I Was Called “Bossy” & What They Meant Was “Bitch”

Here is why I’m loving the #BanBossy campaign:

Not because I think banning a word is the end game or point. Not because we shouldn’t “reclaim” the word “bossy” and make it a positive, leadership-affirming word for girls. No, I am loving the campaign because when I was a kid and I was called bossy…they really meant “bitch.”


I am not the biggest fan of the entire Lean In movement (another blog post for another time) nor do I think you can solve the world’s problems with “banning” anything. But if we can change the narrative on “Bossy” if we can TALK more about why girls are called “Bossy” and boys aren’t…if this means #BanBossy gets it started than WHOO HOO.

Think about it, #BanBossy is already generating a ton of social media buzz. A ton of talk. A ton of discussion about girls and leadership. That means IT IS WORKING.

Now some of you don’t have the negative connotation that I do with the word “Bossy.” I get that.

However, I do. This speaks to me, directly.

Bossy was never meant as a compliment. It was never meant as one of list of things I was, and still am, that anyone would put in the “positive” pile in the pro and con sheet of my life.

But I was just doing what the boys did. I was simply taking charge, just like the boys were. And for those who would argue “Well, Erin, maybe you weren’t nice.” Were the boys “nice” when they told everyone what to do? And if they were mean, were they called anything even close to “bossy” or were they heralded as a “strong leader that didn’t take anyone’s shit?”


I’m raising a son and a daughter and my husband and I try VERY hard not to pigeon hole them with gender stereotypes, but sometimes things slip out. For instance the other day I told my daughter to “act like a lady.”

What the hell does that even mean? I can’t even remember what she was doing, and I quickly backtracked and talked to both of my kids about what I had said.

Which is just another reason why I think the #BanBossy campaign is exactly what we need, because I know when you call me Bossy, you really mean Bitch. And I’ll be damned if you are going to call my strong, independent daughter a bitch.


  1. Anon, this time says:

    The only person in my life who ever called me “bossy” was my mother. She had quite an assortment of unpleasant labels for me because (I can see as an adult) she was threatened by any expression I made that separated me from her. Ultimately most anytime someone tells someone else that their expression is wrong with a label like “bossy” or “bitchy” or “not nice” it’s because that someone is feeling threatened.

    No matter how well-intentioned, I think the #BanBossy campaign is way off the mark. I think it would be much more productive to teach kids (and plenty of adults) the difference between appropriate and inappropriate expression, and what each of those kinds of expression says about the person using it. If one kid says to another “give me a pencil,” that’s inappropriate — it’s bossy, rude, pushy, whatever you want to call it. If one kid says to another “do you have a pencil I can use,” that’s appropriate, polite, considerate, what have you. Gender has nothing to do with it. People need to be able to look at what they are saying and how they are saying and figure out if they’re doing it effectively, considerately, and clearly. People need to look at what has been said to them and figure out whether it’s been said clearly, considerately, and effectively. If they don’t like what someone is saying, they need to state why in thoughtful terms. “Bossy” isn’t a thoughtful term, it’s a cue that someone would rather slap a label on something and try to get the other person to change it than thoughtfully spell out where the problem is. And, yeah, frequently it’s an unwillingness to admit that the problem is with the name-caller, not the person being labeled “bossy.” Chances are they’re not going to stop doing it. Recognizing that “bossy” is probably the name-caller’s problem, not yours, is an important life skill.

  2. Anon, this time says:

    And, you know what? When boys boss people around they should get reprimanded for it. It’s wrong.

  3. Suzy Soro (@HotComesToDie) says:

    I’m having a problem with the #banbossy campaign because banning a word is the opposite of the 1st amendment rights we all enjoy. We holler about protecting 2nd amendment rights in this country, why not protect the 1st as well. Why we are not embracing the word and teaching girls this word is powerful boggles my mind. Men LOVE being called a prick or a bastard. They embrace what women think are insults to them.

    Twenty years ago I was at a Xmas party at a comedy club with my friend Joy Behar. We were not regulars at that club but all comics went to all the club parties in NY, especially at Xmas. One of the sketches they did involved calling Joy and I bitches. I was mortified. I looked at Joy and she was howling. I whispered, “Didn’t you hear what they called us?” And she told me something I’ve never forgotten:

    “We don’t even play this club and yet we’re in their sketch. Bitch is a powerful word, not a put down. Own it.” And I have ever since. Probably less so than Joy since she went on to have a major success in entertainment and I didn’t. But I know why. She enjoys the power. She doesn’t care what people, especially men, think of her. It’s like Tina Fey said in her book Bossypants when told that men don’t think women are funny: “We don’t give a fuck what you think.”

    Stop banning words, America. Teach our girls that Bossy is a good thing. Just ask Gerogia Getz!

  4. Again, as i said above, I don’t think the goal or end game is to ACTUALLY ban a word…

    It’s to do what we’re doing right now. Talk about it. Change the narrative. i don’t see bossy ever being seen as a ‘good’ or positive description. But I do think we can discuss how girls become leaders.

  5. I do see bossy as a good description, and have a positive spin on it coming to my blog, since I started to comment here and it was a novel. I’ll publish tomorrow and link up to you Erin. 🙂

  6. It is my experience that much of the time the same characteristics that make a woman “bossy” are called “leadership skills” in a man.


  1. […] yesterday my friend Erin wrote about a campaign to ban the word bossy. Like her, I don’t agree with banning a word, and in particular, why the heck would we ban […]

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