Beyoncé, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Garner and Condoleezza Rice are part of a PSA video to ban the word “bossy”. Watch it here. You'll agree. Daisy Buchanan did:
The first time I remember hearing the word ‘bossy' I was four, and it was being used to describe my friend Victoria. Graceful Victoria, as willowy as someone can be when they're three foot tall, used to teach me ballet in the playground. She was quite forceful – she was understandably frustrated when I couldn't pronounce plié or go en pointe, and once burst into shocked, angry tears when an intended jeté lifted me all of an inch off the ground as I dived, head first, into a pile of leaves and crisp packets. She taught me ballet out of a misguided sense of kindness – she was horrified that it wasn't a mandatory part of our education, like Mass or Handwriting or Sentences. But the nuns who taught us were horrified by her. “Victoria!” they'd shout stoutly, rosaries rattling against their bosoms. “Leave poor Daisy alone! Stop being so BOSSY!"
The next time was when I overheard my Dad describing me to a friend, after he had just diffused a fight between my sister and I over a fire truck. “She's the eldest, so she's a bossy little thing! She can be a bit of a madam,” he chuckled. Until then, I had thought our fire truck fight was just about two people having a fairly fraught discussion over who would get to go “NEE NAW!” But then I realised I'd misunderstood something about my wishes, and my sense of what it was to be a kid. As the eldest, I was always going to be under extra levels of scrutiny. If I was to make nice, I'd have to let everyone else get their own way first.
Luckily I was exposed to enough awesome, positive influences to ensure that I didn't turn into a total doormat. But to this day, I'm still scared of being “bossy” – and of offending anyone or being seen as a demanding, entitled bitch when I email people to ask when they will be paying my invoices, or whether I might be allowed to eat the last sandwich. So I'm with Beyoncé and Sheryl Sandberg when it comes to the “bossy” ban. In a piece written for the Wall Street Journal, Girl Scout CEO Anna Marie Chavez writes “Sixth- and seventh-grade girls rate being popular and well-liked as more important than being perceived as competent or independent.” Girls as young as eight are avoiding opportunities to lead their peers, because they're worried that someone will label them as “bossy”.
It's wrong. It makes me want to weep. But let's take a look at pop culture! No woman wants to be Patty Simcox, Tracey Flick, Rachel Berry or Taylor Townsend. Boys who have ideas and take charge are visionaries. Girls who want control are divas, or nerds. I remember reading somewhere that Audrey Hepburn demanded approval of every photograph that was ever taken of her before it was released, and thinking “Girlfriend needs to lighten up!” If Girlfriend's career is based on her public image and Girlfriend is in a position to take control over those pictures, it's her prerogative. Beyoncé is backing Ban Bossy – saying “I'm not bossy, I'm the boss.” She's in a similar position to Hepburn – she has an empire to defend. Why shouldn't she control it?
The mythical Cool Girl does much to perpetuate the problem we have with bossiness. If we want to be accepted and liked, we are encouraged to take the path of least resistance (ironically, when it comes to intimate bedroom-based acts, sometimes that is also the path of most resistance). We praise women for being laid back, and criticise the most demanding, challenging ones. It's no coincidence that Jennifer Lawrence is the girl of the moment. We love her for being goofy, gracious and charming – the woman who literally fell into her amazing career, and never appears to have done anything unseemly like asking for it. We compare her favourably to the Real Housewives who flip out about whether their drinks are cold enough and their men look hot enough. A little perspective is no bad thing, but we have created a culture in which women are not to want or demand anything, lest they lose their likeability.
If I hadn't grown up fearing the b-word, I'd be much calmer and more collected when it came to negotiating things I need, like pay rises. When someone did something to my detriment, professionally or personally, I wouldn't take it to heart and bite my tongue. I'd be in a stronger position to get it fixed. If we weren't raised to be people pleasers, and we didn't fear negative lady labelling, we'd speak out for each other. We'd bargain together. We'd make a fuss on each other's behalves when we got shouted at on the street, or discovered there was no good reason why we were earning five grand less than the dudes in our office. I don't know what happened to Victoria, but I suspect that if she didn't grow up to become a prefect or a Union president or an MP, it's because some nuns, with their strange idea of what womanhood entails, told her not to be bossy. We need more women running the country – but that can only happen if we ban bossy and stop making little girls feel bad for trying to be in control.