The #BanBossy movement has sharply divided the opinions of fathers online, but Scott Behson believes that the campaign isn’t really about banning words—it’s about standing up for women
Officially, “retarded” used to be (thankfully no longer) the medical term for individuals with certain cognitive disabilities.
Unofficially, “retarded” is often used as an insult meaning “stupid.”
Officially, “thug” is “a violent person, a criminal” (actually, it is literally a follower of the goddess Kali—like the bad guys in Temple of Doom).
Unofficially, “thug” means a dangerous black man. We went through all this with the Richard Sherman post-game interview kerfuffle.
Officially, “gay” means homosexual.
Unofficially, “gay” is used as a pejorative for stupid or unmanly.
Officially, Mr. Mom was a crappy 1983 Michael Keaton movie.
Unofficially, “Mr. Mom” means that dads who are active parents or take care of the home are a). not real men and b). at best, a pale reflection of a mother. This term emasculates SAHDs and other highly-involved men.
Officially, “bossy” means “domineering and overbearing.”
Unofficially, “bossy” means “an overly-assertive, emasculating woman” (e.g., anything Rush Limbaugh has called Hillary Clinton).
We can’t ban these terms. And, despite their harmful connotations, we shouldn’t. But we can and should discourage their use. Here’s why this dad stands with the #BanBossy movement.
In case you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard a lot of people yelling about the Sheryl Sandberg/Beyonce/Girl Scouts/Condaleeza Rice movement to ban the word “bossy.” The #BanBossy campaign is concerned with the idea that girls who are criticized as bossy early in life—usually when they are only being as assertive as boys—learn a lesson early on that they will face consequences for being assertive later on. There’s plenty of evidence that these perceptions hold true in corporate America—“bossy” and other related loaded words are only leveled at women and often used as an excuse to not promote them, not work with them, and not give them the same opportunities men are afforded.
There was the usual vitriol from the men’s rights people, the ‘Murica crowd, and the usual idiots on social and traditional media (just google it). I’m not here to discuss their all-too-typical ranting here.
Instead, I’d like to reflect on the online discussion I had with a bunch of very smart, articulate, reasonable fathers in a closed Facebook group of which I am a member. While the overall response was more respectful and well-reasoned—and far less venomous than those I mentioned above—I was surprised that the clear majority opinion amongst the dads was “anti-ban-bossy.”
Most just thought “banning” took things too far, and that a better term would be “beyond bossy.” These folks agreed that bossy was a loaded term used against women, but thought the idea of banning or never using it goes too far. I get that, and largely agree. Others saw the campaign as stupid PC language policing.
Others didn’t see the word bossy as a problem and felt it was used equally between the genders. Based on my corporate experience (as a business school professor, I interact with a wide variety of managers and executives on a daily basis), I disagree with these folks, but understand their differing perspective.
A few went way further than I would have thought, with quotes like, “If you disagree with the Lean In contingent in any way, you’re engaging in misogyny. It’s pretty pathetic” and “Do these zealots not realize some people are bossy, cold, bitchy, and aggressive?” Again, I disagree; however, I do not understand the source of the anger underlying these statements.
To me, I see no problem in trying to dispel the notion that assertive girls and women are “bossy.” No one, not even Sheryl Sandberg, can actually ban the use of a word, but this effort has clearly gotten a conversation about subtly sexist language and how it can hurt women. To me, that’s a great thing and should be applauded. After all, the advancement of women in the workplace is directly linked to the advancement of men in the home.
I’d like to share some of the responses three other vocal dissenters* and I—all of us fathers debating with other fathers—gave in arguing that “Ban Bossy” was not a misguided over-reach.
I’ve seen many thoughtful posts, that while disagreeing with “banning,” are supportive of the idea that shaming girls for behavior we accept or promote within boys is a big problem. To see that discussion in the wider public audience, rather than just feminist forums, IS a big deal.
Here’s what the campaign does and why it matters. Fathers, mothers, and teachers will become more aware of the stigma we place on girls for behavior we call “just being a boy” for our sons. The idea is to become more aware of our bias, our gender role reinforcement, and our language. Women are underrepresented in supervisory rules—Is that because women are less capable or because society has taught them (generally speaking, of course) to be more submissive, demure, and not to challenge men? If language and discipline approaches contribute to this issue, then why wouldn’t we address it there? The first step to addressing a problem is bringing attention to it, hence #BanBossy.
