy-waving". There were two other men on the panel and one woman.

Is the phrase just a slightly jocular and vivid way of saying that companies were (somewhat pointlessly) vying with each other in showing how financially strong they were? Or was I right to feel a bit uncomfortable at the phrase (and uncomfortable for the feelings of the female panellist)? There may have been some nervous laughter at this point, but I can't really remember, and the discussion moved on without any further reference to this remark.

I'm not planning to make a fuss (the panellist doesn't work for the organisers of the conference and it was a one-off remark), but I have a feeling some of you will say I should.

(And I should probably credit MN with "training" me over the years to be a bit more alert to this kind of sexist language smile ).

AnnieAnoniMouse Wed 10-May-17 23:56:37

There's nothing wrong with the phrase at all.

user1491572121 Wed 10-May-17 23:57:38

I think it's sexist and not needed. I would have said "Do you mean posturing?" He sounds ignorant.

Nickynackynoodle Wed 10-May-17 23:58:53

It's a good way to articulate a particular type of behaviour imo. Can't see much wrong with it.

RunTumMum Wed 10-May-17 23:59:45

Is it sexist? It's a phrase I use at work from time to time and other colleagues use when talking about two men (usually colleagues) who are each taking a stance on an issue which is more about asserting their own dominance than the point being discussed and as a result both failing to get to grips with the real issue.

If it's sexist I would say it's an anti- alpha male sentiment rather than an anti female comment.

DadDadDad Thu 11-May-17 00:04:16

Given what you say RunTum, isn't it then sexist to use the same phrase to describe companies, as if they are men, reinforcing the male-dominated nature of our industry?

user1491572121 Thu 11-May-17 00:05:37

RunTurn but if you use it when talking specifically about two men then it's ok but to use it as a sweeping comment regarding more than one person then it assumes all the people included in the comment are men.

Seeingadistance Thu 11-May-17 00:06:01

It's a phrase I've used from time to time, in the same way as RunTumMum, to describe men talking to show off to each other rather than to make any constructive points.

user1491572121 Thu 11-May-17 00:13:28

Seeing we've established that. But when it's used to describe the actions of people who might be woman, then it's not appropriate.

VestalVirgin Thu 11-May-17 00:16:34

It sounds bit vulgar. Should not be used in a professional setting, imho. Would possibly make me a bit uncomfortable to hear such crude vocabulary in a professional setting.

I don't think it can be argued to be sexist, though - I don't think it implies a company can't be headed by a woman. (Especially since the way of expressing it makes clear that this behaviour is not desirable)

RunTumMum Thu 11-May-17 00:20:23

I've never given much thought to using it about groups/companies, but if you have a male dominated group demonstrating those kinds of behaviour then I would think that somewhere in the senior management of the company there was some willy waving going on!

It is sexist in that it suggests that a particular type of undesirable behaviour is related to the sex of those participating in it, but I fail to see how it is anti female.

If anything willy waving behaviour from a male dominated company strengthens the diversity & inclusion case in my view.

RunTumMum Thu 11-May-17 00:23:33

I agree it's vulgar and not a phrase I would use with clients and probably not speaking at a conference either- but with colleagues sometimes using more evocative language helps to bring the point home.

DadDadDad Thu 11-May-17 00:24:00

It sounds bit vulgar. Should not be used in a professional setting, imho. Would possibly make me a bit uncomfortable to hear such crude vocabulary in a professional setting.

OK, so I might be overstating the sexist angle, but I agree with this that my first reaction (and why I think there was some nervous laughter) was that it was rather jarring and crude in the context. My second thought was then to wonder how that female panellist felt in a male-dominated room full of people imagining two men with their willies out confused.

Thanks, anyway, for the responses.

MovingOnUpMovingOnOut Thu 11-May-17 00:25:08

You knew exactly what he meant when he said it so from that point of view it was effective.

I find the idea it's somehow offensive because some of the people involved may have been women and therefore don't have a willy to wave hilarious. As is the idea that it's reinforcing some sort of maleness within the industry.

I don't think it's an ideal phrase because it's a bit crude but I can't get my knickers in a twist about it wink

DadDadDad Thu 11-May-17 00:27:45

<uncomfortable feeling at Moving's language because I don't have knickers to get into a twist>

DadDadDad Thu 11-May-17 00:27:56


RunTumMum Thu 11-May-17 00:39:03

I would imagine the discomfort was more around the vulgarity than anything else. When using the phrase I have never imagined the individuals involved actually waving their willies- perish the thought! I prefer to imagine that my male colleagues are willy-less like Ken dolls!

I have never typed the word willy so many times before. grin

DadDadDad Thu 11-May-17 00:45:41

Better not move on to this thread then: shock

WhatToDoAboutThis2017 Thu 11-May-17 00:49:13

YABVU. It's not sexist in the slightest. You're creating a problem where there isn't one.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Thu 11-May-17 01:41:13

I don't think it is sexist but it is crude and inappropriate for that reason.

AnnieAnoniMouse Thu 11-May-17 06:36:02

My second thought was then to wonder how that female panellist felt in a male-dominated room full of people imagining two men with their willies out

Massively overthinking.

'Willy waggling' is crude & vulgar?! 🤣🤣🤣

RunTumMum Thu 11-May-17 07:37:36

It's all about context. At home perfectly normal language. In a professional setting it's skirting close to the line (which is why it has an impact).

MackerelOfFact Thu 11-May-17 08:00:37

It's a bit of a gross image, but I don't think it's sexist - if anything, it implies that women aren't involved in the pointless bragging contest. Willy waving isn't a positive thing!

GoatsFeet Thu 11-May-17 08:01:50

How is it sexist language? It identifies a kind of macho competitive behaviour (my company is bigger than your company) which is a pretty central component of social models of masculinity.

I've been in many many meetings when I've been the only woman there, apart from the admin. person who brings in the coffee, and have observed this kind of pointless competitiveness between men, which gets in the way of negotiation, collaboration and getting the work done.

It really is a thing. But maybe if you're a man, you don't notice it. Maybe it seems "normal" and it's only "outsiders" (ie women in senior roles) who see it.

And really, I'm a bit tired of explaining why sexism is not a thing that goes both ways. It is not a level playing field between the sexes in the workplace or public world. Sexism is about the everyday imposition of an oppressive power hierarchy which discriminates against the less powerful group. Men are not the less powerful group.

GoatsFeet Thu 11-May-17 08:05:05

My second thought was then to wonder how that female panellist felt in a male-dominated room full of people imagining two men with their willies out

<sigh> we see it happening metaphorically All.The.Time. That's why women laugh. The nervous laughter may have been from men, rumbled in their macho childish game-playing.

Good that the behaviour is named and called out.

And you really don't need to be so patronising about the woman on the panel - by being there, she's shown herself to be far more competent & expert & tough than any man in the room.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: