I’m sure you educated, worldly women who follow vagina politics have heard about Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Beyonce-backed campaign to “Ban Bossy.” I’m sure you’ve also heard that it’s receiving a lot of blowback for being more than a tad bit defensive and overprotective of our girls (Okay, it’s like the equivalent of requesting Obama’s motorcade to take a trip to the ladies restroom). While I totally back the work Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org did with its stock photography initiative, painting a modern and inclusive picture of the diverse roles inhabited by women today (from tattooed mom to machinist, sans toothy grins over a bowl of Kale), I have to side with the critics on this one: banning “bossy” feels like a well-intentioned but failed effort to support and root for women. In my opinion, what it actually does is perpetuate the harmful notion that girls can only thrive in a world without men, and the dangerous idea that instead of teaching girls to fight back when faced with condescension and sexist attitudes, we need to remove the challenges and opposition in order for girls to assume the top positions.
While I get and agree with the fundamental mission of “Ban Bossy” — that we need to encourage our young girls to be leaders rather than slanging sandbox insults when they display initiative and assertiveness — I suspect its interpretation of “bossy” is too literal. The campaign too strictly adheres to the dictionary definition of “bossy,” and doesn’t pay close enough attention to the myriad ways powerful women like Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso and funny lady Tina Fey, both of whom are self-proclaimed #bosses with book titles boasting the adjective in question, have re-appropriated the term in pop culture and as a business strategy. Amoruso, Fey, and even Kelis (who perhaps spearheaded the movement to take back “bossy” with her catchy song by the same name), are proud to be bossy. They see it as advantageous, as a bragging right. They actively strive to be it not ban it. And I think that’s the right direction to move.
Being a boss means being “bossy” when the occasion calls for it. It means delegating, dominating, instructing, ordering people (both male and female) around, kicking ass and taking names. Sure, “bossy” does come with some negative connotations, but so does the term “Feminist.” And I certainly don’t want to eliminate the term “feminist” from the conversation, I just aim to make people less intimidated and afraid of it. “Bossy” gets an especially bad reputation on playgrounds, in class rooms, and in the context of young boys teasing young girls who don’t want to pass the crayons. FYI: They probably don’t want to pass the crayons because they are mid-masterpiece. If men can be bossy, so can women. That’s equality. That’s progress. Eliminating the term from our vocabulary does nothing to change the way we use it, perceive it, and wield it as a weapon intended to shame, censor and silence our girls. Instead of obliterating the word off the face of this earth, we need to be taking it back, making it ours again, wearing it like impenetrable armor, or like really bold purple lipstick that you have to totally commit to. Instead of banning, we need to be proclaiming, “YES, I’M BOSSY. I DO ASPIRE TO BE A BOSS ONE DAY AND THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME A BITCH. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? ARE YOU INTIMIDATED OR EMASCULATED BY MY ENTREPRENEURIAL NATURE? GET OVER IT. YOU CAN BE MY ASSISTANT WHEN I’M THE CEO OF A FORTUNE 500 COMPANY OR DIY VAGINA ZINE OR GLUTEN FREE BROWNIE EMPIRE. I PROMISE I’ll PAY YOU FAIRLY.”
For a much more comprehensive and convincing argument against the “Ban Bossy” campaign, check out Ann Friedman’s piece in New York Magazine. For a much less comprehensive and convincing argument against the “Ban Bossy” campaign, here is a list I compiled of things I think we’re better off banning than the word “bossy.” Did I miss anything?
1. Terry Richardson
2. Woody Allen
4. “Dress” Yoga Pants
5. Victim Shaming
6. Artificial Banana Flavored Candies
7. Mainstream Retail Empires That Photoshop Unrealistic Thigh Gaps Onto Their Already Impossibly Thin Models
8. Panda Express For Lunch
9. Slut Shaming
10. Sneaker Wedges
11. Men Who Keep Socks On During Sex
12. The Casual Insertion of The Word “Mélange” Into A Sentence. Just Say Mixture.
13. Censorship of this “Rape Culture” article at this Wisconsin High-School