The Gendered Nature of “Bossy”

I found this wonderful article article the other day and thought I’d share it for this Saturday’s blog. It was one which really made me think and written so clearly and succinctly that I had to share it.

It’s amazing that the term “boss” is often used as masculine noun, although the verb “bossy” is primarily a derogative one, and used  all too often in reference to “uppity” females. How did this happen? Should we reclaim the verb, using it to refer to someone who is commanding, who is responsible for directing the activities or others, or who displays strong leadership skills? Or should we “Ban the Bossy” altogether?

I wonder when the noun Boss was purely a descriptive term for the person in charge in the workplace, to the verb “boss” – to tell someone what to do. Of course, they may mean the same thing but the verb only ever seems to be used in a negative context. For example, “they’re always bossing me around.” I wonder if it stems from the often lampooned version of the “Boss” as someone who  does an awful lost of talking but knows very little about things in reality and is largely ineffective. Or is the Boss someone who irrationally barks our orders like a little dictator, with little engagement with those around him/ her. Is this what we secretly think of women as a society. Should we all just know our place?

One of the comments to this post describes an exercise whereby participants were asked to list the derogatory words used for women and for men. The women came out on top – and not in a good way. It’s interesting that in many work based diversity workshops I’ve attended over the years, we have undertaken similar exercises with other  groups, foe example based on sexual orientation, religion or race. On reflection, it’s a shame that we don’t stop to do this for women. I don’t think we challenge language enough, not just from men but from women too – we are all too often our worst enemy. A good example is from my post “The Accidental Housewife” which you’ll find in the archive.

Whether you want to ban bossy, reclaim it, or think that it’s not a problem at all, I urge you to at least stop and think about the language you use. If you find your lexion of verbs fall into a female or male camp, then there’s something wrong. There are no male or female verbs, there are just verbs.

Helen Treharne

I’m Helen Treharne, fiction author an creator of The Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. I live in South Wales with my husband, young son and rescue cat.
My books are available at all major digital retailers with soft back copies also available from Amazon, Createspace and other stores.
When I’m not writing fiction, I blog at, sharing my experiences of being a busy parent jugging working, writing, and more. Follow me there for my personal insights.

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