BERGER: Bossy and proud

Rather than banning the word “bossy,” women should embrace it

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, launched a campaign called “Ban Bossy” through her Lean In Foundation last week.

The concept is that the word “bossy” should be off limits to eliminate the negative connotations the word “bossy” has when applied to women. While I agree that female bosses often are referred to as bossy, I disagree there is a negative connotation associated with the gender-neutral word.

Some traits associated with bossiness are leadership, boldness and authoritativeness, and there is nothing wrong with possessing any of those traits. If these traits characterize a person as bossy, then it makes sense they’d be the boss, since both male and female leaders, especially bosses, require skills like those to operate businesses. Being bossy does not hold you back in the business world. In fact it helps, since it is necessary to be assertive and to be able to tell people what to do. Conversely, being rude, cruel or forcing people to do things they are not comfortable with makes one an unsuccessful leader. Those things are associated with poor leadership, not bossiness, and none of those character flaws should come to mind when one thinks of the word bossy.

Sandberg explained the meaning of the campaign in an interview, “We know that by middle school, more boys than girls want to lead…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.”

There is nothing wrong with caring about what people think, to an extent. Leaders should inspire and have admirers, but not all will admire them, and being easily offended is not a quality a leader can have. Being a leader means dealing with opposition and being called words much worse than bossy. It is unfortunate that young girls are uncomfortable being called bossy, but they’ll have to learn to deal with that and much worse as they grow up. Eliminating the word to keep the young girls sheltered from opposition early on is counterproductive.

There are worse words to be called on a playground. Not only was I told I was bossy when I was younger, but boys teased me and my friends, calling us “stupid,” “jerks” and “gross.” I think at that point in our lives these words were meant to be terms of endearment. Regardless, I can’t say we let any of those bother us enough to keep us from succeeding in school or taking on leadership roles later in life.

The Pew Research Center shows women of all ages are less likely than men to ask for raises or aspire to top management jobs, however, I don’t believe being called bossy at a young age is the root of this problem. Women lacking ambition shows a lack of courage and assertiveness — character traits we do not want to discourage. So please, continue to call us bossy, and don’t make the word seem negative by banning it. Instead we should be embracing it, redefining the word bossy and making it empowering. Women should be authoritative and bold. Women should not be afraid to prove themselves as equals in the working world.

We can’t argue women are strong and equal to men and then show a seemingly crippling sensitivity to an innocuous word. Though the word bossy can be meant as an insult, we shouldn’t ban it, but instead reinvent it. Let’s prove that we are not easily offended or insecure and that as women a word cannot affect us. I don’t believe the word itself is that offensive, but for those who do, fight it not by banning it but by proving you are above it. The “sticks and stones” saying is an important lesson for young girls. Words can’t and shouldn’t hurt them. Instead of sheltering them at a young age from potentially mean words, we should teach them how to be poised and not falter at such pointless name calling.

Let’s not “ban bossy,” but instead face the real problem. We have to begin accepting women leaders more readily and recognize that gender does not define good leadership — ability does. We should empower young female leaders by providing them with more exposure to strong, talented female leaders. We should promote books like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, where Fey writes how being the boss is never easy and how criticism and opposition are all part of leadership, but how she succeeds by not letting words get to her.

All leaders, regardless of gender, face opposition and name calling. If their leadership skills make them “bossy,” then so be it. Leaders have been called worse. Though I think this word banning campaign is silly, if Sandberg really wants to ban a demeaning word associated with female leaders, I can think of a better B word.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.

Published March 17, 2014 in Opinion

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