Little Miss Bossy Pants and the Incongruity of Expectation

Sheryl Sandberg sure knows how to make a headline. First, she wanted young women to “LEAN IN” and now she wants us to all stop using the word “Bossy” to describe the behavior of some young women because that word somehow destroys their inner need to tell people what to do.

I’ve never been much for people who like to use slogans and restrictions to live a wild and open life, so for me, telling women to “lean in” and shaking a rich finger of entitlement at people not to call “girls” “bossy” is the epitome of a life lived via motto and not of substance tempered by everyday realism.

There is an incongruous disconnect from expectation: Sheryl Sandberg and her famous girlfriends are Bossy Bosses telling us how to act and behave!

I am not alone in my disdain for Ms. Sandberg’s bossy initiatives, as Ann Friedman writes in New York Magazine:

The main reason I can’t stomach a bossy ban, though, is that it represents a feminist strategy that’s failed in the past, and it plays into a negative characterization of feminism more generally. The movement for gender equality is at its best when it emphasizes expanding choices for everyone. Most feminist efforts — from ensuring reproductive rights to making public spaces safe to fighting for flexible work arrangements — do just that. But the conservative narrative about several decades of feminist victories claims that by giving women options they didn’t have in the past — to be proud single mothers, unapologetic CEOs, sexually active without a dozen children — feminists are actually stomping on the rights of women who want to make more traditional choices. Not to mention men.

Maybe it was my Midwestern upbringing, but the word “Bossy” was liberally used across all genders and age groups without discrimination or a hint of taste.  Sure, the word was not a compliment, but it was an effective cudgel used to semi-politely tell someone to “go jump in a lake” for telling other people what to do and how to behave.

Deleting “Bossy” from our vocabulary doesn’t remove the initiating behavior and, I frankly wish Ms. Sandberg and her ilk would have stepped in — err, LEANED IN — to stop the hard use of “Bitch” and “Cunt” and “Twat” because they’re more universally used to demean and degrade women across all ages and cultures; but, you see, that would actually be a meaningful and blunt and courageous stand to take against the prejudicial and the discriminatory — but getting rid of those horrors isn’t as easily tied up in a neat effort to rid the world of a schoolyard taunt.

Dirty words take filthier methods to eradicate their colloquial use and nobody really wants Sheryl Sandberg to actually get her hands dirty doing any real work that would create an everlasting and glittering legacy beyond the mere motto.

I’m also, unfortunately, quite bluntly certain Ms. Sandberg has been called a “Cunt” behind her back much more in her adult life than she was ever called “Bossy” to her face in childhood because that’s the unfortunate price wildly successful women pay in the marketplace of anti-gender idealism.

To infantilize the repression of women by trying to repress the use of “Bossy” in childhood misses the field for the trees while the world is a raging fire against you.

6 comments

  • Do as I say not as I do – I can see her stamping her feet and throwing her toys out of the pram from here. Don’t want to be called Bossy – then don’t be Bossy – learn different skills to get your message across.

    • Yes, it’s quite an odd — but simplistic — thing to put such national effort and energy behind. Is not being called “bossy” really the most pressing need of young women in the world? Perhaps it is if you’re a bored San Francisco media mogul, but to the rest of the world, you again come off as self-invested Valley Girl Silly.

      What concerns me are the rumors I’m hearing that Sandberg may be leaving Facebook to head up a major role at Disney. We don’t need this sort of simplistic thinking in our children’s movies!

      • I agree there are far more pressing concerns facing the young women of today. The thought of her heading up anything at Disney makes my skin crawl !

        • It will be interesting to watch. If she moves to Disney, she risks breaking the magic spell she’s created at Facebook. Right now, its success is perceived to be hers — while I’m not so sure of that — but I do know leaving for Disney may prove an ultimate unravelling.

  • It sure is easy to pick on bossy and then get response it looks like you fixed something that wasn’t that important to fix. Very Cali.

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