You Can’t Whine Your Way to a Better World

by Jim Geraghty

From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Who’s the Bossy?

Women of the world . . . 

I know I’m not the most sensitive man in the world. I have my times where I am particularly insufficiently attuned to your needs, particularly during football season. From time to time, I find your thinking illogical, contradictory, or simply not sensible, and I express that opinion, with usually deeply regrettable consequences.

But to the extent I understand you, I grasp that you’ve got a lot on your shoulders. You feel like everyone is always counting on you, and you feel that way because usually, everyone really is counting on you. Your husbands and boyfriends may try their best, but there’s always more to be done, and it falls to you. You keep track of all the little things. You’re not appreciated nearly enough. Toddlers with peanut butter on their fingers hug you when you’re heading out the door in your work clothes.

Your bosses expect a lot of you, your kids expect a lot of you, your parents expect a lot of you, your spouses expect a lot of you, you want to be there for your friends when they need you, your siblings fit in somewhere between the friends and the parents, and if you’re going to take care of the caretaker, as they recommend, that requires time and energy and attention and mental space, all of which feel like valuable and increasingly rare resources. It feels like there is never, ever, ever enough time.*

So I get that life throws a lot of problems and challenges at you, day after day.

But if I asked you to list the ten, or twenty, or a hundred, or five hundred biggest problems in your life . . . I’m guessing “being called bossy” wouldn’t make the list.

It’s just not a big enough problem to warrant a celebrity-laden national awareness campaign, compared to everything else. People have been calling you names since kindergarten. The Internet is one giant F-bomb-laden torrent of abuse, assessment of your appearance, and vulgar threats. You get called worse names by the guy trying to cut you off on your morning commute. Compared to all that, being called “bossy” is almost quaint in its passive-aggressiveness. I’m betting you would happily trade a half-hour of being called “bossy” by everyone you know in exchange for two hours of uninterrupted “me time” once a week.

Ann Friedman of New York magazine is similarly not persuaded:

The response to “Ban Bossy” has ranged from rather tepid to downright hostile. “I am bossy. And I don’t give a *$&% if you call me that,” wrote Jessica Roy at Time Magazine. Slate’s Katy Waldman declared, “I don’t intend to stop using it, even if the feminist super-team tells me to.” Count me among the detractors. I’m all for encouraging girls to lead, but the term bossy is hardly a problem big enough to warrant the combined star power of Sandberg and Beyoncé and Jennifer Garner and Condoleezza Rice. I’ll admit it: Bossy doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown-up, proudly self-identified boss-lady. Or because I associate the term more with Kelis’s 2006 single (“You don’t have to love me / You don’t even have to like me / But you will respect me / You know why? / ‘Cause I’m a boss”) and Tina Fey’s humorous memoir than with schoolyard taunts. Sure, according to the dictionary it means “inclined to domineer,” but I interpret it more as “inclined to dominate” — to be a woman with power who isn’t afraid to use it. . . . 

Which is why it’s so frustrating to watch Lean In try to expand girls’ options by restricting the way we talk about them. It’s counterintuitive, and it makes feminists look like thought police rather than the expansive forward-thinkers we really are.

Let’s skip over the argument of whether feminists have behaved more like the thought police in recent decades and just savor a moment of self-professed feminists telling other self-professed feminists to stop telling everyone else what they can and can’t say.

I’m sure someone will call me a jerk for saying this aloud, but trying to ban the word “bossy” sounds whiny. Allegedly, a big part of feminism is celebrating strong women, and encouraging them to express that strength and determination and ability to overcome adversity; a strong woman doesn’t crumble in the face of criticism or even nasty names. Nobody ever thought better of someone else because they whined, and if calling a woman “bossy” really could hold her back, no woman would ever run anything. As a criticism, the label “bossy” is pretty impotent, to offer a metaphor that Freudian psychologists will analyze for weeks.

You know who gets called “bossy” a lot? Bosses. And bosses run things. They get stuff done. That’s why they became the boss, and why they’re still the boss.

* None of this is unique to women, of course.

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