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Ban ‘Bossy’? Over My Bossy Body

Keep the Word in the Public Lexicon


Crybaby. Tattletale. Mama’s boy. Kids can be nasty little name-callers, can’t they?

It’s easy to deflect some schoolyard slurs — the ones we know for sure aren’t true. Scaredy-cat? In your dreams. Goody Two-shoes? Puh-leeze. But other labels — shorty, for instance, or carrot-top —are so obviously, undeniably true, there’s no point in even ducking their well-aimed wallop.

For me, bossy was one of those labels. The no-denying kind. The kind you can only answer with an “Oh, yeah? Well, so what!” and go on about your life.

Starshine Roshell

I’m bossy. It’s not an endearing quality, nothing to brag about. But my classmates and I can attest that it’s absolutely accurate. It’s also the reason I’m about to put Sheryl Sandberg in her place.

Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and the author of Lean In, has joined forces with the Girl Scouts in a campaign to retire the word “bossy” from public lexicon. Their argument: It quashes girls’ leadership instincts.

We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead,” Sandberg told ABC News, “and if you ask girls why they don’t want to lead, whether it’s the school project all the way on to running for office, they don’t want to be called bossy, and they don’t want to be disliked.”

In promotional videos on banbossy.com, assertive, successful women Condoleezza Rice, Beyoncé, and actresses Jane Lynch and Jennifer Garner tell girls, “It’s okay to be ambitious,” and dare them to listen to their own voices as inspiring music swells.

All of which is super cool. And yet here are the top 10 reasons why banning “bossy” is a lousy idea:

1. As a writer, I resent anyone telling me what words I can and can’t use. I do wish people would choose their words more carefully, but I never want to see any word put out to pasture. (I’ve been trying to bring back “motorist” for years; so far, no luck.)

2. Gimmicky women’s empowerment campaigns are sort of insulting — like those breast-cancer-awareness stunts on Facebook that ask you to slyly post your bra size so everyone will whisper, “What could it mean?!” They draw attention even as they undermine the seriousness of the issues. The paucity of women leaders in America can’t be righted with a death knell for a 4th-grade insult.

3. “Bossy” is not crippling. “I was called bossy when I was in 9th grade,” Sandberg recalled. “My teacher took my best friend Mindy aside and said, ‘You shouldn’t be friends with Sheryl. She’s bossy.’ And that hurt.” I can’t help noticing the woman now runs flipping Facebook.

4. Being bossy is not the same as being a leader; bossiness is self-appointed leadership of people who have no interest in being led. Are bossy girls really the ones we want leading our country? I know I personally have no business on a ballot.

5. The campaign insists that assertive boys are deemed “leaders” while assertive girls are labeled “bossy.” I don’t buy the gender assignment. Slut? Sure. Bitch? No doubt. But I asked my 8-year-old son if he knows bossy people, and he named a boy at school, then added, “I guess I’m kind of bossy. … I’m really bossy.” (“Motorist,” I’m just saying, is unisex. How great is that?)

6. My best friends are bossy, and I love them for it. It means they’re confident and, yes, perhaps too quick to dole out orders, but it’s only because somebody has to do it and, really, who better than them?

7. Maybe girls don’t want to be leaders because being a leader often sucks.

8. Banbossy.com sells onesies — you know, for infants — that say “I’m not bossy. I’m a leader.” Really? Infants are not leaders. Not even girl infants.

9. Sorry, but if you need to be spared from name-calling — if you require Jennifer “13 Going on 30” Garner to clear the Path to Leadership of all verbal jibes before you’re willing to set foot on it — then you’re not actually cut out for the job.

10. I’m bossy. You were expecting polite applause?

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Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.

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