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What a difference a 'y' makes
March 13, 2014 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Ban Bossy : Beyonce: I'm not bossy, I'm the boss. "When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood."

Supported by LeanIn, Girl Scouts and other partner organisations, Ban Bossy provides leadership information for girls, teachers, parents, managers and troop leaders. Come for the pithy quotes and posters, share the videos with your sons and daughters, download the leadership tips, and ban 'bossy' from your vocabulary.
posted by Kerasia (136 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know if Amanda Marcotte was the first to point out that "bossy" is what we call girls who are too young to hear the word "bitch", but it's certainly apt.
posted by muddgirl at 3:45 PM on March 13 [79 favorites]


It's funny, I didn't realize how pervasive "bossy" was in my early childhood until this campaign. That was a word that really stung, and I hadn't thought at all about how much it was used as a weapon.
posted by Sara C. at 3:46 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


There was a good Ask MeFi discussion on this not long ago. Check it out.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 3:51 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I heard a radio piece about this recently and suddenly it was like I was eight or nine all over again and hearing that word.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Not everybody is a huge fan, especially of the Girl Scout pamphlet. Amy Hoy (Twitter @amyhoy) produced this annotated PDF.
posted by troyer at 3:55 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


I don't care what the gender or age of the "bossy" person is, the appropriate term to describe them is "control freak" and is not a nice quality no matter how you spin it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:56 PM on March 13 [25 favorites]


the appropriate term to describe them is "control freak" and is not a nice quality no matter how you spin it...

You are not even remotely correct.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:59 PM on March 13 [72 favorites]


Of course little kids are control freaks, though! Their brains are still developing and control is a fascinating subject for them! The fact that we call little girls "bossy" for normal childhood behavior is fucked up.

I'm not a particular fan of Lean In and I agree with criticisms of that pamphlet, but the idea that we shouldn't put girls down by calling the "bossy" seems so unobjectionable that I shouldn't be surprised that people get all up in arms about it.
posted by muddgirl at 4:02 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I'm with Jessica Roy: "...banning “bossy” also won’t eradicate the root problem that causes words like bossy and catty and bitchy to spread–mainly, that it’s common for leadership to be seen as a solely male quality. [...] Perhaps we should teach girls to embrace the word bossy, to channel their bossiness into productive methods of leadership instead of being hurt when someone calls them it. We should encourage girls to accept themselves for who they are, to be proud of their strengths, even if the boys in the classroom or the men in the boardroom try to undermine by spinning those strengths into something negative."
posted by evilmomlady at 4:03 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


This strikes me as a horrible approach to encouraging leadership in young women and girls (which I'd love to see more of). A good leader shows the way, encourages others, and shows others how they can benefit from following them. These folk chose to use the word "ban", which means telling others that they can't do something. That's one of the worst ways to lead, and I'm sorry to say, really does sound like a caricature of bossiness to me.

I can sympathize with people who were held back when they were younger by a cultural bias against women assuming leadership roles and asserting themselves, but I wish these campaingers had come up with something better.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:05 PM on March 13 [28 favorites]


Kids are bossy. Bossy is a gendered term.

Don't believe me? Have a couple of em.
posted by vapidave at 4:05 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


My friend's wife is one of the most badass women I know.. mother of three awesome kids, a great parent, and executive director of her state's youth orchestra. When I played some cuts from Beyonce's latest album I was surprised at her matter-of-fact and immediately dismissive reaction, along the lines of.. "Oh christ, so now that she's a mom she has to prove how sexy, sensual, aggressive and in charge she still is?"
posted by ReeMonster at 4:06 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Right now, NHL hall of famer Mike Bossy is in front of his computer wondering why he's trending.
posted by dr_dank at 4:06 PM on March 13 [43 favorites]


I don't care what the gender or age of the "bossy" person is, the appropriate term to describe them is "control freak" and is not a nice quality no matter how you spin it...

So what's bossy, and why is it in scare quotes there, and who defines it, and isn't the definition pretty contextual, and isn't this in part what this campaign is about?
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


A good leader shows the way, encourages others, and shows others how they can benefit from following them.

Isn't this a catch-22? If women who are good leaders are labeled bossy and dismissed, then how does being a good leader help them be recognized as a good leader?

I don't think LeanIn and the Girl Scouts want, like, an Executive Order making use of the word "bossy" punishable with a fine. It's an alliteration that gets the point across and clearly gets people talking.
posted by muddgirl at 4:09 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.”

Someone should tell my younger sister. She was known as Bossy Boots (from the Little Miss Bossy book) for a number of years, because she had a thing for giving orders to pretty much everyone from the age of 3 or 4 on. Not much has changed in that regard in the decades that have followed. Being called "bossy" as a kid doesn't seem to have held her back at all.

Also I don't remember boys getting called "leader" when they were assertive until much later in school, like the later years of high school. The boys that really asserted themselves were usually branded troublemakers.

I don't recall "bossy" being gendered either, but that may be a thing that differs among peer groups.

I think there's definitely a problem if girls aren't as interested in leading by middle school, but this seems like a fairly arbitrary thing to focus in on.
posted by Hoopo at 4:12 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


When a little boy asserts himself he's called, with few exceptions, a bully or an asshole.

Why must these things always start with a dubious grievance against society? How about just this once we focus on helping girls become leaders and not lead with how oppressed everyone is?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:15 PM on March 13 [60 favorites]


On the flip side we could start stigmatizing more boys as "bossy" as an effort to forestall future generations of mansplainers and take-charge know-nothings.
posted by GuyZero at 4:15 PM on March 13 [29 favorites]


Bossy is currently a gendered term.

It needs to be replaced with gender neutral terms or we need start using it for boys too.

Micromanaging, pushy, domineering, overbearing, bullying. All of these are totally gender neutral.

The thing that's tricky for me here is that social dominance and ordering people around should be seen as a negative trait for any child of any gender, especially in a friendship context.

Leadership is something all together different, and can be accomplished without negative dominant behavior. And of course, there is also, in a team or workplace context, such a thing as positive dominant behavior. Directive leadership, as opposed to political leadership. (political in this context meaning leadership by tacit manipulation of the social situation, not meaning political as in government).

So do we encourage girls to lead? Yes. Do we call boys and girls out on negative dominant behavior? Absolutely, and taking great care to be fair about it. It is totally possible for either a little girl or a little boy to be a bossy jerk. We have to separate that from gendered assumptions of assertiveness.

The thing that bugs me about "Ban Bossy" is that it feels like it dramatically oversimplifies the situation. And it could easily lead to excusing bad behavior in little girls if we aren't careful about how we approach the whole problem.

On the flip side we could start stigmatizing more boys as "bossy" as an effort to forestall future generations of mansplainers and take-charge know-nothings. Yes. This.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:17 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


All advertising campaigns dramatically oversimplify a situation.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:23 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


When I was a kid, it was used for peers who were a genuine pain in the ass. It is, I concede, a gendered term, though.
posted by thelonius at 4:24 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I have noticed, in visiting preschools, that behavior called "bossy" in little girls is called "rigid" in little boys. When talking about boys, teachers and parents emphasize that they're rigid because they want everyone to do it their way and get upset by deviations. With girls, they focus more on how the girl wants to be "in charge" and gets upset when people don't follow her directions. It's not, like, a huge thing, but I definitely notice that with boys the adults are talking about his frustration with his inability to get the real world to match his interior ideal and that's what makes him issue orders, while with girls they're talking about her desire for social power and control over peers.

I do think rigid is an equally uncomplimentary term, btw, and I'm very interested in the difference in emphasis. It seems to me that with girls a desire for control is more often seen as a personality trait ("bossy") while with boys it seems like "rigid" is a more medicalized term? (Preschool psychological inventories, like to identify ADHD or autism, often ask if the child is "rigid" in play or "rigid" about routines.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:26 PM on March 13 [44 favorites]


Whatever you want to call it, I think most people can do without it.
posted by jonmc at 4:28 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


There's also the question of whether gendered negative terms should be unacceptable at all.

If mansplain is valid because it happens, catty is valid too, because it happens. Gender may be a social construct, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist and manifest itself in day to day behavior.

I think there are far better ways of encouraging female leadership than banning bossy.

We could start by training PE teachers to make all their classes co-ed, and to use a log to ensure they alternate evenly between forming two teams with female captains, two teams with male captains, and one of each. Train educators to equally place girls in leadership positions in all situations and to track this in order to defeat their own biases. That will do so much more good than banning a word.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:29 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'm wrong and it was always gendered--most of my time growing up was spent with girls and women so maybe I just thought it was meant to describe a certain behaviour and never identified it being applied only to girls.
posted by Hoopo at 4:31 PM on March 13


I am really not a fan of the campaign and a piece in today's NY Mag sums up why:

Which is why it’s so frustrating to watch Lean In try to expand girls’ options by restricting the way we talk about them. It’s counterintuitive, and it makes feminists look like thought police rather than the expansive forward-thinkers we really are.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 4:32 PM on March 13 [22 favorites]


As a counterpoint - own the living shit out of bossiness.
posted by ants at 4:37 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


That will do so much more good than banning a word.

You know what? I really disagree with this.

