March 12, 2014

Why Ban Bossy When We Can Take Back Bossy


Take Back Bossy

I’ll be honest and say that when I first saw the Ban Bossy video with Beyoncé and her celebrity pals I shared it. The little girl in me who was called “bossy” liked it. That same little girl wanted other people to know that she didn’t like being called bossy and being left out. And then I realized, I’m not that little girl any more. Just like the women in that video, one of whom plays a very domineering, head-strong, and often downright mean character on a very popular show. Hmm, so we should ban bossy but still perpetuate it?

Then a very popular blogger, Joanne Bamberger, took issue with this and started a conversation on Facebook. I watched the comments and noticed others were starting to question the idea of banning “bossy”. Joanne, whom I’ve met a few occasions, is intelligent, an exceptional writer, knowledgeable about politics and social issues affecting women, and when she takes the gloves off my ears perk up. She’s since written a post about the irony of Sheryl Sandberg calling for a ban on bossy when she, herself, embraced her bossiness and used it to her advantage to rise in the male-dominated tech world.

Like many other women, name-calling is something that doesn’t sit well with me. And, like many others, I believe there are words that we shouldn’t use and that should be taken out of our daily lexicon. But, banning a word doesn’t stop people from saying it. It does nothing but heighten the awareness of how hurtful, disenfranchising, and powerful that word really is. That’s right, asking for a word to be banned only makes it more powerful to the people who use it as a put-down.

For a woman who claims to be about empowering girls and encouraging girls to embrace leadership roles and learn how to be leaders, this campaign does not help that mission. And to get celebrated women behind it, all of whom are exceptional women in their field, doesn’t negate that every single woman in that ad used being bossy as a term of empowerment. The took the root of the word, boss, and fashioned a spring to launch themselves into careers where being the boss of yourself and others is paramount to being seen as a leader and successful.

I agree, bossy has become a very negative word. When used to push down our girls, there’s no reason to give it any more power than it wields. And that’s what this does. As women, we need to take back bossy and redefine it. Just as the gay population embraced the word “gay” and refused to let the media, society, and culture drag down this happy word, Sheryl Sandberg should have lead the Bossy Revolution! The only thing wrong with bossy is that we’ve allowed it to take on a meaning that is powerfully negative.

Unlike the “end the R-word” campaign, the “ban bossy” campaign missed the point. End the R-word is a campaign that educates about the hurtfulness of a word that, originally, was simply a way to describe some type of a medical delay. It was society that overlaid the negativity to the word. And while there is a push to end using “the r-word” the program provides alternatives and explains why using the acceptable alternatives are better suited for our vocabulary. The deep-seated negativity surrounding “the R-word” was truly an albatross that couldn’t be contained. So there is a need to ban it.

Bossy is not like that. It’s a word that has only within the last decade, or so, gained its negative power. We don’t need to ban the word bossy. We need strong women in their fields, like those in the video, to step forward, embrace these traits that are defined as bossy – authoritarian, demanding, tenacious, questioning – and encourage girls to become leaders who are not only demanding but also compassionate. Bossy isn’t the problem, it’s the cultural meanings we’ve attached to it – intolerant, pushy, overbearing. If someone is pushy, overbearing, and intolerant just call them that, regardless of gender.

And there is this wrinkle. Did you notice there haven’t been any men calling to ban bossy. What does that say? This campaign isn’t about equality or empowerment or leadership. It’s an ad campaign to push an agenda whose long-term implications weren’t well thought out.

We don’t need to ban bossy, we need to Take Back Bossy and reeducate the world on what bossy really looks like. Because it looks like powerful women in tech, award-winning actresses, change-makers from Wall Street to Main Street. Bossy looks like US. It’s brilliant women who stand up to what’s wrong and create solutions instead of accepting the status quo. I am Bossy! And I’m proud of it. Words do matter! And if we’re really going to encourage girls to be strong, have no limits, and listen to their own voice, banning bossy isn’t going to do those things for them. Standing up to people who try to limit them with one single word is what will truly empower girls and women.

Banning bossy won’t do anything but continue to make the word more powerful. We need to Take Back Bossy and in doing so, we take back the power! The power to change the world with one word and give girls everywhere the power to be assertive, focused, driven, strong, and limitless.

The Bossy Revolution begins today! Take Back Bossy!



Karen Weirich March 14, 2014 at 7:29 am

Great points here, Sara. Most of the women I considered to be “bossy” are all making something awesome of themselves. That is a positive, not a negative!

Jackie Weyhenmeyer March 14, 2014 at 9:24 am

Sara: You make some great points. There is nothing wrong with being called bossy. When you are a woman in a man’s world, being called bossy is much, much better than the other “b” word. And yes, the women who want to ban bossy are the very ones who have used it to get to the top! I have a real problem with Beyonce. Her lyrics and the lyrics of her spouse totally demean women. How do you spell hypocrite? B-E-Y-O-N-C-E!

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