Have you heard about the effort to ban the “b-word”? No, not that one. This time the b-word is “bossy.” The Ban Bossy initiative was launched by the nonprofit LeanIn.Org, founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and the Girls Scouts. This campaign seeks “to ensure that girls grow up with the confidence and support they need to become leaders. They argue that the fear of being labeled “bossy,” “aggressive,” “know-it-all,” or something worse, causes girls to shun leadership positions.
“I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.”~Sheryl Sandberg
I did not know anything about this “bossy” debate until about two weeks ago. For International Women’s Day, someone in my social media network posted a picture of Sheryl Sandberg with a quotation that read: “I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.” I identified with that and replied that when I was a young girl I had also been called bossy. So, I could relate. I understood what it meant although it had never been a particularly troublesome term for me, but I realize the gendered nature of the word. Little girls, rather than little boys, were often called “bossy.” These “take-charge” kind of girls are viewed as overstepping their boundaries and being too self-assured, too aggressive.
“Unbought and Unbossed.”~Shirley Chisholm
Much to my surprise, several men also began to comment about “bossiness” and conflating it with bullying. One in particular tried to take me to task. Certainly, my mistake was in attempting to have a rational conversation about the gendered nature of language with an irrational person. He brought theory into practice because he characterized me as “part of the problem,” and a “bully” because I remained unpersuaded by his argument. Just as “bossy” is used to silence girls, he was trying to silence me by calling a bully. I responded, “I am neither ‘sad’ that I have been called bossy nor that you have called me a bully. That this conversation regarding an inspirational quote has degenerated into name-calling says more about you than it does about me.” I then resigned from the discussion. I had been perfectly cordial. He was merely upset because I refused to let him boss me. This person later apologized to me by saying “his reply did not enter into to the spirit of the discussion correctly.” (Like I didn’t know that.) He was conflating me with some female boss he had, as if that were relevant. But by then I was no longer interested in the conversation.
“I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”~Beyoncé
So, what are we to do with this word that seems to have lots of emotion connected to it? Banning a word is impractical. The prospect of banning seems to give a pejorative word more power, more venom. It’s plain to see that the word “nigger” is alive and kicking despite efforts to remove it from the dictionary, bury it, and end its use by calling it “the n-word.” Perhaps the idea of banning the term bossy is merely symbolic, and the more attainable goal is to start a dialogue on messages we convey to young girls through language and action.
“I like bossy girls, I always have. I like people filled with life.”~Amy Poehler
“Bossy” girls and women could reclaim the word and use it to mean something positive, as many other groups have done with names considered problematic. That is an option I could support. As I stated before, I have no problem being referred to as bossy. Since many women do, however, maybe there is another alternative. I suggest we address the destructive, gendered behavioral expectations and leave the words alone. We should equip girls with the language they will need to defend themselves and challenge, and perhaps even change, societal norms that destroy their sense of themselves.
So, tell me what you think, 2 Dope readers. Should bossy be banned?