I remember being called bossy as a little girl, and hearing other little girls called bossy. I don't think the word should have been "banned", but in this particular case, I think that hearing the way adults talk about certain kinds of behavior -- especially at the ages where "bossy" is common, though I think it's equally true with "bitchy", "slutty", etc -- really normalizes a certain way of thinking about yourself and what limitations exist for you.

The problem isn't "gendered terms exist!"

The problem is when gendered terms are used to subtly reinforce the limits placed on girls' behavior, as a group.

Now, some girls are not going to take anybody's bullshit, and you can call them bossy all day and they're still going to grow up to be CEOs.

But what about the girl who might have wanted to be a CEO, but she didn't because of what amounts to an entire lifetime of tiny cuts? Bossy just being one.
posted by Sara C. at 4:37 PM on March 13 [25 favorites]


We have gendered negative terms for male aggression too. I'm not about to call for bans on all the portman-bros (brogrammer, brocialist, etc), because they're real phenomenons. Nor will I call for a ban on meathead, nor it's feminine counterpart, bimbo.

The problem isn't "gendered terms exist!" We agree there.

The problem is when gendered terms are used to subtly reinforce the limits placed on girls' behavior, as a group.


No, the problem is when gendered terms reinforce limits placed on girls' and boys' behavior. Bitchy is as good an example as sissy is.


I'm with you on slutty. It should be as dead as "cad" is, at least in the negative context. It's particularly imbalanced in it's gender bias, because it's male counterpart, creepy, is something that is actually not OK, and because men don't get judged for promiscuity. If I had my way "slutty" would be a non gendered term with a positive connotation suggesting accomplishment.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:48 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I'd like to hear more about how stigmatizing boys will make girls into leaders.
posted by themanwho at 4:51 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


This comment has an expiration date, but bell hooks has been responding to this on Twitter for the past day or two.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:54 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


As a stay at home parent, I spend a whole lot of time on playgrounds, watching kids (girls and boys) interact, mostly of the preschool/kindergarten/first grade age.

And quite frankly, some girls _are_ bossy. Their play revolves around directing other children, especially younger ones. They are often the "mother" when they're playing house, or the one deciding everyone is going to play on the swings now.
It is not "leadership", it's being in charge. There is a difference.

If you don't like "bossy" because you think it's mean or diminishing, that's fine, I respect that.
But if so, you need to come up with a better equivalence than "courage" or "confident" because those words don't mean the same thing.
posted by madajb at 5:04 PM on March 13 [22 favorites]


MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch: "We could start by training PE teachers to make all their classes co-ed, and to use a log to ensure they alternate evenly between forming two teams with female captains, two teams with male captains, and one of each. Train educators to equally place girls in leadership positions in all situations and to track this in order to defeat their own biases. That will do so much more good than banning a word."

I think all that would happen would be that the girl captains would still be labeled "bossy" and the boy captains would be looked at as leaders. The problem isn't necessarily a lack of girls in leadership positions; it's that when they get them, they are dismissed as "bossy" when they try to actually lead.

--------

I have played sports my entire life, and been captain of my team more often than not, so have a lot of experience with leading and telling my teammates what needs to be done. I am currently on a co-ed soccer team. I play sweeper, which is the furthest back defender, right in front of the goalie. It's a very vocal position because you can see the whole field and are meant to be in control of the defense. It's a role I am very comfortable in, having played there for over 25 (gulp) years at this point. And I (female) still find myself sort of self-deprecatingly apologizing for being "bossy". The women always tell me "No, no, no, please keep telling me what to do, it's helpful!" (It's supposed to be! I'm not shouting things just to hear my own voice!) But some of the men, especially when they are new to the team, do NOT like me telling them what to do, and show it, usually by blatantly ignoring what I say and attempting weird power plays, and some have even left the team because they didn't like that they weren't going to be able to immediately step into my role.

I'm glad to be reevaluating now some of my own ingrained ideas about bossiness vs. leadership, and maybe I won't feel so bad about doing what, in a male player, would be seen as absolutely the right way to lead.
posted by coupdefoudre at 5:07 PM on March 13 [19 favorites]


madajb: "If you don't like "bossy" because you think it's mean or diminishing, that's fine, I respect that. But if so, you need to come up with a better equivalence than "courage" or "confident" because those words don't mean the same thing."

I, personally, don't think that "bossy" as a word needs to be banned or whatever, but that people could examine when and why they use it. Like you said, it does have a specific meaning that certainly applies in many cases. My sister is very bossy, and you are right, it's totally different from "leadership", "confidence," what have you. I would just hope that this conversation inspires people to really think about it next time they want to label a girl/woman as bossy and consider if she is actually being bossy, or if the same words/actions from a man would be seen as positive/"leadership".
posted by coupdefoudre at 5:12 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


when gendered terms reinforce limits placed on girls' and boys' behavior

Do you really think terms like "brogrammer" reinforce limitations on boys' behavior, though?

A huge majority of programmers are still male, despite the term.

You don't hear people going around telling young boys who are into computer stuff, "I heard you were acting like a brogrammer at Tyler's house today. Do you think that was a very polite thing to do? Next time, what would you do differently?"

(I think "sissy" is every bit as bad as "bossy", for what it's worth. But that doesn't mean "bossy" isn't a problem. I'm also pretty sure that if somebody started a PR campaign against "sissy", everybody would be in lockstep that it's a bad thing to call boys, is homophobic, damages kids' self esteem, etc.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:14 PM on March 13 [12 favorites]


I really wish they hadn't used the word "banned." They obviously are not talking about literally banning a word; but using that slogan encourages opponents to seize on that particular straw man and beat it to death.
posted by mikeand1 at 5:16 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I'm fine with using "Ban Bossy." People are always going to pick apart feminist projects for tone, so if it had another name like Bossy Hurts! or something that would have been ridiculed too. It just takes a slight bit of perception to know they're not asking for some sort of a law.
posted by sweetkid at 5:18 PM on March 13 [19 favorites]


This whole campaign doesn't sit really well with me and I'm having a hard time figuring out why. But I think some of it may come down to basically how one side is saying "Don't be bossy! Girls shouldn't be bossy!" and the other side is saying "Be bossy! Take control!". Which, to me, kind of feels like the same old story of us telling girls how they need to act. And that it's the girls' responsibility for how society treats them. Instead of working on the (admittedly, much more difficult) task of teaching society that it needs to really fundamentally change how it relates to girls (bossy or not).
posted by triggerfinger at 5:19 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I also cannot LOVE the alternative of #BossyAndProud enough.

Because while I think we do need to stop labeling little girls as "bossy", I have to admit I don't like the negative tone of the campaign.

I also like that gifset that's been going around of Beyonce saying, "I'm not bossy. I'm the boss."
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I totes have never heard a boy referred to as a "leader" or "rigid". Besides being a parent I [we] also ran a day-care.

As I stated above I do believe "bossy" is a gendered term.
posted by vapidave at 5:25 PM on March 13


From the Sacramento News and Review:

"I get the sentiment, but instead of censoring the word, why not own it? Why not challenge the notion that being considered bossy is a bad thing?
While the word has many negative synonyms—tyrannical, overpowering and ironhanded, just to name a few—it's also just another term for assertive, confident and commanding. It's just another way to describe someone unafraid to voice her opinion, take a stand and take action.
It's just another way to describe a leader.
The problem isn't the word, the problem is people who view confident, assertive and commanding girls (and women) as little more than pushy, irksome or annoying.
To be bossy means to be like a boss. And when it comes to young girls, that's a very powerful thing."

posted by jenfullmoon at 5:33 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


When do introverted girls steamrolled by domineering folks of all genders get their own best-selling book and public relations strategy?

...Oh, I guess that was Quiet. Funny, it didn't result in nearly as many news stories. Perhaps because encouraging workplaces to respect a diversity of communication styles and talents is not so easily monetizable?
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:39 PM on March 13 [21 favorites]


It seems like this campaign's premise is that you can stop using a word and the underlying idea will just disappear from society. In reality, if the idea behind a disfavored word sticks around, another word will come in to describe it, and you're back to where you started.

This is going to be true as long as people think thoughts and speak languages.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:40 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


The problem isn't the word, the problem is people who view confident, assertive and commanding girls (and women) as little more than pushy, irksome or annoying

This. It doesn't really matter what word is used, it's the sentiment behind it that holds women back. When I was growing up, my Mum used the word "targe", as in "she's such a targe" (no idea if it was a local or madeup word) and it meant the same thing: a woman who told everybody what to do in a forceful way. I knew what it meant and I knew it wasn't considered a good thing to be. A nice girl wouldn't be a targe.

So ban bossy if you want (obviously don't), but it's better just to stop telling girls - whatever words we use - that they should be quietly led.
posted by billiebee at 5:44 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I've been surprised and disappointed to see this taken quite so literally, as if they're actually trying to ban a word with some sort of force.

I never took this as being literally about banning anything, but about bringing attention to the gendered, negative terms that are used to talk about women who are assertive. (Or not, if you don't believe that happens.) It's the conversation that's sort of being had in this thread, only without the side roads into whether it's actually possible or productive to prevent other humans from uttering a word, which I don't think any sane person would suggest.

Unfortunately, #RethinkBossy is less catchy. But that's what I think they mean, and I don't think it makes feminists seem like "thought police." I mean.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:44 PM on March 13 [25 favorites]


And quite frankly, some girls _are_ bossy. Their play revolves around directing other children, especially younger ones. They are often the "mother" when they're playing house, or the one deciding everyone is going to play on the swings now.

