Ever heard the expressions, “She sure is a bossy little thing?” How about “He sure is a bossy little thing?” See the immediate difference? And this difference is why a group of corporate women are urging that the word “bossy” be removed from the English language. Only women are viewed as “bossy” which is a code word in some circles for that other “B” word. Even when a man is “the boss” no one ever calls him bossy. Why not?
To make the case about women and girls being “bossy,” a study was done in a room full of girls who were asked whether it was better to be liked or to be in charge—all hands went up to say that it was better to be liked. One girl said that if you are the boss people won’t like you very much. And this is what banning the word “bossy” is really about. It’s about removing the negative stereotype associated with a little “girl power.” The same group of corporate women urging a rethinking of the word “bossy,” as it applies to women, know of what they speak. Women are roughly 50 percent of the worldwide population, including America. Yet women hold around 5 percent of top corporate jobs. The statistics are only slightly better when it comes to public office where females hold roughly 17 percent of public office. Worldwide, in many places women are lower in status than the livestock. On this planet, in some countries girls are still seen as property to be sold off, married off, or prostituted off. Worldwide women are suffering in ways that are not too far from StoneAage living—producing hoards of children in abject poverty, doing back-breaking work with ancient tools, hauling water for miles–all because of male dominated cultural expectations about women and control over their own bodies. For these women banning the word “bossy” does not begin to address the pressing issues of their daily lives.
But here in America, where every now and then a woman breaks through the corporate glass ceiling, getting there has becomes a case study. The new CEO of Facebook ,Sheryl Sandberg wrote the book “Lean In” as a way of getting women to learn the inside ropes of how to rise to the top. Still it is like swimming upstream for too many women all across America who learn from early childhood that women are supposed to be compliant and submissive and not to be assertive and take charge. The topic of who would you prefer, a woman or a man boss, has added fuel to the fire with many people, even most women preferring a male boss. This preference is also laden with historical stereotypes about women as leaders.
From the days of early America, a woman’s role was primarily domestic—house, husband, children, gardens—cook, clean, serve. It was World War II especially that opened the doors for women to enter the workplace, and wear pants. But when the husband soldiers returned women were expected to go back to baking bread. As they say, “how you gonna keep them down on the farm” after they’ve experienced city life. And the seeds of the “woman’s movement” began. And the struggle has continued for women, not only to control their own bodies, but to gain equal access to jobs and career advancement. Even now in 2013 women early roughly 73 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Even when the work is equal women earn less. The Supreme Court case of Lilly Ledbetter, a woman denied promotions and equal pay working for a Goodyear plant in Alabama, blew the lid off pay discrimination based on gender. There is now the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act as a result of her lawsuit.
Banning the word “bossy” won’t change attitudes about women in the workplace. There are still stubborn and resistant attitudes about women as leaders. Too many people still believe that women cannot rise to the top because of the very real possibility that their upward career rise will be interrupted by her child bearing years. Men don’t face these type “career interrupters” leaving many companies to by-pass women as serious candidates for top jobs. But tackling the word “bossy” as it is used to limit little girls’ leadership potential is to be applauded. Girls should learn that having knowledge and leadership qualities are great skills for anyone to possess and not to be afraid to speak up, speak out, and “lean in.” And when girls are called “bossy” they need to be self-affirmation and respond, “Yea, you got that right!”
Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.