I’ve never been called ‘bossy'; I’ve been referred to as ‘ambitious’, ‘opinionated’ and, my least favourite word of all, ‘feisty’, but never ‘bossy’. This is probably because when I was a child, my sister, who is six years older than me, decided that she would do what all good big sisters do; boss her younger sibling around.
In my childhood mind, the word ‘bossy’, was the only weapon I could use against her, and I called her it often, because by pointing out her only flaw, I knew I could defend myself. I used the word as an insult, because I was tired of being told what to do.
However, in my adult mind, the new Ban Bossy campaign, AKA #BanBossy, created by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and the woman who needs no introduction, but I’ve given her one anyway, Beyoncé, which seeks to ban the word ‘bossy’, makes the word, and its connotations that little bit more insulting.
Of course, Victoria Coren Mitchell has summed up the main problem with the campaign in her latest column, and I agree, that by attempting to ban the word bossy, they are doing one of the bossiest things that a group of powerful women can do; controlling language in order to control people, thus playing up to stereotype of the bossy ambitious woman.
However, the spirit of the Ban Bossy campaign is excellent; it recognises that a lot of young girls feel that they cannot be seen to be assertive, or show ambition for fear of being labelled bossy, which is something that we need to challenge and ultimately, change. Yet, no matter how well-intentioned the campaign is, the thought of banning words makes me feel uneasy. There are words that have different connotations for men and women, such as ‘assertive’, ‘bossy’ and ‘bold’, but policing language is the first step on the slippery slope of censorship, which we must fight, or we will lose our right to speak freely.
Sure, we can ban some things, such as adverts for being misleading, or in the recent case of Paddy Power’s highly inappropriate Oscar Pistorious advert, because it was insensitive and attempted to profit from the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. But words? Should we ban words?
Words, like clothes, haircuts and celebrities fall in and out of fashion. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary added words like ‘twerk’ and ‘selfie’ to its respected pages, while this year, ‘cunting’, ‘cunted’ ‘cunty’ and ‘cuntish’ – also known as The Four Cunts – finally found their place in the pages of the dictionary, and there was much rejoicing. Well, I was pretty cunting happy about it.
In fact, cunt has a very special place in the Scottish vernacular; it has many uses, and can be used in a variety of situations. For example, if someone refers to someone else as “A good cunt”, this translates to “I believe this person to be a good person” or similar. However, if, during an argument, one party calls the other, “A FUCKING CUNT!”, then that means: “I don’t like you”. At the same time, cunted is used as another word for drunk or high, as in “I was absolutely cunted last night”, and if someone says you were acting “like a right cunt”, then they’re not best pleased with you, and you had better apologise quickly.
This is not a blog about cunts, or the many uses of the word, but my point is that language isn’t fixed; it constantly evolves to reflect changes in our society and views. For example, ‘slut’ was once used to describe a woman who kept a dirty house, whereas now, it means, as one of my former writers once so bizarrely put it, “a woman who engages in excessive female fornications”.
Meanwhile, the word ‘hack’, once a derogatory term for writers who produced poorly written and sensational stories, has been gleefully adopted by British journalists. Many now describe themselves as ‘hacks’ or ‘hackettes’, in that true British journalism spirit that we have perfected over years of stoic self-deprecation while our industry circles the drain. It’s not the word itself that holds the power, but how it is used that creates the meaning.
So, if journalists can proudly adopt ‘hack’ as a title, while Scots can use ‘cunt’ so eloquently, then why can’t women embrace ‘bossy’? I’m with bell hooks on this issue, who has created the #BossyAndProud campaign and believes that instead of banning and fearing being called bossy, women and girls need to celebrate it. The trick to defeating the negative power of bossy is to stop treating it as a dirty, shameful word. Therefore, by embracing, not banning, the word ‘bossy’, you take away its negative connotations, which will make it a much more positive and powerful label for young women.
Be your own boss. Be bossy and proud.