So a girl being relegated to 'mother' and then using that to her advantage is a fault in her personality, and nothing at all to do with society? When she's emulating the way parents control and corral children?

Because when my nephew shouts that 'he's the bad guy now' that is exactly the same sort of bossiness we're talking about, but it's part of the game if you're a boy, evidence of serious personal failure if you're a girl.

I've been musing on rule-breaking with my daughter - she's a follower, for the most part, until you brush up into one of her iron-clad zones. And then she's a brick fucking wall, with Gandhi like non-violence. So we've been talking about the times that breaking rules is okay - basically, if you have to run in a no-running zone to help someone, if you've gotta scream loud to help someone, that sort of thing. But she gets 'bossy' if she talks about those rules with kids who are breaking them. She's bossy if she tells her nephews to stop digging up my yard - which, y'know, they shouldn't fucking be doing but please, adults in charge, focus on her bossiness instead of the holes in the ground where we walk. Because the problem is, obviously, that she shouldn't be telling the other kids what to do.

Even though she's this quiet, rule-following, highly internalised kid, she still gets bossy if she dares to express herself.

Her girl cousin has this habit of correcting everyone, telling people exactly what to do, and christ it's annoying since half the time she's dead wrong. That's obnoxious, and irritating, but I still refuse to call her bossy because that word? What it means? Is stupid and just wrong. I'll teach her about research and how to talk to people and how to let things go, but I'm not gonna tell her to be quiet and let everyone else talk and make the decisions. Like it or not, these little girls are growing up in highly gendered environments and are treated differently and are socialised differently and we do need to combat that if we want anything to change, if we want to stop stifling kids with stupid arcane rules about gender.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:46 PM on March 13 [37 favorites]


Part of the problem is that, since it's a term used to talk about little girls, who have pretty limited agency and are often still just on the verge of being verbal and having a sense of self, it's not super helpful to "reclaim" as a term.

I can reclaim it and say, "I'm bossy and proud," as like a large and in charge professional woman.

But a preschooler doesn't really have that power. And, sadly, that preschooler's authority figures are probably not going to be using it in a positive way.

I think bossy and proud is great for adults, and definitely helps reinforce the fact that it's not a term you want to tar your preschool age daughter with.

But if we're aiming a campaign at parents, teachers, etc. as opposed to ourselves, I think "stop calling the little girls in your charge bossy" is totally apropos.

And, again, if we were talking about "sissy", there would be no disagreement.
posted by Sara C. at 5:47 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


coupdefoudre
I would just hope that this conversation inspires people to really think about it next time they want to label a girl/woman as bossy and consider if she is actually being bossy, or if the same words/actions from a man would be seen as positive/"leadership".

My practice on all this stuff is just not to use these kinds of words (bossy, brat, what have you) around the children themselves.
If you're bitching in a text message to another parent, "Man, my kid is bossy today", that's fine and I think most parents would know exactly what you meant.
But saying to your child, "You know, you're a real brat" is to be avoided.
(As much as you can, of course, none of us are perfect)

Basically, don't judge the kid, judge the actions.
posted by madajb at 5:51 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


instead of censoring the word, why not own it?

Yes, it worked so well for blacks and what is now known as The N Word. NOT.

I just suspect this started out as a movement against the word "Bitch" that got watered down in order to include the Girl Scouts.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:52 PM on March 13


To be bossy means to be like a boss.
In my experience growing up in the 1960s-80s, the term bossy was a put down because it meant that the bossy girl didn't know her place. Her place was not to be a boss, but to be a follower and to defer to those who should rightly be the boss (ie: people with penises).

I think what this campaign is trying to do is let girls and women know that it is their place to be a boss, just as much as it is a male's place.

The word 'bossy' is used as a catch-all put-down and it implies many things. Sure, some young girls love to lead the show and tell everyone else what to do. If it's a problem they can be told that they are being domineering or controlling or overly demanding. These are exactly the same words as one could tell a boy doing the same thing.

But when a girl is being assertive of her wishes, needs and wants and is told she is 'bossy' as a put down, she is being told that her wishes, needs and wants should be subservient to those in authority who have the right to determine or limit those wishes, needs and wants. In many cases, society generally allows boys and men that sort of authority ahead of girls and women. So all in all, I think this campaign is a good idea if it can encourage girls and women to embrace their own power of self-determination. Whether that means reducing the use of the word bossy, or reclaiming it as a talisman of power is neither here nor there in my opinion.
posted by Kerasia at 5:52 PM on March 13 [18 favorites]


We could start by training PE teachers to make all their classes co-ed, and to use a log to ensure they alternate evenly between forming two teams with female captains, two teams with male captains, and one of each.

Wait, are PE classes in US schools not co-ed? Huh. My schools growing up in Australia weren't exactly progressive, but this was pretty standard practise (well, no teachers kept a "log," they just had typically gave one team a male captain, the other female). It was also pretty standard for there to be one male, one female version of most leadership positions (school captains, house captains, etc).

I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the ban versus celebrate "bossy" debate, but either way, I think the most important thing is that we're talking about it, and hopefully more adults will now think twice about the word and the message it sends.

I was a not particularly gender-conforming little girl, so I have thought plenty in my life about the way I was treated and spoken to because of my gender, but the "bossy" thing never really occurred to me. Thinking back though, I can think of so many occasions where other little girls (I didn't get "bossy" so much personally) were chastised for being "bossy" in situations where it would have been considered fine -- even endearing -- had it been a boy.
posted by retrograde at 5:52 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I just suspect this started out as a movement against the word "Bitch" that got watered down in order to include the Girl Scouts.

Is there a formal movement against the word "bitch" though? I'm asking for real, I'm in the UK, so is there something like this, with actual campaigning and awareness raising? If not, then I think this might just be stand alone, rather than a watered down kid version. For me, "bitchy" and "bossy" don't mean the same thing.
posted by billiebee at 6:03 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I really had never considered before reading this that "bossy" is exclusively applied to girls, but it totally is, like to the degree that "spry" is exclusively applied to old people. Anyway, I like this campaign, I think it will get people talking and thinking (which, come on, is all it realistically can be aiming to do) and I wish it weren't so predictable that every time a new feminist issue comes to the fore, some sizable amount of people will attack the tone of the medium rather than facing the issue at hand. (Though I'm sure I'm as guilty of that as anyone - no judgments here, I just wish it didn't happen all the time.)
posted by Navelgazer at 6:15 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Wait, are PE classes in US schools not co-ed?

This is going to vary hugely. I went to public and private schools in Hawaii and the Northeast, and none of mine had single-sex PE classes, but that's not going to be true in every school/district/grade.
posted by rtha at 6:18 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


never had PE classes segregated by gender in Northern Virginia public schools.
posted by sweetkid at 6:21 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


But I think some of it may come down to basically how one side is saying "Don't be bossy! Girls shouldn't be bossy!" and the other side is saying "Be bossy! Take control!". Which, to me, kind of feels like the same old story of us telling girls how they need to act.

I don't really get that sense from the campaign materials. I think it's like you say later in your comment, ...working on the (admittedly, much more difficult) task of teaching society that it needs to really fundamentally change how it relates to girls (bossy or not). The point isn't (shouldn't be?) that being outspoken/extroverted/"leadership-oriented"/confident is what girls "should" be, but that girls exhibiting that trait are generally

I do kind of have mixed feelings on "Encourage Girls to Lead" as part of the slogan and the involvement of LeanIn (which is an organization now, I guess?), because I have issues with 1. how Lean In glossed over the systematic challenges that women (especially working mothers) face, couching these as being surmountable with sufficient ambition and hard work (the dark flip-side of which is to perpetuate the idea that women who feel justifiably overwhelmed by the pressure to "have it all" or object to the obstacles and sacrifices that are put upon them just don't want it enough) and 2. the general fetishization of "leadership" in management/consulting culture. BUT, I do not think those objections change the fact that "bossy" is applied to girls in a way that it's not applied to boys. Because girls aren't supposed to act too strong-willed; girls are supposed to prioritize other people's comfort over their own.
posted by kagredon at 6:21 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Yes, it worked so well for blacks and what is now known as The N Word. NOT.

It's worth noting that plenty of black people think quite differently on that point and cheerfully use the word.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


[Comment deleted. For this conversation to go well at all there needs to be a minimum of snotty self-righteous commentary. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:28 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Strictly anecdata: when my two sons are trying to order each other (or other people) around, I call them bossy. It never occurred to me as being gendered at all.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:34 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


I wonder if part of the discrepancy between how little boys and little girls are viewed when they act this way is determined by boys' (fairly common, not universal) tendency to hit. Like, if that's your baseline for inappropriately domineering/bullying behavior in boys, but for girls it's "telling other kids what to do," (and it seems like it is) then it could go a long way towards explaining how this concept has kept on trucking for so long, even with people who are all about empowerment.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:45 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


instead of censoring the word, why not own it?

So BossyWalk coming soon?
posted by shothotbot at 6:49 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Before this thread, right BEFORE this thread, I had never ONCE considered bossy to be anything other than something you use when any kid, boy or girl, is being...bossy. Like telling other kids what to do and then becoming upset when they don't. People called me - a boy! - bossy when I was a kid. Among other things!

