What to do with the word “Bossy”

I'm Not Bossy. I'm the Boss

Words matter. We know that, and that’s why we fight for equality in language. We’ve transitioned from saying things like postman and policeman to using more gender-ambiguous terms. Why? So that we can un-train our minds from limiting our own possibilities and the possibilities of others.

So what’s going on with the word “Bossy”? Seemingly, the word is attributed to women and girls far more often than it is to men and boys. When a man has high expectations and asks for what he wants, he is considered assertive, a strong leader, and at worst demanding. But when a woman displays the same audacity, it is off-putting and contrary to our stereotype of the gentle and therefore likable woman.

Own Bossy       Ban Bossy

As much as I know this a problem, I don’t believe in fully banning the word bossy. There is a very real meaning to the word that I believe belongs in our language. It’s important to be able to distinguish between strong leadership and simply bossing others around. And if we simply eradicated the word, wouldn’t another one just pop up in its place?

On the other hand, I also don’t believe in owning “bossy.” Yes, embrace the leadership skills that sexism has mislabeled “bossy,” but be cognizant of its real meaning. Feminism calls for collaboration and communication. It demands a leadership style built on mutual growth and understanding. It is not a movement that can justify pleasure in pushing others around.

That said, I call for a movement somewhere between “Own” and “Ban.” I know I’d need a catchier title, but for now, let’s just call it “Think Twice Before Calling Her Bossy.”

precision of langauge2