The Gendered Nature of “Bossy”

The Gendered Nature of “Bossy”

I read a wonderful blog post the other day about the gendered nature of bossy. It was one which really made me think. It was  written so clearly and succinctly that I wanted to share it, but for the life of me I can’t find it again.

It really got me thinking though. My mum often jokes that I was “bossy” as a child and I hear it sometimes said about other children. It always makes me uncomfortable.  I think it’s because I never hear the term used in relation to boys, or to men.

It’s amazing that the term “boss” is often used as masculine noun, although the verb “bossy” is primarily a derogatory one. How did this happen?

I wonder if we should we reclaim the verb. Perhaps we could use it to describe someone who is commanding, who is responsible for directing the activities or others, or who displays strong leadership skills? Or should we “Ban the Bossy” altogether?

I wonder when the noun Boss was purely a descriptive term for the person in charge in the workplace, to the verb “boss” – to tell someone what to do. Of course, they may mean the same thing but the verb only ever seems to be used in a negative context. For example, “they’re always bossing me around.”

I wonder if it stems from the often lampooned version of the “Boss” as someone who  does an awful lost of talking but knows very little about things in reality and is largely ineffective. Or is the Boss someone who irrationally barks our orders like a little dictator, with little engagement with those around him/ her. Is this what we secretly think of women as a society. Should we all just know our place?

One of the comments to this post describes an exercise whereby participants were asked to list the derogatory words used for women and for men. The women came out on top – and not in a good way. It’s interesting that in many work based diversity workshops I’ve attended over the years, we have undertaken similar exercises with other  groups, foe example based on sexual orientation, religion or race. On reflection, it’s a shame that we don’t stop to do this for women. I don’t think we challenge language enough, not just from men but from women too – we are all too often our worst enemy.

Whether you want to ban bossy, reclaim it, or think that it’s not a problem at all, I urge you to at least stop and think about the language you use. If you find your lexicon of verbs fall into a female or male camp, then there’s something wrong. There are no male or female verbs, there are just verbs.



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