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Should we really ban “Bossy”?

In March of this year, Sheryl Sandberg; CFO of Facebook and founder of the not-for-profit charity, ‘Lean In’, began a campaign called “#BanBossy”. The campaign was introduced with an array of celebrities participating in a video that identifies sexist hypocrisies within the workplace. Jane Lynch, Beyonce and Jennifer Garner recall words like “pushy”, “stubborn” and “bossy” being used in to put down ambitious women.

Similarly, Pantene recently launched a “#ShineStrong” campaign, also highlighting the various negative words used to refer to powerful, strong women; including “bossy”. The campaign argues that, often, men in similar positions are not subject to such criticism.

The campaign has sparked a heated debate amongst women in power and feminists alike.

What is it exactly that we think is insulting about the word “bossy”? At a fundamental level, “bossy” is the descriptive derivative of the word “boss”. Yet it seems that no one thinks calling someone a “boss” is insulting.

Women in support of the “#BanBossy” campaign assert that labels have the ability to disempower, defeat and discourage women from seeking leadership positions. The campaign argues that society is applying a double standard, revealing that people aren’t comfortable with powerful women. The campaign wants to ban the word bossy in an attempt to set the same standards and expectations for both professional women and men. Sandberg argues that where such labels are entrenched with sexist attitudes, the words have been used to disadvantage women. Therefore, the words must be banned.

However, many feminists have fought back against this campaign, arguing that words only have as much meaning as you allow them to hold. A woman can take control of herself by turning a once derogatory word into one that promotes strong, independent women. Blogger Christina Coleman asserts that like other offensive words used to degrade women, “bossy” should be reclaimed. To empower women is to reclaim the word and alter its’ definition to become a positive one.

Whilst the women involved in the creation of the “#BanBossy” campaign should be commended for their efforts, perhaps Coleman has a point. It is questionable whether banning a word is an effective means of creating activism on any issue. Realistically, words will continue to be used, within and outside of their original context across time. A campaign by its very nature eventually loses press, meaning that banning any word, particularly “bossy”, may not be the answer.

Perhaps empowerment for women does not rely on banning or avoiding the words and issues that diminish women’s achievements. Perhaps we need to take back what is ours. After all, what better way is there to defeat a problem than to reclaim lost power?

Regardless of whether you think banning “bossy” is the answer, we should be inspired that so many women in power are working hard to create awareness of hypocrisy and institutionalised inequality. Whether you prefer to be called “bossy” or a “boss”, the more women we have in power, the more people will simply just get used to it.

What do you think, should we “#BanBossy”? All of PropellHer’s Mentors are women and men who have been “bossy” to achieve their aspirational career goals. Why not visit our Q&A board to ask them a question about what it took for them to reach the top.

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