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I’ll confess I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I had to finish three term papers and two courses and attend a conference, so accept my apologies. But better late than never, right?

It’s been a couple weeks since Sheryl Sandberg launched her campaign to ban the word “bossy.”

Two things:
1. good luck
2. why?

Banning a word reeks of the worst kind of avoidance and suppression. That whole “let’s sweep it under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist” thing. But you know what? It does exist. It’s still there. And in a way, it’s even worse because you tried to hide it. It’s just lurking under the carpet, gathering mold and seeping into the floorboards.

So instead of doing that, instead of throwing a ball gag around the issue, let’s actually address the root of the problem, which is that aggressive woman are often criticized for being, well, aggressive. You know, shut up and look pretty and stop making problems.

But as any woman who has tried to get things done will tell you, you’re not going to get anywhere playing nice. You might get laid, but that’s about it. If you want to change the world, you have to break the rules. And breaking the rules means being a bitch. It means being bossy. And banning a word isn’t going to make that go away.

As a woman, I’ve learned I often have to speak twice as loud and I have to work twice as hard to get people to pay attention, to get things to happen. And I’ve been doing it for so long, that I’m not sure I would know how to do it any other way. I’m not sure it’s possible to do it any other way. Maybe it means I’m a bitch — but is that a bad thing?

From a Saturday Night Live skit a few years back:

TINA FEY: Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch. Let me say something about that: Yeah, she is. So am I and so is this one. [Points to Amy Poehler]

AMY POEHLER: Yeah, deal with it.

TINA FEY: You know what, bitches get stuff done. That’s why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers and not priests. Those nuns are mean old clams and they sleep on cots and they’re allowed to hit you. And at the end of the school year you hated those bitchesbut you knew the capital of Vermont. So, I’m saying it’s not too late Texas and Ohio, bitch is the new black!

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Instead of policing language, instead of wasting time and resources trying to strip a word from our current vernacular, wouldn’t it be lovely if Sandberg focused on actual change? The lack of affordable childcare has probably had a much more debilitating impact on women’s careers than any five-letter word. Or hey, let’s talk about education or the pay gap or domestic violence. You know, real issues. Issues that might actually lead to some kind of actual problem-solving.

But worse than the fact that Sandberg is wasting her influence on playing word police, she is also sending an insidious message. She is telling women that there is something wrong with being bossy, with being demanding, with being driven and strong. But you can’t sugarcoat this, no matter what words you use.

I’ve been told quite a few times over the years that I’m all those things — and not necessarily in good ways. But you know what? If I wasn’t all those things, I wouldn’t be here now. Maybe I’d be married. Maybe I’d have some cute kids and a nice lawyerly husband, but I’d also be suffering the effects of swallowing myself for year after year, and I’ve never had any interest in doing that. I’ve been much more preoccupied with wanting to change the world. With wanting to break those rules and make an impact. And you’ll never get there without being bossy. Because otherwise no one cares. No one listens.

For the record, the idea of being bossy seems, well, hot. Because when you’re bossy, it means you’ve got ideas and you’ve got the confidence to put them into play. It means you get shit done. It means you’re a firestarter. It means you’re a boss.

Sorry, Sheryl.

 

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