Ok, well, here we are I guess. No more bossy then.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 6:56 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Speaking of "Like a boss" I have a friend who works for Beyonce. Apparently she is an awesome awesome employer. This has been Vague Positive Rumor minute. Tune in next time for what type of spice Brad Pitt smells of!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:58 PM on March 13 [13 favorites]


Brad told Jlaw he has more of a musk so it must be some kind of really heavy spice.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 7:00 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I had never ONCE considered bossy to be anything other than something you use when any kid, boy or girl, is being...bossy. Like telling other kids what to do and then becoming upset when they don't. People called me - a boy! - bossy when I was a kid.

Is it conceivable--not likely, mind you, but minimally bloody possible--that people who have posted in this thread about their experience with the word when they were girls have a different perspective than yours for legitimate reasons?
posted by kagredon at 7:02 PM on March 13 [16 favorites]


I've noticed recently that our society has become totally "soft on bosses," and this is just the latest sign of that. People who are assertive and domineering and inflexible are assholes. Yeah, they're more likely to be successful, but they're also assholes, and way fewer people like being around them.

I'm obviously all for equal treatment, but if this is the battleground, the approach shouldn't be encouraging young women to be just as shitty as young men. It should be to stop encouraging young people, in general, to be domineering and shitty. And I'm very aware that to some degree, our society needs bossy types, because they help the rest of us get shit done. But some people are just going to be that way no matter what, and I think it would be useful for us, as a society, if we all just acknowledged that those people are damaged and bound to be forever less happy than the rest of us, so by all means let's keep paying them a little bit more to help compensate for their unsatisfying careers and joyless personal lives. And in the meantime, let's stop lying to our children about management being something to aspire to.

I guess it's kind of like how no one who wants to become president should be allowed to take office, because that person is almost certainly mentally ill. The ideal should be the successful entrepreneur whose business has grown so much that he (or she) has to hire people and reluctantly become a boss to help it continue to grow, the whole time saying to himself (or herself) "I gotta make sure I'm not an asshole about this."
posted by incomple at 7:02 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I wonder if part of the discrepancy between how little boys and little girls are viewed when they act this way is determined by boys' (fairly common, not universal) tendency to hit. Like, if that's your baseline for inappropriately domineering/bullying behavior in boys, but for girls it's "telling other kids what to do," (and it seems like it is) then it could go a long way towards explaining how this concept has kept on trucking for so long, even with people who are all about empowerment.

This is something I see a lot and it's really starting to irritate me. As in "fuck this, we're going home" irritation level. Little boys, if you actually watch them in an ethnographic/activity data recording sense, engage in just as much name calling, social exclusion and emotional viciousness as little girls. It doesn't get policed the same way, or treated the same way (crying if your brother calls you names is being a sissy, obviously...) and so little boys engage in a LOT of it while learning that what they're doing is utterly unremarkable and thus normal.

Simultaneously little girls are told, explicitly, that inter-social emotional violence is their stock in trade AND why they're awful. Since little boys just hit each other and move on* and little girls are just mean. While being pounced on the moment they try and direct the play, or disengage from it when they don't want to play any more, or refuse to play with another child for some reason. We tell them 'these are your tools' and then deride them for it. Use your voice, unless it's to tell someone what to do. Use kind words, unless you're telling someone what to do. Ask nicely, but not too often or for too much. Obey the rules but never tell another person to do it too. Don't play with people who are mean, but never tell them what to do because that's mean. Don't wreck someone's things but never ever show you're upset either and tell them not to.

The issue isn't that it's shitty behaviour, it's that it is perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour unless there's a little girl doing it, because then she's bossy and mean and needs to learn to be nice, above all things.

*Let's just think about the ramifications of that - it's good to take a punch from a loved one without complaining or avoiding or in any other way reacting to their violence. That's a standard being held up as good social skills and something little girls should emulate and aspire to.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:04 PM on March 13 [37 favorites]


Wow, I don't really care for your tone, Kagredon.

This bossy campaign surprised me because I am in charge of a young seven year old girl and I DO and HAVE used that word to describe her and admonish her. I don't want to do things that hurt her and it always sneaks up on me that I have so much more to learn to deal with than I thought.

Is it conceivable--not likely, mind you, but minimally bloody possible--that I was trying to approach this subject in a respectful way and not discount others perspectives?
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 7:07 PM on March 13 [19 favorites]


Strictly anecdata: when my two sons are trying to order each other (or other people) around, I call them bossy. It never occurred to me as being gendered at all.

Yeah...

See 2011's Franklin is Bossy

2007's Bossy Bear

1984's Bartholomew the Bossy

or 1991's Bossy Steven

...for a start.

The word's definitely getting use for both males and females.
posted by Jahaza at 7:09 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


I was trying to approach this subject in a respectful way and not discount others perspectives?


with this?

People called me - a boy! - bossy when I was a kid. Among other things!
posted by sweetkid at 7:10 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Well, ok, I screwed up. I was trying to make a joke and it was inappropriate. Sorry. It just really bugs me a lot that you're assuming bad faith on my part so zealously.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 7:12 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Leadership is not the same thing as telling everyone else what to do. The fact that many so-called bosses, apparently including the people behind this campaign, don't understand this is a large part of why so many workplaces are such terrible places to earn a living. If you're constantly commanding people, you're doing it wrong.

Children can be forgiven for this kind of behavior, but it must be discouraged by their caregivers lest it fester. Adults should know better, but not very many do.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:13 PM on March 13 [24 favorites]


I wonder if part of the discrepancy between how little boys and little girls are viewed when they act this way is determined by boys' (fairly common, not universal) tendency to hit. Like, if that's your baseline for inappropriately domineering/bullying behavior in boys, but for girls it's "telling other kids what to do," (and it seems like it is) then it could go a long way towards explaining how this concept has kept on trucking for so long, even with people who are all about empowerment.

No, the appropriate counterpart baseline for girls is the use of social viciousness, cliqueyness and grudges as a weapon. When you're 10, that can hurt as much as a punch in the nose, and perhaps be more traumatic.

Look, the fundamental problem here is that "bossy" can be used to condemn assertiveness and it can also be used to condemn bossiness. That's why I keep coming back to thinking it's a bad idea to base a campaign on condemning a word, rather than encouraging real leadership from girls and respect for that leadership.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:14 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


This bossy campaign surprised me because I am in charge of a young seven year old girl and I DO and HAVE used that word to describe her and admonish her. I don't want to do things that hurt her and it always sneaks up on me that I have so much more to learn to deal with than I thought.

Fair enough, Our Ship. But no, honestly, I didn't get that sense from your original comment, which read like a fairly blithe dismissal of the premise of the campaign.
posted by kagredon at 7:33 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


So aside from all the nit-picking about "ban" (for real people, it's just for alliteration), I think my main reason for being "meh" about this is it just seems so ... ill-targeted and unmeasurable. The Girl Scouts are involved which I guess is good, but most girls are getting messages about their "place" in society in schools, churches, day cares, the media, etc. Sure, there's a pamphlet for teachers, but how many teachers (who aren't already interested in this topic) are going to know about and read that pamphlet (never mind putting it into practice)? How does this campaign even measure success?

Moreover, I don't want to wait for the next generation to learn they should have an equal place in pick your favorite industry or societal role. I want to start pushing on that stuff now, but I know from experience that there are very real, practical things we could do to make that easier for women NOW. We could be pushing for better parental leave polices, flexible work systems, for companies to actually train people with hiring and promotion responsibilities in unconscious bias, for a better social safety net and so on. Instead, we're spending lots of flash on ... maybe improving the self-images of kids. I'm all for that, but I want that other stuff. It's hard not to see Lean In in general as not caring much about that because the emphasis has been so much on what individuals can do to "take" what they want, rather than on actually using policy and government to correct inequities in how our society is ordered. Even better, improving the lot of women NOW would actually provide better and more role models for that next generation, which actually helps to achieve the goal for a campaign like "ban bossy".

Or upon re-reading, I want feminist social campaigns that are focused on concrete, achievable goals that result in real improvements for people now. Kind of like how I see Obamacare as a feminist law: for all its flaws, it means more parents have a better shot of being able to take care of their kids without worrying as much about how to pay for it (and maybe can chose to take another job because they don't have to worry about losing healthcare).
posted by R343L at 7:38 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


"Tune in next time for what type of spice Brad Pitt smells of"

AnJolie.
posted by vapidave at 8:04 PM on March 13


The Problem with the "Ban Bossy" Campaign
posted by crossoverman at 8:22 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I wish a few more people would RTFA (or RTFPamphlets). I'm a bossy girl made good. I'm smart, naturally assertive and vocal, and self-confident. I've taken on significant leadership roles in my adult life, I like being in charge of things and people, I've only become more assertive and strong-willed, and even people who currently want to light me on fire (extremely ugly political campaign) admit that I'm a kind and sympathetic person.

