Is “bossy” really a bad word?

Bossy

(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

by Jillian Torre

Move over “bitch,” there’s a new B-word now. Women across the country have waged war against the word “bossy.” Remember, the word you’d get called on the playground growing up if you wouldn’t let anyone else be captain during Capture the Flag? Well, now it’s back, and it’s more than just a juvenile tease.

Assertive, outspoken, and opinionated are words that might describe a male leader, or even a CEO. But what if these words were describing a female? Would we still consider her a leader, or would she be viewed as bossy?

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sanberg, along with the Girl Scouts, recently launched a campaign to “ban bossy.” The campaign website says, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ But when a littler girl does the same thing, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” The campaign also encourages young females to step up and take leadership roles.

It’s no secret that gender inequality is still an issue in the workforce. In their first year working, women earn only 82 percent of what their male counterparts earn, according to banbossy.com. But even with this inequality, why is there a double standard for how people are portrayed? Shouldn’t assertive, outspoken, and opinionated describe a leader, regardless of gender?

Perhaps it goes back to when men worked and women stayed at home. Men were expected to be rugged, dependable, and manly, while women should be kind, caring, and motherly. If we go by these outdated stereotypes, then it would be unusual for a woman to be an assertive and successful leader. But this is 2014, not 1950. Women are allowed to work and to be the boss. So why should males and females at the top of their industries possess different qualities?

Sanberg’s campaign has brought this double standard to light, but is banning “bossy” going to fix the problem?

The First Amendment gives us the freedom of speech. If we’re going to start banning words, we should begin with more hurtful words. While “bossy” is a negative word, it most certainly is not discriminative like the hateful words used to describe ethnic groups or the LGBT community.

“Bossy” is not the issue here. The issue is that women aren’t allowed to be ambitious or driven without coming across as unlikeable, but a man with those same qualities might be called a “shark,” which is generally taken as a compliment among top executives.

But let’s not ban bossy; let’s own it. After all, the root of the word is “boss.” And isn’t that what most ambitious females aspire to be, a boss? Beyoncé, along with other powerful female celebrities, proudly stated, “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss,” in a promotional video for the campaign. Then, Tina Fey reclaimed the word in her book, “Bossypants.”

Many other communities have owned the words that were once used against them. The gays took back “queer,” and the smart kids made being a “nerd” or a “geek” cool. So why not take “bossy” back from those jealous of and intimidated by powerful women?

“Others don’t see ‘bossy’ as a bad word, but instead an adjective that connotes a certain level of attitude and control. For every story of a woman who felt oppressed by the word, there is one who proudly claims it as her own,” said a commentary on BET.com.

As a female leader on campus who hopes to one day run a company, I am frustrated by the negative connotation that surrounds ambitious females. No leader should act bossy. We should try to lead by example, and use compassion and encouragement when working with others – but not because we are females. We should try to lead a little less “bossy,” because a good leader, male or female, should lead with more respect and less intimidation.

Let’s not ban “bossy;” let’s take it back.