I’m Girt With A Sword, Why Should I Fear “Bossy”?

…Or anything else for that matter, including how to talk.

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.

Malala Yousafzai – woman girt with a sword if I ever saw one

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”.

6 thoughts on “I’m Girt With A Sword, Why Should I Fear “Bossy”?

  1. Pingback: What Makes A Mood? | Notes From The Devil Dollhaus

  2. Many men hurl the adjective ‘bossy’ at women because those men are weak and insecure, holding on to their preferred misogynist world as if doing so keeps them elevated and protected from their high horse of stupidity and cowardice. The most obvious form of evidence that religion is man-made is through its treatment of women and it’s disgusting that this is STILL a problem here in 2014.

    This post reminds me of one of my favourite Christopher Hitchens quotes, which essentially says that the most effective way to rise above the misery of the conditions of the third world similarly ghastly conditions in the world is through the empowerment of women. He was right but the fact is that the bullshit women have to go through in order to fight for what is theirs by sheer moral logic still happens here in the so-called civilized world.

    I’m rambling but I think I’ve made my point. Keep pushing back, Jenny!


    • I agree, men may hurl a word like this out of fear and maintaining the status quo. Similarly, a lot of young girls can internalize these prevalent attitudes and hurl it at each other. I just feel rather than banning the word, it might be better to talk to kids about examining what it means and why it’s being used towards women.in ways that might not be accurate.
      Of course, I’ve met both women and men who were, indeed, bossy. Not assertive but bossy. Maybe I’m skeptical about this campaign in part too because I tend to not do what bossy people want and get into conflict with them. 🙂
      I also agree that empowerment of women is one of the things that can elevate conditions globally. I also think part of that is re-thinking how we educate young boys as well as girls.
      Oddly enough, after writing this last night a was in group this morning where a guy called me not “bossy” but “know it all” which was kind of coming out of a similar place as you described. However, I just found it funny.


      • Indeed.

        That “know it all” comment must’ve been frustrating but, as you said, it likely came from that same place. Obviously you’re a strong person and can handle it, but it’s still a bullshit situation to be placed in.

        Keep on keeping on.


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