Bossy is a funny word. With Blyton-esque connotations, it evokes images of a pig-tailed, hockey-playing school prefect who likes telling other people what to do. Most importantly, it is not a word associated with positive vibes. And, because it's most often used to describe women or girls, it has long been considered sexist and demeaning.
In recognition of this, there are moves afoot to address the issue of females being ostracised for taking the lead and being opinionated. As revealed in Beyonce, Victoria Beckham front campaign to ban the word 'Bossy', these stars have collaborated with the Girl Scouts of the USA to launch "a campaign to ban the word 'bossy' being used to describe women".
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Evidently, the "Ban Bossy campaign aims to promote leadership roles among young girls". In addition to the entertainers, Condoleezza Rice and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg also support the initiative. For Sandberg it's a personal issue since she admits to having been called "bossy" at school. Interestingly, last year NZ Herald columnist Deborah Hill Cone wrote that Sandberg "has got where she is because she is self-obsessed, bossy and power-hungry."More than simply a schoolgirl taunt, "bossy" clearly transcends the decades.
But it seems that no one wants to be labelled a Bossy Boots, least of all impressionable young girls with a fragile sense of self. According to the article, "the average girl's self-esteem drops by 3.5 times more than boys' between primary and secondary school and that by the age of 12, girls are far less interested in leading." So the last thing these girls need is to be ridiculed.
Leaving aside the irony that trying to ban the word bossy might itself be, well, a little bossy, this is clearly a well-established gendered insult. Ban Bossy says: "When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader'. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy'" and "calling girls bossy is one of many things we do to discourage them from leading".
If you think a campaign devoted to banning a word is a little facile, you're not alone. However, I suspect (as is often the case with headline-grabbing PR initiatives) that the principal aim of this particular project may simply be to start a dialogue about what is deterring girls from taking on leadership roles.
The Ban Bossy brochure is a must-read for any young (and perhaps not-so-young) girl. Its Leadership Tips to help us "flex our leadership muscles" are wise yet straightforward and include: speak up in class, stop apologising before you speak, don't do everyone else's work and trust your inner voice.
While the campaign's aims are noble, its execution could have been improved. It would surely have demonstrated more leadership qualities if, rather than getting hung up on a fairly innocuous word, we had decided to reclaim the word on behalf of forthright women the world over. Calling for its retirement does not seem to be an especially empowering solution.
For what it's worth, I'm in favour of bossiness. If someone called me bossy I'd interpret it as a compliment. I'd back a campaign with the core message: "You think I'm 'bossy'? Firstly: thank you. And, secondly: Damn right, I am."
What's your view on the Ban Bossy campaign? Is it well meaning, misguided or all of the above? Would you be insulted if someone called you bossy?