On Banning ‘Bossy’

Sheryl Sandberg along with Anna Maria Chávez, writes in the Wall Street Journal about her new campaign to “Ban Bossy.”

When my brother and sister describe our childhood, they will say that I never actually played as a child but instead just organized other kids’ play. At my wedding, they stood up and introduced themselves by explaining, “Hi, we’re Sheryl’s younger brother and sister … but we’re not really her younger brother and sister. We’re her first employees—employee No. 1 and employee No. 2.”

I am torn because while I object to the sexist way “bossy” is usually only lobbed at girl children, I do think it’s important for shitty kids to be called out on how annoying they are. And I do think baby Sheryl Sandberg sounds TERRIBLE.

Perhaps the campaign should be changed to, “Boys sure can be bossy, too! Ever noticed that? Man, they are just as bad, if not worse.”

Much like their adult counterparts with “executive leadership skills”, if you are an effective child leader, no one will think you’re bossy. They’ll just be like, “Wow, Elizabeth always has the best ideas about what games to play during recess. Why is her grip over me so powerful? Oh well! Let’s play Red Rover for the 500th time and she gets to go first, since it was her idea.”

After all, shouldn’t these nascent boardroom executives learn to lead their school-aged peons in a way that is both incredibly persuasive and barely detectable? Kids need a way to shape and react to each others’ selfishness and control issues.

This level of self-awareness may prove be very useful to them later in life, when they grow up to to write op-eds about it in the Wall Street Journal.

Now, I don’t think I have ever called an adult woman “bossy” but apparently people actually do that, which is a problem, especially if we’re moved to call a woman bossy just by the very nature of her being OUR BOSS and we don’t like that. So #1, if someone is your boss, and you are an adult, don’t call them “bossy.” That’s just dumb. If you are moved to call an adult boss “bossy,” please examine your motivations. Are you a person who has inherent, kneejerk problems with female authority? In this case, you do need to ban the word bossy. Sorry, but you’re an adult now, and a sexist one at that. If you examine you conscience and find that you are moved to call your boss “bossy,” because he or she is in fact an ineffective leader and/or makes poor decisions without listening to the people below them, try “tyrant,” or, if applicable, “micro-manager.”

If the person is not actually your boss, or a boss at all, you might just be threatened by their ambition. Consider that first. How have you failed in ways this person hasn’t? What fears do you have that they don’t? If it turns out that you want to criticize them for legitimate reasons, try the less petty and childish “controlling” or even “delusional.” If this person is a woman, think twice about it. Are you a misogynist, even subconsciously? You probably are. To counteract such a possibility, make it a point to complain loudly about a controlling male counterpart, preferably within earshot of many coworkers.

And if you are a child and not an executive at all, STOP TELLING US WHAT TO DO ON THE PLAYGROUND. No one likes you. We don’t want to be your “employee.”

Photo: jurvetson

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16 Comments / Post A Comment

rhinoceranita (#5,858)

I read somewhere that this is the adult appropriate version of “bitchy.” I agree with the opinion that it’s words like “bossy,” which seem innocuous at first but are actually subversive, should be the ones that get thrust in the spotlight.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

What do we call the woman we have to work with on group projects for a software class who understands NOTHING regarding the project or coding in general, but likes to panic and tell everyone else in the group that we all need to do X,Y,Z things for her by the deadline that we all know about? In a really hostile and condescending voice? Despite having done no meaningful work herself?

I have mostly just been saying “I hate _______” to my boyfriend a lot, but I’d really like a concise insult that would capture her ineptitude, proclivity toward unjustified panic attacks, and demanding demeanor. (There must be a word for these people, because in my experience they are legion.)

I’m fairly certain this woman is the sort who will one day reflect on her steely brilliance in a similar manner to Sheryl Sandberg, which is why I ask. She has also said that she thinks she is good at “managing”. Tyrant and Micro-manager don’t seem to fit, as she is not actually above the rest of us at all in hierarchy (except perhaps in her own mind) and literally can’t follow along with our discussion of details.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@MissMushkila That sounds like the worst person. I’m so sorry.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@MissMushkila RE: What to call her: between the melodramatic performance and need to point out her belief in her own superior capability, she sounds like a bit of a megalomaniac to me.