There is a big difference between, say, my loving and sympathetic mother who created an environment in which I was always supported saying to 8-year-old me, "You're being bossy" when I was behaving in socially unacceptable ways and helping me to figure out how to temper my assertiveness with empathy and understanding of other people's desires and motivations and needs; and a teacher (say) snapping at 8-year-old me, "Don't be bossy!" when I complained that girls weren't getting any turns at playground kickball; or when I was clashing with a boy over a group project and I was getting made fun of for having opinions and the boy was wielding HIS social power to get the group to make fun of me for caring, and I got told "Don't be so bossy!" as if that would solve the problem.

Other people have commented in this thread about how that word brings back a rush of memories of being called "bossy," and for me too: I feel this needle-prick of shame because I have such vivid memories of the word being used not just to admonish me to Be A Better Human but also to shut me the hell up or to shame me for asserting myself.

I think the danger is because "bossy" can be used lovingly and gently by people who love and support you and have confidence in you to help you learn to be, you know, not a jerk, it can become easy for people who want to diminish girls to use "bossy" to shut little girls down and have plausible deniability that they're just helping them learn to Be Better Humans. My mother called me "bossy" more than anyone else in the world did -- I remember that -- but it didn't hurt when she called me bossy the way it hurt when some of my teachers did, because my mother (and some of my "good" teachers) were helping me learn not to be a domineering jerk, while some of my ("bad") teachers were using it to force me to be a follower with no opinion of her own. My mother was trying to help me learn to use my natural talents in ways that would help me get my message through to other people; my "bad" teachers were trying to stifle my natural talents and silence my voice.

That is the danger with this kind of language; it can be used in neutral or even helpful ways, but it can also be used to hurt and silence. I think that's the real point of this campaign (if you RTFAs), to get parents and educators thinking about how they're using the word and to evaluate whether they're really helping girls become better, more empathetic leaders, or whether they're using it to express really negative cultural stereotypes about assertiveness in women. And also to help bossy little girls, like Tiny Eyebrows, understand why sometimes "bossy" seems like a fair criticism and why sometimes it seems shameful, that people can be using it to help or to hurt. That is confusing, and it can help even very little children (and certainly junior-high-aged children and older) to think about the cultural implications of words and why sometimes they're okay and sometimes they aren't.

And, look, it worked out for me. I'm a fairly successful adult human (so far), but I had the advantage of loving, supportive, feminist parents and a largely supportive social environment. Not every girl has that, and little girls whose parents are not so overtly feminist, or who are neglectful, or who live in a social environment where girls are unsupported in leadership roles, they may feel that sting of "bossy" and retreat and become more and more unsure of themselves. One thing that I've learned from AskMe is that my parents' ability to navigate the world socially made a huge big difference for me; they helped me learn to both assert myself appropriately AND be sensitive to other people's needs, and 75% of human relations AskMes are about either "I cannot assert myself" or "I have no idea what goes on in other people's heads." I don't say that to be flippant; those are seriously hard things to learn and I don't know how you learn them without reasonably successful-at-social-life adults to teach them to you. I think people forget (because they are so young when it happens) that good parents actually spend a lot of time spelling that shit out and helping their children interpret and forecast emotional weather. I see people in AskMe who are SO much like me, have similar attitudes and personalities and strengths and weaknesses, who had unsupportive families and who are painfully unsure of themselves and have trouble interacting in the world, and I think, these are the same fears and worries I have, and if my parents hadn't taught me how to cope with them, I wouldn't know how to handle these same sorts of things. It is awesome that so many of us Bossy Girls have succeeded in life because we're self-confident, assertive individuals, and we are the girls you hear from as we become adult women. But I know (I've seen!) that a lot of Bossy Girls retreat and get scared and become muddled because they're told NOT to be assertive, NOT to have self-confidence, NOT to lead, NOT to speak, and those are the girls #BanBossy is trying to help.

Okay I seriously did not know I had so many Feelings on a campaign about a word that doesn't actually bother me that much, but apparently I do. :) I apologize for the novel but I feel like a lot of commenters here aren't getting how much the word "bossy" can be used to hurt and control little girls while simultaneously being relatively benign at least some of the time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on March 13 [53 favorites]


i really love beyonce's new record. it's been in near constant rotation in my ears since the day it came out. i love the vague celebrity rumor that she's a nice boss.

i love love love the video of her new zealand crew doing the haka and her returning in kind.
posted by nadawi at 9:00 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.”

Really?
posted by John Cohen at 9:32 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I don’t want to #banbossy. But I will #affirmassertive puts some of my doubts about this campaign. Ban Bossy is a great marketing slogan with the easy alliteration, but it's a negative about overlapping circles of behaviour. Bossy is definitely gendered, but it's not as gendered as bitch, and it's not as gendered as it used to be.

The campaign just seems like a wasted opportunity to encourage identifying leadership in girls and language that celebrates a range of leadership profiles, not just traditional male-gendered type leadership, into an easy slogan that plays right into the whole "Oh those PC-language police feminists are at it again."

Just a waste of time and energy for a real problem, that will benefit few people but have plenty of positive buzz for the Lean-In people.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:44 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I was frequently called bossy as boy, especially by my siblings. Also "poppy" which was equally dismissive, also about clumsily wielding unearned power.

To be fair, I was a bossy little shit.
posted by msalt at 11:03 PM on March 13


When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a “leader.”

Really?


This just in: libertarian hates people bossing him around
posted by Hoopo at 11:10 PM on March 13


i was called bossy and a bully by bossies & bullies.
the answer is communication, NOT fearmongering censorship campaigns.
this is the charity that the agents greenlighted for beyonce & celeb?
i can see the good intention, but the message needs better communication & less snappy bossy bully quick fix censorship.
posted by Israel Tucker at 11:37 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


As always, attempting to ban words, or even to "ban" them, is wrong-headed, stupid, illiberal and counter-productive.
posted by Decani at 1:12 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


As always, people take things literally which aren't intended as such. Try a little nuance in your diet.

It seems to me that a lot of women find this to be a worthy but tricky-to-handle cause, while a lot of men can't understand why it's needed. It's another one where men should actually listen to what women are saying instead of assuming that something they haven't experienced must not exist.
posted by harriet vane at 3:23 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]


By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood.

I work in an industry that is made up of nearly 75% women. My work group recently had a chance to volunteer to attend training for a leadership role at work, and the class was only about 1/3 women. As shaky as this campaign's phrasing may be, I think it's critical to get out more messaging like this to girls and women.

I feel like I have a unique perspective on things like this, being an FTM transguy who also attended an all-girls high school. I've always been a natural leader, and eager to head groups, supervise things, and take on responsibility. I got a lot of negative messages about it from my classmates and plenty of adults as a young kid. Since I transitioned and began to live as male, I've never once felt that negativity when jumping at the chance for a leadership opportunity.

I have to also say, despite the obvious oddness of being a transguy who went to all-girls high school, there may be few things better for girls' self-esteem and leadership building than all-girls schooling. Team leaders, class representatives, valedictorians? All young women. It's really an amazingly empowering environment where literally every opportunity is available to you as a girl. I had classmates who I'd been in school with for eight years at that point and had never heard speak in class suddenly raising their hand with an opinion on the daily.

I can only hope for more messaging like this for girls. Although I'd like the campaign to be shifted into a more affirmative style, the content and basis for it is so important.
posted by jaksemas at 3:54 AM on March 14 [17 favorites]


i love love love the video of her new zealand crew doing the haka and her returning in kind yt .

Cringe. Someone really should have briefed her on how to handle a Haka challenge. You are meant to accept the Haka, not join in. Returning in kind like that can be taken as a deliberate provocation. Imitating the chant with grunting noises is... weird. And women have different versions of the Haka to the mens version, she shouldn't be doing a male stance.

But people love Beyonce, so they let it slide.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 4:47 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


My 13 yr old, 6 ft tall, home schooled daughter is a complete badass..... She's articulate, engaging, bright, and a natural, confident leader.... She has always been bossy, I have used that term in the past to try and temper her when she was overstepping her bounds and I'll probably will use it, with more care, in the future. I agree with Eyebrows above that any word can be used to hurt but that some words, used in context and in a loving supportive way can be used to steer a child to think about a better way to sway their talents for the common good. The home school co-op my girl attends is currently recreating a medieval royal court to learn more about the period. I must run to help the Queen Regent find her crown that her also bossy, 6 year old brother stole and hid in his fort yesterday afternoon... Off with his head...
posted by pearlybob at 5:29 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


it's sort of hilarious that in this specific thread someone would even try the argument that beyonce was improperly assuming a male stance.
posted by nadawi at 6:26 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that a lot of women find this to be a worthy but tricky-to-handle cause, while a lot of men can't understand why it's needed. It's another one where men should actually listen to what women are saying instead of assuming that something they haven't experienced must not exist.

We agree, it's a worthy but tricky-to-handle cause. Pointing out problems with the approach isn't always concern trolling. Sometimes it's criticism in good faith.

Leadership shouldn't be a gendered virtue. Using "bossy" or like words just to dispirit a child or put her down is fucking horrid, but making words verboten (and that's how this whole thing is framed) is a superficial nonsolution to the worthy goal of raising children whose confidence, curiosity, and creativity are nurtured to give their assertiveness constructive form.
posted by echocollate at 6:43 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Strictly anecdata: when my two sons are trying to order each other (or other people) around, I call them bossy. It never occurred to me as being gendered at all.

Forget it, they're on a roll.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:01 AM on March 14


Until I see actual proposed legislation, I'm going to assume that they're talking about banning the word from your own vocabulary or at least thinking twice about how and why you use it.

