Gina Barreca: Nobody’s Going To Tell Me To ‘Ban Bossy’

By Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant.

I’ve been bullied into writing about the “Ban Bossy” movement.

Students, former students, friends who have young daughters, and now a woman in Kentucky, someone I’ve never met who lives in one of the two states I’ve never even visited (the other is Alaska), all insist that I must have something to add to this discussion.

My unmet pal in the Bluegrass State chided me for sidestepping and do-si-do-ing around Sheryl Sandberg’s initiative, uncannily coinciding with the launch of Sandberg’s latest book, to ban the word “bossy” so that girls can be free of the stigma attached to being regarded as assertive and in control.

With support from Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Beyonce and the Girl Scouts, a group I adore especially since they awarded me their Storytelling badge and thereby turned a lifetime of fibbing into a legacy of nonfiction narrative, Ban Bossy has become a big deal.

Media attention focusing on how “bossy” is used as a bludgeon against energetic, ambitious and articulate girls has been going on for several months.

Frankly, I thought I could duck it. No, I suppose that’s not exactly evidence of a leadership perspective, but it was nevertheless my goal in this particular instance.

Why? Why can’t I embrace Ban Bossy?

Here are my three reasons:

1) I don’t like the idea of banning words. Not only doesn’t it work, it backfires. (Do I need to provide examples? Just choose random letters, C, M and N, and you’ll hear your own versions of banned words; if you don’t, do not write to me to ask what they are.) It raises the specter of censorship not only in its most ineffective form but also in its most pernicious one; we can encourage people to avoid poisonous and insulting terms, but who has the authority to ban a word? What we can do, of course, is to make people who use certain words feel as if they are outcasts and perhaps demonically possessed. Let’s try that.

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