Writing Perspective: #banbossy

So now there's a move to ban "bossy" with its own Twitter hashtag. To quote the site, "when a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader.' Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy.'"

If I'm honest, that this campaign exists makes me sad. The campaign is not going to fix the root problem that has created the impetus for the campaign… but that isn't to say we should do nothing. From humble beginnings, great things have arisen. This campaign has a lot of potential to do good… it may be the pebble that starts the avalanche.

But it's times like this I see that I look at the world so differently. I understand that this is how the world works, that doing things this way is better than doing nothing. It still pisses me off. I don't wanna ban the word bossy, I wanna ban the ATTITUDE. But I'm only one voice in the echoing dust; I have been overruled by the majority.

So. My writing perspective. I make points that may be considered offensive; you have been warned.

I encountered an article written by a parent of a young girl, talking about the word 'bossy'—and this is why I need to start copying down links, because I'd love to share it with you. It started me off thinking about looking at 'bossy' from a writing perspective.

Gendered language is simply another form of sexism… but I've just thought of an interesting question. Firstly, how many words are there in ALL 6,800 to 6,900 languages of the world? I have no idea and searching the internet isn't helpful. Okay, let's try Fermi estimation, using English as a base line. English has 171,476 words in current use. Fermi estimation says there are one billion words in current use in all languages.

I am ignoring that words common to all languages would reduce our total. Mainly because a search on such numbers gave me no useful results.

So. To the question: how many words are there in current usage that have existed solely as an attack on a gender? Because I'm sure there's some, but I'm also fairly certain that the number is very low. If I had to guess, using orders of magnitude as Fermi did, I would guess that across all languages, again ignoring words common to all, the answer would be one million. A tenth of a percent.

Language evolves, takes on meanings that it didn't have. That's how language works. It is said of English that it is the whore of languages.

See what I did there? I used a word, and I used it in quite the negative context. I did that deliberately. I could have said "the English language sleeps with other languages, taking words as payment"; the end meaning is much the same and less offensive. But I didn't.

Avoiding using a word with negative contexts and overtones and all… as a species, humans should do that.

I suppose I'm asking… where is the line? How does one use a word without conveying all the negative stuff with it? It is probable that one will never be able to do that with some words, but some words is not all.

Bossy is one of those complex words, as I see it. Its dictionary definition is "given to ordering people about; overly authoritative; domineering".

If a woman is in authority, she needs to exercise that authority. From what I have read, it seems that exercising said authority results in being labelled as bossy… and so women have learned to be polite about things where a man would just say it, and suffer no lashback. I'll call bullshit on that; that's gotta change.

Still, that's one context. What if I go out with some friends, just relaxing and having drinks? They're all predominately female. If one of us was all "we'll go here and there, and hey, you sit here by me and she can sit there and you in the corner order some vodka and you order a Coke" and other such statements… I would say she's being bossy, simply because what she's doing matches the dictionary definition.

I claim that 'bossy' is situational. I claim that YOUR GENDER DOES NOT MATTER.

If you have a job which places you in a position of authority, you are not bossy just because you exercise that authority.

If you are out with friends, telling them what to do, with no previous agreement that you'll do such, you are being bossy. If I attended a hen party, I'd expect that there's going to be some predetermined order of things to which I must conform. If I'm just out with some friends and we're just relaxing? Then we decide as a group what we're doing: one person should not decide for the whole group.

As I said above, I don't think like most people. I could be wrong in this, I could be unintentionally perpetuating the problem. If I am… so be it. This is what I think. There's no better place than my own blog to talk about what I think.

Again, I welcome dialogue.


2 Responses to “Writing Perspective: #banbossy”

  1. Miriam Joy says:

    Oh, no, English isn't a whore. It appropriates words far more violently. I think James Nicoll was right when he said:

    "English is a language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary."

    (On the whole, with this post — though it's true that gendered language and slurs are a minority, they're still a hurtful minority, and a lot of them are used casually to demean people on a daily basis; I think gender shouldn't matter but I think 'ban bossy' serves to raise awareness of the use of gendered language and how much the words we use display our societal values re: gender.)

    • Dianna says:

      I tried to acknowledge that the movement to ban 'bossy' could raise awareness and be good. Maybe I wasn't as clear as I could/should have been. Oops.

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