You might be inclined to call me bossy (among other choice “b-words”), and I’ll be inclined not to mind. Although it happens often enough that I’ve chosen to embrace “b-words” rather than be offended by them, I am still happy with the attention being paid to the Ban Bossy campaign. It encourages people to avoid branding little girls as “bossy,” citing the damaging message that it sends: men in power are commanding leaders, while women in power exhibit a negative character flaw.
This phenomenon is hardly breaking news-just ask token woman-in-power Hilary Clinton. I think we’re still missing the point.
The problem is not so much that women are less inclined to lead for fear of being branded “bossy,” but more that when we do, we are conscious of the femininity that we surrender or the token anomaly that we assign ourselves to being.
There is a dichotomy between the supposedly incompatible personas of “wife and mother” and “strong businesswoman,” not only because it is difficult to be both successfully, but also because our notions about femininity don’t permit a woman to be both. We haven’t grasped that strong women aren’t necessarily cold, or that our boo-boo kissing mommy can also be fiercely leaned-in (or, if you’re Rosa Brooks of The Washington Post, “leaned back” and demanding that men and women share the burdens of work and home).
Being successful as a woman is notably more difficult than it is for men (see: glass ceiling), but what’s more unsettling for me is that success is antithetical to my femininity. I’m supposed to live by the quasi-feminist motto of “act like a lady, but think like a boss,” which just reminds me that acting like a lady can never be synonymous with being a boss. Femininity and success are forever separated by that horrible “but.”
There is, of course, an alternative situation in which success is contingent on femininity and femininity becomes an “angle.” Erin Andrews and Danica Patrick are perfect examples of this pigeonholed success that’s more insulting than it is flattering-skirting the “bossy” label shouldn’t mean dooming yourself to feminine-qualified success.
I want success that is noteworthy not because I’m a woman, but because it would still be noteworthy if I were a man. I want to be able to be a homemaker without Jezebel telling me it’s wrong, while also being able to be the leader I am without being labeled as “intimidating” or “sassy.” I want to be able to be a boss without dancing around male egos. I don’t want to “tone down” my femininity to make it, nor do I want that femininity to be the reason I make it.
More than anything, I want to raise my future daughters in a world where acting like a boss doesn’t mean not acting like a lady, because I’m not sure what “acting like a lady” means anymore, anyway. It’s another phrase I wish we’d eliminate. It’s useless-it’s the feminine equivalent of “be a man,” reinforcing outdated gender scripts. I don’t mean that I don’t want to be feminine or that I don’t think there is a distinction between femininity and masculinity, but I don’t want to be told what femininity is, nor do I think we should tell men what masculinity is.
I love being the woman I am and I’m going to keep being that woman, “b-word” or not.
*This article originally misspelled Danica Patrick’s name.