When I posed the question “Are women bossy?” to the Google search engine, I got more than 18,000 responses, ranging from “As a general rule, women are bossy and manipulative” to “Sometimes a few of us [males] really do need a little kick up our lazy butts.”
In asking the question, I was motivated by two factors.
My previous column (“Sounding board blues,” March 12) was critical of the many men who, when out with a woman, ramble on only about themselves and their exploits and never try to find out what a woman thinks about anything, making her feel invalidated as an individual with thoughts and opinions of her own. It thus seemed only fair this time to bring up a trait often attributed to us females.
The second factor was coming across an October 2012 Daily Mail column by Cosmo Landesman entitled “Why men secretly love bossy women: Pick my clothes? Put me on a diet? Vet my friends? Whatever you say, dear” which – counter-intuitively – hailed the bossy woman.
THIS, IN turn, slotted neatly into a campaign that is making waves in the US and elsewhere, launched earlier this month by Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, founder of the women-empowering Leanin.Org. Aided by powerful women in high-profile positions including celebrities like Beyoncé and politicians like Condoleezza Rice, the campaign – backed also by Girl Scouts USA – aims to “Ban Bossy,” a label they feel is an unfair gender stereotyping that holds women back and keeps them from aspiring to influential roles.
These women and girls feel that the word “bossy” is disproportionately and derogatively used to label girls and women when they exhibit behavior that, in boys and men, would be approved of and called leadership.
Go into banbossy.com and you will read that “the confidence gap starts early...between elementary and high school, girls’ self-esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys’. Girls are deterred from putting up their hands too often to answer questions, and otherwise appearing “pushy.”
“Together we can encourage girls to lead,” urges the site, inviting women to take the “Pledge to Ban Bossy.”
Commented one (male) late-night talk show host: Whoever heard of banding together to stamp out a word? “If that isn’t being bossy, what is?” AND NOT all women approve of the banning attempt.
Actress Helena Bonham Carter, taking on an assertive role in a new film called Suffragette about the early 20th-century women’s movement, called the campaign to eliminate a word “insane” and “pointless,” since, she said, it would only be replaced with another word having the exact same meaning.
Other detractors think girls and women who have been called bossy should confront the word head-on and proudly “own” it rather than demand to be freed of it; that they should work to alter its connotations so that rather than being a put-down, it would simply describe a strong female who knows her own mind.
WHICH BRINGS me back to the Daily Mail’s Landesman writing approvingly, if humorously, about the women in his life who have been dictatorial, even domineering.
He admits that it took him quite a while to appreciate the advantages of being with a bossy woman, something that, on the face of it, is the kind of relationship most men say they would run from. Bossy, he points out, doesn’t seem very lovable. Bossy women are often called control freaks.
But think again.
“For starters,” he writes, “what other men call bossy I call assertive, dynamic, decisive and driven – which are all attractive qualities to a lazy and indecisive man like me.
“That bossy women have a bad reputation is understandable...but I love the way bossy women get things done. They just do it! No debate. No discussion.”
Being with a bossy woman, Landesman writes with relief, means “none of those tedious, time-consuming ‘But what do you think, darling?’ interrogations you get with modern women who believe that a relationship can only work if it’s an equal partnership.
“Bossy women instinctively understand that the first rule of a successful relationship is this: Never ask a man what he thinks. And they’re right.”
Men simply don’t think, he says, “about color schemes for the living room, bathroom taps, linen, types of stoves... their clothes, or where to go on holiday.
Bossy women liberate men from the boring bits of life.”
And he doesn’t really mind being bossed around, he adds.
“The thing about bossy women is that they may at times be overbearing, but they’re never boring.
“It might look as if we’re on our knees,” (this a trifle apologetically), “but a bossy woman keeps a man on his toes. She demands that a man be the best he can be.
“You may call it domestic tyranny,” he declares; “I call it tough love, and it works.”
‘I HAVE a male acquaintance like this,” wrote a critical talkbacker from Oxford, England. “When he gets [to be] in a couple he stops being ‘I’ and becomes a ‘we’. ‘We’ don’t eat this, ‘we’ like to watch that. He simply takes on all of his girlfriends’ likes and dislikes.... He loves being told what to do, it’s like he has no actual personality, he’s just a blank page waiting to be written on.”
Responded “Darren” from the US: “I wouldn’t put it as ‘bossiness’... it’s the appeal of a woman who’s willing to tell her man what will make her happy. Men lack the empathy to sense what a woman wants, and need clear orders (think dog training!).
Tell your guy what you want and you’ll likely get it; put it on him to figure it out, and you’ll be frustrated.”
“Poor, immature guy,” commented another talkbacker pityingly, “still missing his mother to tell him what to do.”
Sarah from the UK realized “what I have probably known all along: I am a bossy wife... I married someone who can’t make decisions....
If I didn’t ever ask him to do anything, he would do nothing at all bar watch TV or go for an occasional bike ride. I am sick and tired of this and long to be married to an assertive man who would take the reins and make the decisions for a change!” I THINK women are biologically programmed to desire a level of assertiveness in their men. It gives us the feeling – and expectation – of being “protected” by a strong partner who is there to look out for us in every way.
That’s the idealistic take on relationships; the reality is that we are all, men and women, products of our genes, our upbringing and our time, and must deal with that melange in ourselves and in the people we choose to share our lives with.
The secret for a woman is to know her partner and, if his nature tends to indecisiveness, to be “bossy” without appearing to. The human canvas, going far back in history, is replete with smart, subtle women who run things while giving everyone, including the man, the impression that he is the one who makes the decisions.
As long as a man feels validated and appreciated for what he brings to the relationship, he will gladly surrender whole areas of life to the woman’s care.
Mutual respect may be one of the most crucial qualities in a successful relationship.
FINALLY AND most importantly for each partner: “Bossy” should never turn into “bully,” nor “masterful” become “manipulative.”