Why I’ve Chosen to #banbossy

I have a confession (and apology) to make.

When I first saw the ban bossy add and campaign, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. In truth, I believe my exact words were, “That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve watched in a very long time.” I really didn’t get it. By my understanding, bossy was a word used to describe a person who not only has an opinion on something (usually a task), but is also inclined to (a) tell you about it, (b) give you directives regarding it, (c) and/or supervise you while you do it. My son is bossy. My wife is bossy. My (older) brother, at times was bossy. I’ve known many bossy people. Bossy was not a bad word. It’s a neutral observation of behavior.

My first negative experience with the word bossy came when I gave a talk to some high school students regarding career choices. I said, in describing a particular personality type, “Your friends probably call you bossy.” One of the ladies in the class said that was a bad word; I insisted it was not. I asserted that it was okay to be bossy because it was just their way and that they should embrace that quality. “Somebody’s got to be in charge, it might as well be you.” She graciously dropped the issue.

I finally had the chance to speak to one of my good friends about this issue. This particular friend thinks well about these sorts of issues, both through academic study and through personal experience as a black woman. She pointed out to me that bossy is typically a word assigned to women who do what men do, and are encouraged to do on a regular basis (similar to another 5-letter word that begins with ‘b’). In other words, a woman is “bossy”, while a man doing the same thing is being a decisive leader. I’d never thought of it as such (I, personally, thought of anyone exhibiting these behaviors as bossy). As she mentioned, however, I am not the norm. Iconoclast was the word she used.

Her husband suggested that maybe women and kids are capable of being bossy, but as we thought about it we realized that might actually make it worse since now women are in the same category as children. I had to conclude then, that no matter what my personal views on the word, the best practice might be for me to remove the word from my vocabulary.

The originator of this campaign got blasted pretty bad for coming up with it. Admittedly, I still don’t think it’s a bad word. But what I think doesn’t matter in this particular case. So I owe an apology to that high school young woman who was offended at my use of bossy. Instead of justifying my actions (and possibly bullying you into acquiescing) I should have demonstrated some humility and stopped. From the bottom of my heart, I ask for your forgiveness.

As proof of my repentance, I plan to ban bossy.

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