I notice that SAHDs tried to get “Mr. Mom” banned. Some supported the idea, some disagreed, but I don’t recall anyone being up in arms about the foundation of freedom, the nature of language, and comparing the idea to burning books. It’s almost as if Sandberg and Lean In are being judged on a different standard. Maybe those ladies should know their place? Do we have a bias against women and feminists in general or is their offense so much worse? I recall a lot of blowback on the “Lean In” campaign as well. Just strikes me as odd. I think we all hold biases that we don’t even recognize most of the time (I know I do).
I dunno. I see no problem in trying to dispel the notion that assertive girls and women are “bossy.” What am I missing?
Bossy has a particular “dog whistle” loaded meaning to women, especially women in business. Go ask your wives or read Tina Fey’s memoir.
I’m OK with their effort—a man is an asshole in a meeting and he’s tough or strong, woman says same thing and she’s emotional or a bitch. I actually think it’s pretty unfair and my exec wife would agree.
She started a debate about something that was not even on my radar before now and makes sense to me. Of course, I won’t ever utter the word “banned” about the words my family or kids use, but I can discourage it. If she had to push way into the subject to get the rest of us to even look at it and shift our thinking to “discourage,” I’m cool with that.
Unless I missed something and they are actually trying to pass a law banning the word, this is hardly a freedom of speech thing. It’s just the first offer on the bargaining table of what seems like a worthwhile issue.
Trigger words should be discouraged. Retard. Gay (as a pejorative). Thug. Bossy is nowhere near the problem of these other ones, but should be actively discouraged. As a straight, Christian, able-bodied white middle-aged man, I have it sooooooooooooooooooo incredibly easier in life than most. Being a bit more careful with my words, so as not to unintentionally harm others, is a small price to pay, IMO.
“Bossy” and other codewords are absolutely used in corporate America to diminish women. We should stop the double-standard that an assertive man is assertive and an assertive woman is an emasculating bitch, etc.
Obviously, Sandberg is not Putin and can’t ban anything (Quick quiz: Who has been called “bossy” more—Hillary or Putin?). But she chose to use provocative language here to get people discussing and reacting and multiplying her mission. Well done, Sheryl.
Remember the whole flap about Richard Sherman and “thug” being a codeword for “angry dangerous black man”? Admittedly, Bossy is not as big an issue as that, but it has many similarities.
Sandberg can’t come out and say “ban calling us cunts.” So she calibrated the word for a mass audience. She also says BAN bossy for shock effect—obviously she/we can’t ban the word, but she sure has us talking about it.
Charles Blow in NY Times last week—“Girls must be given safe space to be assertive and boys to be vulnerable without feeling that they have failed a test of gender normativity.” Sandberg is focusing on the former, but it is a piece with the latter
If anyone calls my daughter bossy for being assertive, I’ll have something to say. That is true of many things, I don’t know about banning a word, but I don’t think the campaign is really trying to do so in any meaningful way. If it makes people think twice about using it, I see no problem with that. Teaching girls that taking a leadership position/stance can be seen as a negative is detrimental. It’s detrimental to boys as well, but we have to ask ourselves if males are the ones under-represented in leadership positions? And do you think their end goal is to legislate or drive the word from the dictionary? Hell no. It’s a marketing tool, in this case, leading to a discussion that no one was interested in yesterday. Just getting people to understand the impact of language and socialization is huge.
Will bossy become a term disallowed for use against women? No. Will HR reps advise male supervisors against using the term in reviews and formal communications? Probably. When you aim beyond a goal, you are more likely to achieve it.
Now boys are prone to over-competition, burying feelings/emotions, and being overly aggressive. We reinforce that with many sayings and attitudes (suck it up, don’t be a pussy, you’re crying like a girl, etc…). Do I think those words should be banned? Hell no, but, if you tell me the best way to get the most people to start thinking about it and being deliberate in how they speak on these things is to create a campaign calling for them to be banned, then I’d say sure.
The word “retard” comes to mind. Can you say it? Sure, of course. Does it make you look like an asshole? Yes. Why? Because we see the word causes harm to individuals and damages society’s perception of them. So we reexamine its use. Now reexamine “bossy.” And “bitch.” I find these words are more often applied to women and, most importantly, actually contribute to the environment where it is less acceptable for women to act like assertive and confident leaders. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people being exposed to that idea than were just a few days ago. I call that success.
So do I.
Here at GMP, we correctly point out when language harms boys and men. We should also stand up for the assertive women in our lives.