Should we really ban the word bossy?
Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase “Lean In,” which has been supported by her book tour and website, leading to her most recent movement, seeking to “Ban Bossy,” in an effort to help elevate women from an early age and shed a word that tends to be applied to girls that show leadership skills.
Ban Bossy is designed to level the playing field and delete a stigma from our culture, and at launch, celebrities jumped on board and shined in the spotlight of attention that came along with it. The hashtag #banbossy lit up quickly, and people considered what the word actually means and how we use it.
And after the dust settled, women and men alike began speaking out against the movement in a way that Lean In never quite experienced.
Margaret Talbot at the New Yorker acknowledges the gender gap and mistreatment of young girls (and boys), but explains why she doesn’t support banning a word. “For one thing, ‘bossy’ is a useful descriptive word that invokes a particular kind of behavior. It’s not actually a synonym, derogatory or otherwise, for leadership or authoritativeness, nor necessarily a criticism of women who embody those qualities.”
“What it usually connotes,” Talbot added, “is someone who is not in fact your boss, or a boss at all, telling you what to do. It’s the kid in your social-studies class informing you that you’re doing the assignment all wrong, or the person on the bus dispensing unsolicited advice on child rearing.”
There are bigger challenges before us as a culture
Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic thoughtfully writes of the movement, “We do occasionally call men something worse. Guys who are abusive are referred to as “assholes” or “jerks”—words which connote a real abuse of power, rather than the diminutive, condescending “bossy.” Terms like “asshole,” then, are the other side of praising guys for assertiveness—men’s power, whether for good or ill, is taken seriously, while women’s is diminished or condescended to. Sandberg and Chávez are right that women’s power should be respected as men’s is—but their enthusiastic take on empowerment doesn’t leave a lot of room to question instances in which power, or bossiness, can be bad.”
“Even if ‘bossy’ could be banned, there are far better ways to boost girls’ self-esteem,” The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman notes, suggesting adding feminism to the national curriculum and even banning from schools the magazines that center around diets and celebrities.
Ban Bossy gives a short term boost, but fixes nothing
“Of course, what Sandberg is really advising women to do is to conform to the corporate norm and adapt the aggressive and domineering style men have used for generations to ascend the ranks. In that sense, she is not telling women to “lean in,” but rather to “give in” and accept the Alpha Male way of doing things to get ahead. That might give women a boost in the short term, but it does nothing to fix a broken culture that values leaning over listening,” opines USA Today’s Lionel Beehner.
What Sandberg could really do to help
Kelli Goff at The Daily Beast addresses the economic impact of the gender gap, but asserts that Sandberg’s efforts are misguided. “The bottom line is worrying about a word is a luxury that only kids who are already growing up with a host of advantages can afford. If Sandberg wants to make a real difference, she should put her money where her mouth is and come up with solutions that will insure more equality for girls who have more pressing concerns beyond banning bossy. Like whether or not the school they attend is preparing them adequately to compete for Sandberg’s job someday.”
Go ahead, call ME bossy
Even Rupert Murdoch weighed in, tweeting this morning:
US just finished ten days campaign of political correctness. now we should not use the word bossy. We encourage bossy bosses of both sexes.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) March 17, 2014
Jessica Roy at TIME writes, “There is nothing inherently wrong with being bossy, but the Ban Bossy campaign is telling girls that there is: bossy is just another thing that women should not be, right alongside outspoken and opinionated and tough. Guess what? I am bossy. And I don’t give a *$&% if you call me that.” Amen, sister.