You may or may not have heard about the current celebrity fad: #BanBossy, the campaign to ban the word 'bossy'. It's been endorsed by the likes of Beyonce, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Garner, Diane von Furstenberg, and even Victoria Beckham. This initiative to nix the word is based off the notion that little girls starting school have to cop the insult, while boys get labelled a “leader”, with this tiny division setting up the huge bifurcation between men and women later on in their adulthood, where many women’s desire and confidence to pursue their goals are dampened.
On first glance, to me that statement seemed like quite a stretch. It is true that girls are twice more likely than boys to worry that their leadership roles could make them seem bossy, and also true that between primary and high school, girls' self esteem drops 3.5x more than boys- but could these 2 isolated facts be linked?
For two weeks, I started asking all my outgoing and successful female friends if they had been called bossy when they were younger, and if it had affected them. I proceeded to asking my more shy, complacent friends the same thing. A high percentage of them had been, and although the effects may have manifested differently between the two categories of people (some becoming more reclusive, while others more forthright), across the spectrum those who were labelled as being bossy at the time felt put down by it.
I remember my own experience.There are only two insults that set me grinding my teeth subconsciously, and both were bestowed unto me in my kindergarten year; bossy-boots and poodle-hair. [note to Arab mothers: pigtails and a fringe are not a good look for your daughters].
Every time I wanted to do or say something, I would be taunted with "bossy boots" as an attempt by my boy friends to make me back down my stance. It never ceased to aggravate me.
"But what's the big deal about the word?" some might ask. Well, it has negative connotations; it implies the authority that said person exerts is one that others would resent. It's a quality on par with being overbearing, domineering, and offensively self-assured. And it is this word that has been found to be a gendered word by the research of linguist Nic Subtirelu; its usage is skewed towards association with women.
In Google search results, the word bossy was associated with female related words 1.5x more than men; in Google books, there was found to be 10 nouns most frequently used after bossy; 4 of those were associated with females (such as women, mother), and none of them associated with men.
One could say that this doesn't take into account the context of the writing; so Subtirelu personally read passages and found that bossy was 3x more associated with females than males, and considering that American English* texts use the word 'he' 3x more than the word 'she', that is a gross underestimation of the gender bias of bossy.
"So what? Maybe that proves that women are just more bossy than men" you say.
Well if that's so, then why do women have less political and economic power than men? Women make up only 17% of corporate boards, and only 5% of fortune 1000 CEOs.
But I agree, the word bossy is not the problem. If we get rid of it, another word would just take its place. The term bossy isn't the cause of the lack of ambition of women compared to men. Rather, it is a symptom of the societal norms we've picked up implicitly. Acting with that forthrightness comes with an associated fear of seeming uncompromising. Rachel Simmons, co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute conducted primary research, and found that young girls feared sounding stupid, or not being liked, when thinking about partaking in leadership roles. When asked to list their talents, they said "I don't want people to think I'm up myself".
Fast forward 10-15 years, these young girls are us. Yesterday I found out a friend of mine successfully got her writing published on a website. She spent almost two hours writing her 40 word bio, so that she wouldn't sound conceited. That's not something I'm sure a guy would do.
From my high school, the girl who took out the 'Most Argumentative/Bossy' title in our yearbook (and former aspiring lawyer), recently posted this status on her Facebook, "For those of you who pack lunches for your husbands, care to share what you pack???"
There was a female Year Representative in my University course (alongside 3 other males), who decided to resign in our final year, because she was doing all the work, and not getting any of the credit for it. Why did she stay silent? Because she didn't want to seem mean. There is this likeability paradigm worked into us from a young age: the tradeoff between being seen as competent, and being well liked. Inherently we feel that speaking in a direct style or acting more confident will make us less liked by our peers, while seeming friendly and helpful will make us seem well liked (but less competent).
Let us not stray far; I myself have fallen into this trap, and allowed it to limit me. A few years ago, I was involved in organising a community Youth Week fashion event. It was the most successful installment of this annual event that this particular community group had facilitated, and I even managed to get a former Australia's Next Top Model to speak- but the whole project was marred for me because one associate found my tone of voice "too direct", and used it as a stepping stone to spread gossip about me. Come to think of it, this incident subconsciously influenced me to drift away from the community work I previously held so dear to me.
I'm even guilty of hedging my opinions by playing with my hair; speaking softly; adding the overused disclaimer "I'm not sure if this is right, but-" before every suggestion; or weakening my convictions by saying I "kind of" think something, and asking if what I said just "made sense".
That's not even mentioning the continuous deflecting of successes with "It was nothing" or "I got lucky". We are all serial offenders of this. I'm not saying that as women, we should be cocky about things, but next time we should just accept the compliment, smile and say thank you.
My friend and I were reflecting, and we noticed that whenever a tutor asked us a question, we both used up-speak to make our statements sound like questions, making us sound like we were unsure of ourselves.This only prompted further grilling by the tutor. Why were we always the ones getting grilled while our male counterparts were getting away with it?
Because they came off confident.
Whereas we never had the guts to just go out and say things. Studies show that in primary school, boys call out more answers than girls, and get interrupted less. Getting judged or seeming cocky held us back from communicating assertively, or taking risks. Like Rachel Simmons says, "skills are like muscles: you use them or lose them". Later on it comes back to bite you in the ass.
So while banning of the word bossy might be arbitrary, we should encourage the skills of being confident and proactive in both women and men. We shouldn't let mentalities engrained from our childhood hold us back in our adulthood. I'm pretty sure if I was able to move on from being called 'poodle-hair' throughout kindergarten to grade 4 [shoutout to Daniel Cha, the flop who started the nickname] enough to be able to rock an afro when the occasion calls for it, that we can all move on from the "bossy boots" era in our lives and make like Beyonce;
Read more at http://www.generationwhat.com/2014/04/bossy-or-baws.html#1xOSxUiMfkqQLx53.99 Read more at http://www.generationwhat.com/2014/04/bossy-or-baws.html#1xOSxUiMfkqQLx53.99 Read more at http://www.generationwhat.com/2014/04/bossy-or-baws.html#1xOSxUiMfkqQLx53.99