Banning the word "bossy" is wrong

Instead of wanting to ban words, a stronger, more empowering message to girls and young women would be to embrace adversity

Share

Among the pile of DVDs we have at home lies a 30-year-old video remastered into a DVD of the Little Miss series. My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter loves it, which is unfortunate, because (being from the early 1980s) it is packed full of negative female stereotypes that no little girl should be exposed to.

There is Little Miss Splendid, who cares only about hats and things looking nice; there's Little Miss Trouble, who gossips and spreads lies about other Little Misses and Mr Men; Little Miss Late, who keeps saying "sorry" in an Essex girl voice by the actress Pauline Collins; and finally there is Little Miss Bossy, a blue ball of stroppiness with a passive-aggressive daisy poking self-righteously out of her bossy little hat. True, there are plenty of negative characters in the Mr Men books – Mr Lazy, Mr Greedy and so on. But because I have a daughter I loathe the Little Misses so much that I may have to become Ms Clumsy to drop the DVD into the path of the oncoming Dyson.

You would think, then, that I'd be all for the new campaign by Facebook senior executive Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham and Michelle Obama to ban the word "bossy" because it is applied only to women, negatively. The hashtag #BanBossy won the campaign wide support on Twitter. Sandberg said she wanted to launch the campaign because a teacher had told her when she was younger: "Nobody likes a bossy girl", and laments that little boys who are assertive get called leaders instead. Sandberg says: "Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys – a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead."

I am in no doubt that, by secondary school if not earlier, girls are putting their hands up less than boys in the classroom. I also agree that there are certain words, such as "feisty" and "airhead", which are used only to describe women and girls. But banning the word "bossy" is wrong. For a start, it seems an awful lot of money and effort to spend on something that is impossible – arbitrarily banning words when language is so organic and is ruled by forces stronger even than Facebook, if that's imaginable, is not going to happen.

Yet, if the real intention is not to impose a global ban but, as seems more likely, to empower girls and women to object to its use, I am still against this project. Girls are afraid of putting their hands up in class out of a lack of confidence, not because they fear being called "bossy".

Second, there is an unintended consequence of this campaign, which has already happened – that it is sending a message to girls that they should not be assertive.

Finally, Sandberg seems to be pinning her own experiences to her big projects – her book and movement of last year, Lean In, was the result of her own timidity earlier on in her career – but has it not occurred to her that these experiences have helped to make her the high-flying achiever she is today?

Because, perhaps instead of wanting to ban words, a stronger, more empowering message to girls and young women would be to embrace adversity. She should say: I was called bossy at school, while my fellow male pupils were not, but I set out to prove that bossiness can work for a woman, that it is just another word for assertive, that it is good to be exacting and demanding of others – and now look where I am.

We should embrace the adversity life throws at us, especially in those younger years when we are so sensitive and impressionable. Women should embrace "bossy", reclaim it for positive use. The counter-campaign, #BeBossy, is more sensible, if a little less star-studded. My own daughter is certainly assertive and wilful. She is even, dare I say, bossy. But I don't want her to grow up believing this is a negative word, which is what would happen if it were banned. It is good to be bossy, I will tell her. But first I have to get rid of that Little Miss DVD.

A touch of frost

The visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by David Cameron seemed to pass off successfully, prompting the question why he didn't go to the region earlier in his premiership, but waited nearly four years. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were frequent visitors when they were in Downing Street. I am told that it was to give US Secretary of State John Kerry diplomatic space to get on with the latest peace initiative, but that surely should not have prevented Cameron from going earlier.

Anyway, there was much interest in Cameron's meeting with Blair in Jerusalem – the official picture showed them sitting rather awkwardly about 4ft apart, and the PM insisted afterwards he was "not friends" with his predecessor. But this was all for the optics, as they say – it suited both men to not seem too cosy, with Blair about to donate to Labour to help Ed Miliband try to win the election, and Cameron desperate to assure Conservatives – who are already panicking about the next leadership contest 14 months before the election – that they could still win. Yet, I understand, relations between them remain warm.

Cat-and-mouse game

Last week, the House of Commons authorities rejected a plea from MPs to bring in a cat, offered by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to get rid of the mice that, more than ever this year, are plaguing the Palace of Westminster. It was claimed this is because MPs cannot be trusted to look after the moggy. I was cursing this decision on Thursday when, sitting in my office overlooking Parliament Square, a mouse jumped up on to my leg before scampering under the table. Perhaps the authorities will reconsider if I offer to take personal responsibility of the cat.

Canteen shock

Fresh from this incident, I walked down the dimly lit corridor of newspaper offices just above the Commons chamber to steady my nerves with a cup of tea. Just as I got to the press gallery canteen, a utilitarian place which is not a patch on the Old Bar which was demolished a few years ago, I found myself walking behind PR chief Roland Rudd and Blair's former gatekeeper Anji Hunter. I assumed they had got lost on their way to a more salubrious dining room where MPs and peers have lunch. From the looks on their faces, I think they were surprised too.

It turned out they had just come from the memorial service at Westminster Abbey for the late Sir David Frost and there was a lunch for some of the guests in the canteen. Joan Bakewell arrived amid the queue for tea and biscuits. There must have been a separate do for more glamorous guests such as Sir Michael Parkinson and Princess Beatrice. I hope a Commons mouse didn't disturb their lunch.

twitter.com/@janemerrick23

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test