There are a lot of ways that our subtle biases work their way into our language and perpetuate the social order. Bossy is a thing, and an annoying thing that needs to be called out sometimes, but if we are ONLY calling little girls out on it, we obviously have a double standard at work that we need to examine and reconsider. It's probably more effective to spell out the behavior that needs to be corrected, rather than just name calling, anyway.

Why do we disproportionately call girls bossy? Why do we perpetuate the idea that girls gossip and are passive aggressive and catty? None of these behaviors are at all exclusive to girls and women. Boys and men do them all the time, but nobody seems to notice or call them out when they do it, because they're so gendered I think we don't even recognize the behaviors as such when boys and men display them.

Language makes a huge difference in the way we perceive and relate to other people, and it is always worth examining the way we apply our language to different people. If we find ourselves using non-gender related terms in a gendered way, we probably do need to take a close look at why we do that and decide whether that's something we really want to be doing.

I feel the same way about the word 'sassy.' It's a heavily biased term, disproportionately applied to black women, old women, little girls, and gay men. It's an incredibly dismissive term used usually to describe someone of lower social status 'backtalking' in an amusing and ineffectual manner. It's almost always gross and dismissive, and I really wish we could talk about that, too. It's not just about the word. The word is just a word, but that word indicates a really big problem with our perceptions.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:05 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]


I feel the same way about the word 'sassy.' It's a heavily biased term, disproportionately applied to black women, old women, little girls, and gay men.

It's funny you mention this, because far more than bossy -- which I got on occasion, but it wasn't my chief personal failing as a child -- when I was little the default criticism was "sassing" or "talking back" or "running your mouth".

As a little girl I actively got spanked and otherwise disciplined (in ways girls typically aren't for bossy behavior) by my parents for "sassing".

I don't think this particular mode of silencing girls is as easy to whip into a PR campaign as bossy is, but it's another one that needs to really be re-evaluated by parents and other people who work closely with young children.
posted by Sara C. at 8:57 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


> the problem is people who view confident, assertive and commanding girls (and women) as little more than pushy, irksome or annoying

I view confident, assertive and commanding anybody as pushy, irksome, and annoying, and go far out of my way to avoid such people. This includes little girls with those qualities. None of my friends of any age or sex are master sargeants.
posted by jfuller at 9:06 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


really? So you just spend time with the most passive people possible? I guess that's true for a lot of people but personally I find it annoying as hell. "What do you want to do?" "Whatever" "Ok should we do this?" "If you want"

Uggh indecision is one of the most irritating things ever. I welcome confidence and assertiveness. Commanding can be a positive or negative depending on the context.
posted by sweetkid at 9:10 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Why is a cow called "Bossy"?

'Bossy is a general name for a cow, just as Dobbin refers to a horse and Tabby to a cat. The Latin word for ox or cow is bos, and it is probable that the first person to call a cow Bossy was equipped with both a knowledge of Latin and a sense of humor. Some authorities, however, suppose the term to be related in origin to the dialectic English word boss calf, a young calf. In the Teutonic languages there is a root word variously spelled bos, boose and buss, which means barn, stall or crib. The thought is originally a boss calf was a calf kept in a barn or stall as distinguished from one grazing at large and that bossy as applied to a cow is derived from the same source.'

Relatedly: Bossy the Cow
posted by chavenet at 9:19 AM on March 14


I have always seen 'bossy' as a gender-neutral word. I (female) remember thinking of both boys and girls as bossy when I was a child. I see bossiness as a different concept than leadership: there's an element of coercion, rather than convincing people to follow you voluntarily. I don't like when anyone of either gender tries to force me to do something. I completely agree that we need to encourage more female leadership. I just see 'bossiness' as a distinct concept and not a positive thing.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:48 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


It makes me pretty sad that this is the first really high-profile, well-funded, mainstream campaign I have seen that explicitly aims to get more young women into leadership positions and educate instructors and parents about the gendered issues that do and will affect some of them in that role, and all we can do is nitpick the living shit out of it.

It's fine if you don't like the slogan or you think their pamphlet design is lame, but I hope we can agree that starting conversations about the double standards applied to girls and women (and the way our language reflects those standards) is still a pretty good thing.
posted by annekate at 10:28 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that a lot of women find this to be a worthy but tricky-to-handle cause, while a lot of men can't understand why it's needed. It's another one where men should actually listen to what women are saying instead of assuming that something they haven't experienced must not exist.

I see several women and men in this topic who don't accept the basic premise that only girls are called bossy, or that little martinet boys are praised as "leaders." Interestingly, many of us who dissent are parents who have spent a lot of time recently on playgrounds observing kids.

Yes, mainsplaining and dismissing women's concerns happens a lot, but I honestly feel like you're trying to shoehorn something completely different here into that paradigm.
posted by msalt at 10:44 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


This campaign isn't going to change the world. Not even close. But look at all of you who are being very rational and introspective about how you would chose to help empower girls and encourage them to become leaders, more confident in their world, in place of "banning bossy." That's what this campaign is supposed to do...jump start some conversations, raise some issues--and eyebrows--and get people talking about what else can be done. It's a real problem in our society. This is just a small thing a couple of well-meaning groups are doing to try to make it better.

On second thought, and after reading up a bit: exactly what annekate says. And she said it much better!
posted by Kokopuff at 11:19 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, "bossy" was used to describe boys as well as girls - just not nearly as often. There was a whole lot of overt. "Boys will be boys, but little ladies don't do that sort of thing" going on.

We like to think we've come a long way, but my experiences working with children and from watching others with their kids lead me to suspect that very young boys' and girls' social instincts may not be quite as strong as the conditioning they're subconsciously given by even the most well-meaning of parents.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:42 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Hearty approval for (especially) the second comment by Eyebrows above. I'm conjecturing that the same pitfall exists for any description of behavior that we attempt to shorten to a brief adjective phrase. It starts as an efficient way to call out genuinely bad behavior but almost immediately gets picked up as an insult or an easy label that can be intentionally misapplied. Let's try to use our words, with an emphasis on the plural!

Of course this opens up a deeper question of the value of powerful rhetoric as opposed to careful exposition...
posted by TreeRooster at 2:33 PM on March 14


msalt: "I see several women and men in this topic who don't accept the basic premise that only girls are called bossy, or that little martinet boys are praised as "leaders." Interestingly, many of us who dissent are parents who have spent a lot of time recently on playgrounds observing kids."

I didn't say boys never get called bossy, or that the same behaviours are called leadership - I said the label bossy is disproportionately weighed against girls for behaviours that go unremarked upon in boys. From my observation on the playground and in social situations and classrooms and children's events.

It's that there is this group of nasty behaviours that can be called bossy (domineering, coercive, dismissive, mean, exploitative) but that for girls that expands out to include perfectly good traits and behaviours like confidence, leadership, assertiveness, being strong-willed or self-contained.

Just like I'm sure there are men who have and are called bitchy, or sluts, it's a word that gets disproportionately used as a means of policing behaviour that results in little girls making less and less of themselves in ways that conveniently mean they also have their agency reduced. Little boys go through a similar process (sissy, girly, wimpy) but it doesn't have the same effect on their participation in the wider world.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:00 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


"weighed against girls" Yes. "behaviours that go unremarked upon in boys" No, not even close.
posted by vapidave at 4:37 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Geek anacrhonism: I have no trouble with anything you said, that's the discussion we're having. But I wasn't responding to you. Rather, I directly quoted Harriet Vane's comment.

What bothered me was HV characterizing this thread as men not listening to, and blithely dismissing, women's valid concerns. That's not what's happening.
posted by msalt at 5:06 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


msalt: "What bothered me was HV characterizing this thread as men not listening to, and blithely dismissing, women's valid concerns. That's not what's happening."

No? I just got told, in the comment above yours, that my observations are invalid. That the experience of growing up female, growing up with a younger sister and brother, spending 90% of my professional life around children, and the rest of my adult life raising them, not to mention the research done into childhood development, gender studies, and early childhood literacy, is wrong because vapidave says so. And not just an overstatement (which I will cop, there should be an 'almost entirely' in there) but flat out wrong and not even warranting a cite or an anecdote.

I am reminded, as always, by Dale Spender's research where people will claim and swear up and down that women interrupt all the time - even when a quantitative analysis of taped conversations prove differently. That we continue, to this day, to present women as a group of chattering interrupters when, by almost any research project done, that is in fact 'not even close'.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:32 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]


When I think about all the girls I thought were "bossy" (as a girl myself), they all seemed to actually be personality disorders in training. We just didn't have the language to describe them as "sick, manipulative individuals."

There were also girls who were more healthy examples of leaders, whom others wanted to follow and even imitate. They weren't trying to manipulate other children, so they weren't "bossy."
posted by autoclavicle at 7:07 PM on March 14


There were also girls who were more healthy examples of leaders, whom others wanted to follow and even imitate. They weren't trying to manipulate other children, so they weren't "bossy."

Here's the thing, though. So much about being female in modern culture is about double-binds and damned-if-you-do bullshit.

There is always some mythical woman who is Doing It Right. But it's never you.

So, OK, we hypothesize the existence of some girls who are able to perfectly balance being "nice" and also assertive. They manage to have it all together, getting what they want and following all the rules.

