Growing up, I was often described as ‘bossy’. I figured it probably came with the territory of being the eldest of four, and I knew deep down that my strong willed nature and desire to take control of situations wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It never felt like a compliment though. As an adult, I’ve definitely mellowed somewhat and I’d like to think that I’m much better at going with the flow than I used to be; I think a lot of my previous desire to be ‘the boss’ came from a fear of things going wrong or not being done properly. In some areas of my life I am still very much a ‘control-freak’, a phrase which I hate on par with ‘bossy’; why shouldn’t I want to be in charge of my own life? On a day to day basis, my need to be in control of situations often reaps reward because for the most part I am organised and motivated. To an extent, being ‘bossy’ has always just been a part of my personality. My school reports always referenced the fact that I was usually the leader of group tasks (which honestly, I despised with a passion because whilst I am a very sociable person, I like getting my head down and focusing on my own work rather than having to rely on others), my confidence and my determination. Recently though, I began thinking about the connotations that the term ‘bossy’ carries and the discourse in which it’s often used, and it just doesn’t sit comfortably.
Whilst I, of course, identify as a feminist, I am by no means a part of the ‘lets make everything a female issue’ crew. However, I do feel that the notion of bossy-ness is largely targeted at women and girls, and that is an issue. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a little boy be referred to as bossy, and I have certainly never heard it used about a man in a professional context. That means that essentially, the term is used as a put down towards women who are confident, sure of themselves or in charge of a situation. That isn’t to say that I haven’t heard many women refer to one another as bossy, and we all know that irate sensation when you’re feeling micromanaged by someone else and kind of want to lock them in the stationary cupboard with Larry the office dribbler, but it does mean that somewhere in the trajectory of the phrase, it probably stemmed from the notion that having a vagina renders your opinion obsolete.
Although it’s not necessarily a malicious description, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it be used endearingly. The reality is that there is nothing wrong with being the boss now and then; in some situations it’s entirely necessary and to be so uncomfortable with the idea of another person – especially a woman – having more control over a situation than you do frankly indicates an issue with your own self-esteem. It’s true, sometimes it’s not ones position to be in charge, sometimes you have to just let others get on with whatever it is they’re up to and realise that proportionately your input isn’t required this time. But negating leadership qualities that are a fundamental characteristic of someone with a term like ‘bossy’ only serves to undermine and belittle. I think in particular the use of the phrase to describe or to discourage young girls carries the risk of being really damaging to long-term self-worth and willingness to speak up.
Do I sometimes need to remember to take a back seat and let others be in charge? Yes. Am I ashamed of being ‘bossy’? Hell no. If life were a movie then I would be proud of my character progression in terms of my ability to switch off from situations that I would have previously felt very anxious to be in charge of, but I deem my willingness to take the lead and my confidence in my own abilities as an asset, not something to shy away from. I think the use of ‘bossy’ as an insult probably falls in the same Camp Bullshit as the ‘she loves herself’ and the ‘she needs bringing down a peg or two’ descriptions. I’m struggling to understand why we as a society feel so threatened by someone who is self-assured. Is it because it makes us doubt our own confidence? I’m not sure, but I think it’s time that we stopped calling one another bossy when we’re not in control of a situation and they are. If it isn’t someones place to take the lead then by all means call them up on it, but not by using an adjective that serves to discourage women from having a say. Not many of us like being told what to do – I’m sure as hell that if I had to go back to employment I’d really struggle with working towards someone else’s dream and meeting their targets – but just as the opinion of someone who is shy is no less valid because they don’t shout it from the rooftops, that of someone who is more naturally outspoken shouldn’t be shunned either. If one day I am lucky enough to have children of my own, I will never call my daughters bossy, just as I’ll never tell my sons to ‘man up’.
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