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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Sandbergian Modest Proposal

Jeanne d'Arc on campaign.
Unknown earlysixteenth-century artist.
Bossy is a word that started life referring to a swelling (as, say, a raised area on the skin) or to those nail-like studs on, say, a sixteenth-century shield. It isn't recorded as a name for a cow (round and often swollen creatures!) until the 1840's, and it didn't migrate to become a name for a domineering woman until the 1880's. Is it coincidence that the 1880's were a very important time for suffragettes? I doubt it.

Billionaire Sheryl Sandberg and her famous word-knight followers wish to ban the word bossy, so I hope from her position of might she will forgive me for teasing her a little! Because I expect she'll have the usual absurd results that attend the efforts of people who want to rule our words because language is like water and rushes and falls where it will. But it's curious to see her in armor with her bossy posse, tilting at a windmill. I is, inevitably, a rather ridiculous sight when there are so many problems in this world that are better worth the effort of a quest and campaign.

Language is a greater power than any billionaire can wield. History tells us that where language is forced underground, it will, like water, burst out in some surprising way elsewhere. Who knows where bossy will go next, now that she has hailed its powers in public? I don't give Ms. Sandberg much hope of victory in her knightly quest to pursue and skewer a word.

What's next? Surely a male billionaire will put on cuirass and helm and gauntlets and go tilt at that primarily guy-related term of endearment, asshole...

A Sandbergian Modest Proposal

Elsewhere, pre-teen girls and women are beaten by the police for not wearing the proper hair covering. So let's ban bossy.

Elsewhere, women's faces must be hidden from the light of day because "the face of a woman is a source of corruption." So let's ban bossy.

Elsewhere, little girls finish their narrow educations at the age of eight. So let's ban bossy.

Elsewhere, a young woman was raped and destroyed internally by a phallus in the form of an iron bar. So let's ban bossy.

Elsewhere, three women were imprisoned for years in a private home and one forced to give birth in a toddler's inflatable pool. So let's ban bossy.

Worldwide, women with HIV acquire their disease primarily from longterm partners and the inability to exert any control over a husband or partner's choice not to use protection. So let's ban bossy.

Worldwide, 603 million women live where domestic violence is no crime. So let's ban bossy.

Worldwide, women comprise 9% of the police force. So let's ban bossy.


  1. I had begun this comment by listing further horrors carried out against women, and men, but chose to delete that list for the reason that I suspect you did not continue your list any further, namely that where does one stop? Add in mankind's crimes against the animal world and the environment,! Let's ban 'bossy'.

    1. Yes, one could go on infinitely in this world productive of horrors... (So, yes, let's!)

  2. To not use a word is a matter of choice. To try and get it banned is rather bossy, don't you think?
    You are right, there are more important issues that Sheryl Sandberg could be addressing, but the reality is that she is centering her attention on the portrayal of women - and particularly to the perception of women with leadership qualities. This is something she has experienced, so fair enough.
    Mind you… 'banning' any word is a little… bossy (would she like to come up with another word that might mean the same? The word does have a meaning!)

    1. Indeed, it is positively imperious!

      And yes, I have teased her a little but she has a good thing at heart. Still, it's like trying to legislate the wind...

      Even the French can't control language...

  3. Marly, I see your point but we don't live in a time of either this/OR that. I am a great admirer of Sheryl Sandberg, and I don't think she would intend that trying to reform our understanding of how we refer to strong women is so all-important that we shouldn't also fight for women's rights on other fronts at the same time.

    1. I don't think we do either--was just frolicking and teasing a little bit for the sake of words because they will not be tamed and put in a net... And I am glad they will not obey the wealthy and the powerful!, no matter how good the cause.

      Oh, I liked that other thing you said on facebook about being charmed by a bossy girl...

      Let's see; I think I have at least one other response that is somewhat like yours... Kristen's "Not to play devil's advocate, but pro-woman movements can take many forms and Sandburg is merely sticking to what she knows and understands. More women executives certainly isn't a step in the wrong direction. Women in power (and politics) can, eventually and hopefully, help women in other countries." She goes on to critique the word "bossy," but this is a similar idea avoiding either/or.

      However, I'm afraid my mischief-loving self cannot resist it acting up when the word police arrive, in whatever shape they come!

  4. I'm increasingly creeped out by the way it's becoming okay to use the word "ban" with regard to words or ideas (where before we limited it to "ban the bomb," "ban DDT," and so forth). When did this happen?

    I watched the "Ban Bossy" video, and there they were, actors and business execs and politicians teaming up to tell us what words we may or may not use. I'm a very mild-mannered writer who rarely seeks to offend, but these days I find myself defending lots of odious characters simply because I can't abide the language police, whose ranks should never include writers, actors, and artists.

    1. I am with you on being mild-mannered and with feeling that creepiness... It seems to go along with the increased level of chiding and scolding in the world--the upped sense that certain segments of society have the right to control how we think.

      That said, I found the fb comments on the link to this post a mix of people who: defended her stance in part; laughed at the whole thing; made jokes; or went in an entirely different direction (like Midori Snyder, who recommended not batting the word away but "owning" it.) I expected a lot more people to be hostile and rigid, but nobody was. So perhaps many people are cautious about the idea of language police... I hope so.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.