But we don't hold boys to the same standard. When boys don't follow the rules, you hear the popular refrain "boys will be boys!" Nobody starts splitting hairs about how, really, there is this one boy in the class who manages to walk the line and do everything just right, and we should all try to emulate that boy. Just, yeah, boys gonna fuck up, whatcanyoudoamirite?

Why don't we ever give girls permission to fuck up? Be bossy. Talk back to your elders. Throw a tantrum. Look unkempt. So what? Girls will be girls.
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on March 14 [12 favorites]



Why don't we ever give girls permission to fuck up?


Little boys fall down and get up. Little girls fall down and pause, stunned that they've messed up. This never changes.


--Kelly Oxford.

So I was walking down the hallway at work and I overheard two women talking -" Yeah, men are more direct, and then they just move on. That's the difference." "Yeah, totally." I just shook my head. It's so depressing. The gender war is coming from inside the house.
posted by sweetkid at 8:51 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]



But we don't hold boys to the same standard. When boys don't follow the rules, you hear the popular refrain "boys will be boys!" Nobody starts splitting hairs about how, really, there is this one boy in the class who manages to walk the line and do everything just right, and we should all try to emulate that boy. Just, yeah, boys gonna fuck up, whatcanyoudoamirite?


This is so true. Most of my peers have children, and when anyone posts any pictures of boys doing anything fun, sports, sledding, making a mess, not putting pants on, ANYTHING FUN, someone will comment "boys will be boys!!" Even if it's one of my friend's husbands doing the sledding.

If it's a girl, it's a 2 year old with a purse and high heels and comments like "she's such a girl."

We're not even allowed to have any fun or do anything stupid and silly. And Sara C. you're exactly right, everyone needs to emulate the one girl who's doing it right, cool but passive, not uptight about food about also not fat, smart but not braggy about it, on and fucking on.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


No? I just got told, in the comment above yours, that my observations are invalid.

One person disagreed with another one person. That is not men (as a group) dismissing women (as a group) and their valid concerns. (Also, Vapiddave agreed with your point about the label 'bossy' being weighed disproportionately against girls. He just did not agree that boys are never, or almost never called out on it. That's not failing to listen to you or blithely dismissing you. He just disagrees.)

My point is that as many women as men are taking issue with the premise that boys are never, or rarely, chastised for being bossy. These people are almost in every case speaking from their personal experience too. That is not dismissing you, and it's not men dismissing women. It's grownups of all genders disagreeing based on their experience.
posted by msalt at 10:50 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


msalt: "One person disagreed with another one person. That is not men (as a group) dismissing women (as a group) and their valid concerns. (Also, Vapiddave agreed with your point about the label 'bossy' being weighed disproportionately against girls. He just did not agree that boys are never, or almost never called out on it. That's not failing to listen to you or blithely dismissing you. He just disagrees.)"

He (I assume he) added five words to my quote. That is not how adults disagree with each other, that's how adults dismiss another person by refusing to engage with their ideas. That's how adults dismiss an argument they don't want to have, by simply pronouncing it 'wrong' with no engagement. It is the adult equivalent of a foot stomp and turned back.

And yes, actually, he is disagreeing with my premise that 'bossy' is disproportionately applied in order to change behaviour on a gendered level - the premise (which I admit is difficult to parse given the paucity of words) of his disagreement is that little boys are in fact corrected for those 'personality disorder' style issues much more than I stated. He seems to agree that little girls are subject to the correction but not that little boys aren't (are instead called something else - which is something I also disagree with as it happens).

Like I said, there is definitely an overstatement in my comment. But vapidave doesn't even bother engaging with that, or the wider argument. I am simply pronounced wrong, and then dismissed.

I am always curious in these arguments though - what is the critical level at which one can pronounce something is an actual tendency, or common cultural artefact, or general experience? Because there seems to be this assumption that any alternative experience (regardless of how subjectively modified it may be, as per Spender's research) disproves that statement and makes it suspect, rather than those experiences being outliers, those experiences being possibly subjective and incorrect, those experiences possibly being the result of conscious choice by other parties. You've said that gender has no part in the disagreements in this thread, and some of us disagree. But can you see how your disagreement is qualitatively different to vapidave's comment? Or Fists O' Fury's? Or even Decani's and Jonmc's? Hell, your own blithe "but I call boys bossy all the time" offers your own actions as a counterpoint with very little to engage with. Stating "oh yes it is gendered" then spending the rest of the time pointing out exceptions is not actually engaging with the ideas or offering anything to discuss other than your own obviously all powerful experience.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:36 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Margaret Talbot makes an analogy in the New Yorker:
“Nerd” used to be a put-down—and it used to cover boys more often than girls. Like “bossy,” it wasn’t really that harsh, but it wasn’t nice, either. It actually had a gender dimension, too, because it called out brainy boys who were not athletic or aggressive. It was a dis of boys who lived in their heads and wore pocket protectors and ate their lunch indoors, playing chess. Just as “bossy” might be said to undermine female leadership, “nerd” might be said to have undermined male intellectualism.
I also like how she frames her objection:
Neither banning nor rebranding a single word can accomplish all that much social change. It’s not the usage of the word but the acceptance of the behavior that counts. The people behind the Ban Bossy campaign know this, and, on their Web site, they do offer some nuanced ideas, unrelated to the word “bossy,” for encouraging girls to be leaders. (The Girl Scouts organization was good at that already.)
posted by daveliepmann at 3:58 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. If you don't want to seem like you are trolling, you need to do better than make blanket statements about many women being bullies, etc., etc. If you believe bullying by women has become a serious problem, you need to show evidence of some sort, not just throw it out there like gasoline on a fire.]
posted by taz at 5:47 AM on March 15


The problem with comparisons to terms like "nerd" is that these are terms typically used of older people, not preschool and early elementary aged children.

Someone who is four years old cannot build an entire alternative community and gradually come to outnumber non-bossy people over a couple of generations due to complex cultural and technological forces outside the control of any one individual.

We're not talking about words like slut, bitch, nerd, or queer. We're talking about terms that adults use to teach small children how to understand their place in society.
posted by Sara C. at 7:52 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


What Has Lean In Done for You Lately? (SLValleywag)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:22 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


geek anachronism: I think the difficulty with gender discussions is that everyone is personally involved, so personal experience IS always valid data (though anecdata that we naturally overvalue) and people are constantly taking statements personally (esp. the "girls do this, boys do that" stuff).

I didn't say gender plays no role in the discussion here, I just objected to the blanket (and now cliched) "See, boys aren't listening and they're dismissing us AGAIN." And you weren't the one who said it. The issue isn't whether men dismiss women, of course some -- maybe many -- do. But not all women here are an "us", not all men act the same, and I see women dismissing other women too.

But that's the difficulty with gender, specific comments often get taken generally, and vice versa.

There's a lot of valuable nuance getting lost as a result: what is bossiness (e.g. Donald Trump) vs. real leadership? What about generational shifts? (Most people here are talking about their childhood, 10-30 years ago) Is it different in different regions? My daughters and I both went to school in liberal neighborhoods of Portland OR. I'm guessing Dothan, Alabama -- or suburban Portland -- might be a bit different. Are we talking about adults calling kids bossy, or other kids doing so? etc. etc.
posted by msalt at 12:08 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Also, why has no one addressed the elephant in the room: Is Angelica on Rugrats truly bossy, or is she a natural leader being oppressed by the Man?
posted by msalt at 12:19 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


"the elephant in the room"?

Really?
posted by kagredon at 12:31 PM on March 15


Seriously. Very seriously.
posted by msalt at 1:41 PM on March 15


I'm pretty sure that saying "BUT WHAT ABOUT ANGELICA SURELY YOU CAN'T BE ENDORSING HER CHARACTER" is trolling in effect if not in name, especially since this thread hasn't really been about fictional portrayals of female characters, so it's not exactly like the lack of mention has been an obvious/deliberate oversight, much less an "elephant in the room". I will probably regret answering this "very seriously", because I don't think it was a question posed in good faith at all, but you know what, fuck it.

Pretending for a minute like it was, consider this: what are the implications of having the most prominent female character on Rugrats (Phil and Lil are the same character for all intents and purposes; Suzie is closer to an actual second female character, but she appears way less frequently than Angelica and the two are posed in competition in a way I will detail in a moment) be that kind of "bossy girl" archetype? Rugrats is centered primarily around the Chuckie/Tommy friendship, but given the ages of the characters, there's no good reason why the primarily relationship of the show has to be a homosocial one; either one of them could've been made a girl without substantially altering the tone or substance of the show.

If nothing else, the idea that Angelica is memorable and archetypical enough for it to be a relevant that whether she is "truly bossy, or [a] natural leader being oppressed by the Man?" (ugh) is something that is at stake in this thread puts the lie to the idea that some people (though not msalt, to his credit) have been advancing that there is no gendered aspect or stereotype associated with "bossy".

"But what about Suzy?" You ask. Yes. What about Suzy, the slightly-older girl who is portrayed as demure, kind, patient? What about Suzy who eclipses Angelica at every opportunity? To be clear, I'm not saying that being demure, kind, or patient are not positives, or that they aren't present or can't be cultivated in young children. I'm saying that it's sort of weird that the character who is presented as a foil to Angelica has no real flaws and is depicted as, essentially, being better to her in every way that is portrayable (down to talent, in fact.)

