I was reading up on the current feminist news the other day, when I came across an article that highlighted Helena Bonham Carter’s response to the “Ban Bossy” campaign. If you haven’t heard of this campaign, it’s a movement created by Sheryl Sandberg (and promoted by stars like Beyonce and Jennifer Garner) to wipe the word “bossy” from everyone’s vocabulary because it’s a bad influence to girls as it’s offensive to women in take-charge positions.
I decided that I had a few opinions I wanted to share on the topic, and after doing my due research, found that Xenawarriorprincess had already written about this campaign previously. I read her post, and while I believe that it is very well written and argued, and I do agree with some points she made, I will be representing the other side of the argument of the Ban Bossy campaign.
My thoughts began by wondering how on earth banning the word “bossy” could possibly change any female-boss stereotypes. Yes, it carries a negative connotation, but it’s not typically misrepresented in its use. I mean, the word bossy is generally only used to depict that which it defines. It was derived to describe someone who is controlling and pushy and generally enjoys the feeling of power. From an article in the DailyMail, I read that Helena Bonham Carter had a response that complies with this idea,
“People are sometimes bossy without being the boss, which is why the word exists”
I see it as being meant to be a negative adjective, the same way that the word ‘mean’ is. Should we ban the word ‘mean’ also because it can be used to describe people who do whatever they can to get what they want? No, because most of the time, it’s generally describing people who go about it the wrong way. Also, it seems to me as though the campaign wants to remove the negative reference of being “bossy” but embrace the behaviors, so what’s really changing? Helena Bonham Carter has her own view on this; she said,
“People will simply find another with the same meaning and use that instead.”
So what’s the difference here? Unlike what the campaign video implies, I do not believe that being “strong” and being “ambitious” are necessarily synonymous with being “bossy.” Being a good leader entails gaining respect, sure, but respect is not the same thing as fear from using one’s power to boss people around. This leaves me thinking that needing to ban the word bossy means that this
movement is saying that the trait of being demandingly controlling is okay. As someone who was generally bullied by the “bossy” girls, I just can’t come to think of embracing the word as anything other than raising girls who are spoiled and demanding/forceful in order get what they want. It’s insinuating that good leaders should naturally have bossy traits, and that girls should own that quality, while I was always raised to believe, as I will also teach my children, that being fair and patient with your wishes will always get you a lot farther, and this is not only applicable to ‘weak women’ but to men as well.
I mean, I do understand the good message the video is implying, and I love the idea that it’s trying to promote women to not be intimidated by perceptions that could make them not want to be in a leadership position, and I know that there are stereotypes and stigmas that women in the same position as men will be referred to as bitchy or bossy, while the man is considered assertive, but if I were in a position of power, I would want to be known as a boss who is inspiring, just, and strong, not one who is domineering and pushy. There is a difference between telling people what to do and delegating. I suppose I could be coming at this campaign from a different angle, maybe even than that nearly intended. But either way, I just don’t agree that banning a word is the best, or most effective way to go about this mission. Because whether a boy or a girl, there will always be someone who represents the word bossy, and therefore, there will always be purpose to the meaning of the word causing it to not fade away.
I think the key could be not eliminating the word, not changing the definition, but to raise a generation of girls and boys who know the difference between assertive and being bossy; who know how to be a mutually respectful, and kind leader; who know to be direct without being rude. Then, I believe, the girls won’t feel as affected (in the long-run, I am not and will never support/allow bullying!) by the ‘bossy’ stigma in terms of their career, and the boys will be able to recognize a good leader no matter the gender. This is my hope for the future, that good leaders will be good-naturedly developed, and not simply taught to embrace the innately negative term.
But as always, I appreciate others’ opinions and know that I may be misguided in the way that I am looking at the situation, (as I tend to live in a romanticized dreamland where everything is rainbows and butterflies). So what do you all think? Am I being completely unrealistic? Should we let the girls be bossy and remove the stigma through desentization? Or is it possible that it’s up to our generation to raise our children to be more accepting and kind in life to avoid these stigmas in general? (Nothing wrong with a little hopeful positivity right?!)