What brought this on? I was sitting in the laundromat, having another Sysiphean go-round with “laundry mountain” in our bedroom. The TV screen on the wall was set to the 5 o’clock news, and a piece came on about a woman campaigning to have the word “bossy” banned from schools. She felt it negatively impacts girls because boys are thought of as “leaders” and girls are thought of as “bossy”, despite my memories of that word, and some choice other ones, applied to kids of any sex who tried to push other people around. She then relayed a personal anecdote about being referred to as “bossy” by a teacher, which was “very hurtful” and a sexist gendered insult.
Yeah, umm, you’re trying to police what people are and aren’t allowed to say, based on your tastes and comfort level. Could people possibly think you’re “bossy” for reasons other than your womanhood?
After looking into it I found out this “ban bossy” business was a whole campaign with several celebrities
hired to shill heartily endorsing the concept, and the woman I’d seen on TV, Sheryl Sandberg, was also behind something called “lean-in feminism” which seems to purport the key to equality being a corporate-ladder seeking yuppie tool, despite corporate/capitalist culture being hierarchically structured and exploitation based. Sounds like Ipecac in print form. But anyway, back to “bossy”. Since my feminism is more “Lash Out” than “Lean In”, let me deconstruct this beyond “censorship is stupid and futile” (which it is.)
Firstly, I’m not denying that double standards exist where boys are encouraged to engage in assertive/aggressive behavior, and girls in passive behavior, and this can be limiting for both. I just think banning a single word isn’t going to eradicate this whole aspect of cultural programming.
Secondly, bossiness itself. Being bossy and being assertive are two different things. Assertiveness is standing up for yourself, being able to express your needs and wants, and define your boundaries. Assertiveness is a healthy trait for people of any gender to cultivate. Bossiness, on the other hand is demanding that everyone else meet your immediate wants and needs with no mutual respect for the same in others. It’s obnoxious no matter who it comes from. Nor is bossiness equivalent with “leadership” as a leader of any type of group ideally would keep in mind what would work best for the group as a whole, whereas someone being bossy implies thinking of their own self-interest and nothing else.
So instead of just banning words, which won’t address the underlying behavior, why couldn’t kids be taught the difference between these words? And stop making divisions as to what is acceptable for boys or girls?
In Western Hermeticism, the sword has symbolic associations with the intellect. The phrase “Let the woman be girt with a sword before me” from Liber AL vel Legis Ch. III, which I used in part for the title of this entry, can have multiple meanings, but I see one aspect of it as urging women to embrace the intellect. In 1904 such a thing would be viewed as “unladylike” at best, and even today there are parts of the world where people are so adamant against the education of girls and women, they will even engage in violence to keep it from happening.
How much more effective for social change, rather than suppressing a word’s usage, instead examining it, questioning why it’s being applied in certain ways, and thinking about other ways to approach it and what it represents. How about fighting these battles by expending the space our consciousness inhabits, rather than shrinking it?
I consider myself a feminist, and I’m not afraid of bossy people…or of the word “bossy”.