@MissMushkila some options: domineering, presumptious, overbearing, self-important, paper tiger, tin god, self-appointed monarch?

honey cowl (#1,510)

I think this is less about bossiness than simply the plight of the older sibling. We know better than our younger siblings and we feel compelled to TELL THEM ABOUT IT.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@honey cowl Also we have earned the right to choose the t.v. channel, dessert, etc. We were here first – younger siblings should always remember that they are subject to our benevolent generosity and accept it with grace.

Allison (#4,509)

@lemur_niemer actually as the older sibilings you had your time to choose the dessert/tv show and you just didn’t value it. Not our fault.

@fo (#839)

Meaghan: “And if you are a child and not an executive at all, STOP TELLING US WHAT TO DO ON THE PLAYGROUND. No one likes you.”

Um, that’s a really mean thing to say to a kid. “no one likes you”? Seriously? As the father of a daughter who likes to tell everyone what to do (and can be a *serious* PITA when we don’t listen), I *HATE* that anyone has that attitude. Yes, she needs to chill a little sometimes, but–even as a joke, where no actual kid will actually hear/read it–”no one likes you”? Seriously?

Meaghan: “If this person is a woman, think twice about it. Are you a misogynist, even subconsciously? You probably are.”

Also works with: “If you call a pickled green bean a ‘pickle’ [and just about anything else], think twice about it. Are you a misogynist, even subconsciously? You probably are.” You should work that in as much as possible.

I will explicitly note that it works *well* with the first part of this comment: “If you say to a child ‘no one likes you’, try something less ‘mean girls’. If this child is a girl, think twice about it. Are you a misogynist, even subconsciously? You probably are.” How you talk about other kids filters down to your kids and that becomes how they deal with other kids. Parenting is hard.

Allison (#4,509)

@@fo so you want Meaghan to more carefully consider her language but refuse to do so yourself? Or are you just denying the existence of coded language all together?

tuntastic (#2,769)

@@fo uuum, your child would definitely be devastated also if she learned that you thought she was a pain in the ass, but guess what? She won’t. Because you have written these thoughts on the internet, where she cannot access them; and anonymously, so she never will be able to.

Also – little secret – it is actually true that no one likes domineering and uncooperative children. I also like to tell everyone what to do, but know that I cannot. Maybe use this knowledge in socialising your daughter (while ensuring she retains her executive leadership skills, because those are awesome!).

aetataureate (#1,310)

@@fo Um, it sounds like both you and your daughter need to “chill a little” probably more of the time. If you don’t remember from your own childhood that nobody likes those kids, then maybe you were one too? Time to break the pattern.

@fo (#839)

@aetataureate ” If you don’t remember from your own childhood that nobody likes those kids, then maybe you were one too?”

Yes, that’s exactly it.

No, no one liked me for other reasons. Like making assumptions about people.

@fo (#839)

@Allison “so you want Meaghan to more carefully consider her language but refuse to do so yourself?”

What, bc I acknowledge that it can be a pain to have someone telling you what to do, and upset when you don’t listen? I should act like that’s ok?

Do you actually not see the difference bt recognizing that too much ‘executive leadership’ is off-putting and using it as a basis for saying “NO ONE LIKES YOU”? I like her–a lot–even when (and sometimes *because*) she has a lot of ‘executive’ in her. It is *entirely* compatible to like someone all the time who annoys you sometimes. And perpetuating an acceptance that someone who is annoying sometimes is *definitively* UNlikable is what bothers me.

@fo (#839)

@tuntastic: “it is actually true that no one likes domineering and uncooperative children”

As noted here:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/03/11/sandberg-bossy-hillary-clinton-sotomayor-women-column/6302371/

the playground dynamics of “no one likes you” is *PART OF THE PROBLEM*. Which was my (perhaps inarticulate) point.

pissy elliott (#844)

“I don’t want you guys to think of me as a boss, despite the fact that my company increasingly dictates the contours of your experience of privacy, and my billions allow me to influence your government disproportionately. So quit it.”

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