This concludes my critical analysis of Rugrats. I really should've just gone to get laundry quarters like I was planning.
posted by kagredon at 2:50 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


what is bossiness (e.g. Donald Trump) vs. real leadership?

I think this gets exactly to the heart of what those of us who find "bossy" problematic see that the other camp isn't understanding.

Donald Trump is a millionaire real estate mogul and corporate CEO. The media presents him as a buffoon, and I'm sure he's no fun at all in real life. But he's the boss in almost the most literal way we understand the term.

We all hate him, but nobody questions the power he holds or his right to wield it. And we all know he got exactly where he is now by breaking rules, being an asshole, and putting his own desires above others'.

But, as a little girl, you tell one kid on the playground that it's your turn for the swings, goddammit, and suddenly you're "bossy" and need to learn to be nice, and life isn't fair, and nobody likes a tattletale.
posted by Sara C. at 3:25 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


And re Angelica and Rugrats, I think it's significant that Angelica is, for the most part, the antagonist of the series. It's two chill bros and the evil brat who makes their lives a living hell. What does that tell people who grow up watching Rugrats?

Granted I'm a bit old for the show, but I was always vaguely put off of Rugrats because of that dynamic. The only girl was an annoying shrill harpy who always ruined everyone else's fun. Ugh.
posted by Sara C. at 3:28 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I was of course being tongue-in-cheek when I said "elephant in the room" but it's an interesting example. Clearly 'bossy' was gendered in the show -- if I recall correctly I saw a promo describing her as "the bossiest little girl in the world." She's also pointedly affluent, privileged, pretty and spoiled.

At the same time, it's interesting that -- according to the link I posted -- one of the show's writers based her character based on a real-life bully he knew as a kid. And he had to fight pressure to make her nicer because "little girls aren't supposed to be mean like that." The strongest and most interesting characters in many movies and TV shows are the bad guys (and rarely bad girls). She dominated the show, that's for sure. Angelica was clearly the smartest and strongest character.

So was that pressure to make her nicer a good thing, or a bad thing? I'm honestly conflicted.
posted by msalt at 4:11 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


But, as a little girl, you tell one kid on the playground that it's your turn for the swings, goddammit, and suddenly you're "bossy" and need to learn to be nice, and life isn't fair, and nobody likes a tattletale.

It's funny, but I thought you were going in a completely different direction with this. I figured you were making a case for the difference between "bossy" and being a leader. To my mind, Donald Trump would be characterized as bossy. I see a leader as someone charismatic and self-assured who inspires others to follow him because he has a clear vision, not a petty privileged tyrant like Donald Trump.

Doesn't mean boys didn't push each other around, but it was definitely more of a one-on-one clash when it happened rather than any one boy repeatedly telling the other boys what to do. As someone else in this thread noted, girls tended to want to be the teacher or the parent in their pretend play, which is partly a socialization issue, of course.

That said, your example of a girl being called bossy for saying it is her turn on the swings is, in my opinion, a strawman. I have never seen anything like that happen*. Maybe the way the term is used is something that has changed for the better over the years already? Or maybe, as you are judging this as an adult looking back on your own childhood experiences, it felt like something close to this happened to you at the time?

Anyway, in my own experience, bossiness has overwhelmingly been a charge applied to those kids with a repeated tendency of telling other kids what to do.

I do agree that bossy tends to be a gendered term. One reason might be that boys are less likely to engage in this behavior. Doesn't mean boys don't push each other around, but whenever I witnessed conflict related to that behavior, it was in one-on-one clashes rather than any one boy repeatedly telling a group of other boys what to do. As someone else in this thread noted, girls tend to want to be the teacher or the parent in their pretend play, which is partly a socialization issue, of course.

I do specifically remember ONE example of a coach's son who wanted to order the other kids around, because it stood out at the time for being such an outlier. It was an entitlement thing, and just as obnoxious from a boy as a girl. I don't recall the term bossy being applied to him. The other kids would say stuff like, "I don't have to listen to you! You aren't the coach!" Or even just, "Shut up!" Some of the parents labelled him, "A little shit" (not in front of the kids, though).

*My bona fides, since we are requiring support for counter arguments now, apparently(?): time spent as an educator, volunteer and child's advocate, in addition to raising my own kids. My spouse coached soccer for many years as well.
posted by misha at 10:42 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


My experience has been different: "bossy" was used to describe boys, at least young ones. I don't think it was used so much of older ones, but perhaps that's because older boys tended to engage in sports or in non-social activities, where bossiness wasn't really evident. Could this sort of thing be more of a factor in mixed-gender schools?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:45 PM on March 15


Weren't family-farm cows frequently named "Bossy"? Is it cow-ist [bovine-ist, beef-ist] to try to exclude that name?
posted by telstar at 1:40 AM on March 16


"I just got told, in the comment above yours, that my observations are invalid."

Me too. And I had kids and ran a day-care and was a boy and have three sisters so I have some experience with this.

I think that some make the mistake of thinking boys are small versions of men when in fact they are children.
posted by vapidave at 2:22 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I believe family cows are called "bossy" because there is an Indo-European word meaning "cow" that entered Greek as bous, Latin as bos, and Celtic languages as buoc'h. I presume there was a bit of cross-fertilisation between Britons and Romans, and it became a pet name for a cow. The same word was used for leather, which meant that it was applied to a shield, and then to the knobs on shields, and ultimately to any swelling or protuberance. This led me to think that "bossy" meant "someone swollen with self-importance", but apparently this is not the case: that one apparently comes from the Dutch word baas, and I have no idea past that point.

But this might explain why "bossy" would be more typically associated with women: it's the word for a cow, particularly a pet cow, and one which would expect to be treated differently. I don't know if this is true: you'd have to trace it in the literature. The more natural assumption would be that the word "bossy" just comes from the word "boss" meaning "employer", or "labor chief" and as people said above: it's an unflattering term, and used to deprecate women who assume the right to direct things.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:21 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


To my mind, Donald Trump would be characterized as bossy. I see a leader as someone charismatic and self-assured who inspires others to follow him because he has a clear vision, not a petty privileged tyrant like Donald Trump.

But it doesn't matter. Because Donald Trump gets to be a bazillionaire whether he's a "good leader" or "bossy" or whatever. You can call Donald Trump bossy, and he's still going to sleep through the night on his giant pile of money. That he got by being exactly the sort of asshole you have a problem with.

But if you're a little girl, and you behave in not the most optimally perfect way? Then it's the death of a thousand cuts, and unless you're superhuman you come out the other side pretty well trained to sit down, shut up, be nice, and take what's given to you.
posted by Sara C. at 12:06 PM on March 16


Or do little girls need to learn to be assholes like Donald Trump -- and Angelica? I want a world where girls have just as much right to be rich assholes as men -- and everybody hates all of those assholes equally.
posted by msalt at 12:57 PM on March 16


Slutty and creepy aren't synonyms.

Slutty pejoratively describes one(I've seen it used referring to both women and gay men) who has lots of sex with many partners.

Creepy describes one who forces his/ her attention on another who doesn't want it.
posted by brujita at 1:12 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


vapidave: "Me too. And I had kids and ran a day-care and was a boy and have three sisters so I have some experience with this.

I think that some make the mistake of thinking boys are small versions of men when in fact they are children.
"

So how are you engaging with the fact that our perceptions and reactions of an act are gendered? And thus, your own recollections and experiences are gendered. You still refuse to actually engage with this idea that the very same action in a girl will invite censure as 'bossy' (or bitchy, or spoilt, or whatever) and will not be remarked upon if a boy engages in it? Because so far you've said "not even close" and...that's it. Nothing else. Because you didn't do it, or don't think that you did/do it.

No, I don't think little boys are miniature men. I do think dads, teachers, principals, researchers, day carers, doctors, psychologists, media gurus, writers and so on are often men and their actions in defining little girls as bossy for behaviours that are 'just the game' in little boys, or in repeating ad nauseum the myth that little boys don't do social violence and emotional bullying, are part of how those same little boys learn what gender means. Which repeats the cycle and reinforces the idea that a little girl directing play is bossy but a little boy shouting the rules is just playing.

It isn't that they're being arseholes at all - it's that they aren't performing femininity right and no matter how we try to correct our own perceptions, we're steeped in it too and complicit in dragging these little girls down. No, I don't want to teach my daughter to be mean, but I sure as fuck want to teach her to speak her mind, to walk away if something is hurting her, to not be silent and complicit if others are being hurtful - all things I have watched little girls get called 'bossy' or 'mean' for, since those actions are 'emotionally manipulative' and 'bitchy' and 'bossy'.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:43 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


I asked my daughters (17 and 14, and they kick ass) about this topic.

They said that girls definitely get called out as "bossy" where boys don't, but they don't remember grownups ever doing it. It was by other kids, both boys and girls, and very often "somebody who wanted to be in charge themselves but was too lazy or something but wanted you to do things they way they wanted you to. Or just girls who were kind of snotty."
posted by msalt at 10:15 PM on March 17


New Republic article that linguistic analysis supports Bossy being primarily used now and in the past as a negative for women and girls.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:51 PM on March 19


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