It has been brought to my attention recently that I am bossy. Bossy! Moi? Shut the front door!!
You are too fricking right I am bossy. I own bossy, and about 20 million pairs of bossy boots to go with it.
Just as a quick reminder, I am the eldest of four girls; my mum saw fit to add more kids to the mix as a childminder when we were young, so there were literally hundreds of us. She was our boss and I was the (self-appointed) deputy boss (~Dad sensibly mostly took a pew in the quiet corner of the house). Throughout school and university I jumped at any opportunity to lead and to manage; games, teams, events, projects… I may not always win, or be the best, but I do always do it with a large dose of enthusiasm. And, the very reason I’m writing this and my biggest challenge of all: I’m a mother. I’m a mother of two strong-willed, energetic, feral and fantastic little children. Part of the mum job remit is to be “bossy”, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get out of the house. You ain’t gonna get kids to bed. And you sure as heck won’t get anything productive done.
“Oh please Boddler would you be so kind as to get your little lovely chubby feet into your sandals because we really must go to the shop to get you some milk, don’t you think, wouldn’t that be lovely?” Said no mum ever.
SHOES ON! COATS ON! STAND BY THE FRONT DOOR! The command still resonates with me and even as I write it I have to resist the urge to make a mad scramble to the front door, grasping for any stray sister I can en route. That command is how the Mothership got us all to school every single morning, and it mostly worked a treat. Only now am I starting to appreciate the #skillz required to do that. She bossed us and she got the job done. Go Mothership! (Sidenote: for context this was shouted from the top of the stairs, whilst she was still in her nightgown, slowly approaching the bathroom, whilst hoovering and trying to sew a name badge on to something, slurping a cup of tea).
It is a such a shame that the use of the word “bossy” in this case, by my better half, wasn’t intended to be congratulatory. Or encouraging. He wasn’t telling me I was doing a good job moving a seemingly impossible mountain aka whining children around. It was pejorative (although still palatable with the French accent) and he meant to tell me to calm down and stop being “aggressive” (also his word).
What was it that made my behaviour a negative type of bossy exactly? There are a few factors: (a) Possibly I was hangry. Fine. That is often the case, I need energy all the time. I will do better with ensuring I have food supplies. (b) I was giving instructions without a smile. Maybe. I do sometimes forget to say please and smile when I’m asking for someone to grab a nappy bag, and I am sorry about that. I’m working on it. But most likely it was (c) because I’m a woman. I’m a mum and I was giving instructions about things pertaining to the kids, and clothes, and food, and packing, and family logistics. “Boring mum” stuff. If I had been giving instructions to move a team of army officers, or dealing with an urgent response to a corporate crisis, or something, anything to do with driving a fast car whilst being chased by blokes with guns and dodging bullets (think The Rock), perhaps I would have been told I was leading like a boss. I was being assertive. Winning. But navigating four people from A to B to C with bags and buggys and food supplies and beverages, on trains and in taxis, in seemingly impossible (sweltering hot) circumstances, simply doesn’t cut it. That’s not a real challenge. And it doesn’t require bossing. Apparently. Yes, I physically need help to do it all, I can’t carry a million things and clingy humans, but mentally, I’m juggling it all above my head. Solo. There simply isn’t room for two people to juggle simultaneously, unless you can mind read, and we certainement can’t, so one of us has to take the command lead. In this case, me.
Anyway, it got me thinking again about the clear gender divide, the inherent sexism in the way we use language, still, today; the negative connotations that certain adjectives carry, versus the complimentary and empowering connotations associated with others. Not surprisingly, the former tend towards women and female “characteristics”, whereas the latter tend towards the men of the world.
By way of example, the Cambridge Dictionary working examples for the word “bossy” (online version) are still largely focussing on an imaginary woman’s behaviour:
“My older sister was very bossy.” <was she indeed. I hope that wasn’t you reporting me, Fawcett sisters!!>
“Girls of that age can get quite bossy.” <what age exactly? today age?>
“Stop being so schoolmarmish and bossy!” <what is the male equivalent of a schoolmarm?>
Let’s compare to a few more positive, macho adjectives and their working examples:
Leader: “He’s a natural leader.” <Shocker.>
Powerful: “I get the impression Sheila is the powerful one in that relationship, not her husband!” <Wow. Go Sheila. Perhaps we ought to call the police and a schoolmarm to sort you out?>
Confident: “His confident leadership inspired his followers”. <Presumably referring to our friend Mr T and his twitter team….>
I recently saw a clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking at the Chatham House London Conference. Aside from being an eloquent speaker, and a fantastic author, she is also a strong feminist. Strong, I should note, and not “angry” as she finds she is often described:
“In our world, a man is confident, but a woman is arrogant.
A man is uncompromising but a woman is a ball-breaker.
A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive.
A man is strategic, a woman is manipulative.
A man is a leader, but a woman is controlling”
<and I would like to add: BOSSY>.
So, what can we do about this? Ladies, gents, let’s all make an active attempt to think twice before we describe someone’s behaviour using a pejorative adjective. Let’s also work to take the perj away. Be gone negative connotations! I want my children to be proud that they are bossy. Being bossy is good. I want them to look back, as I am today thinking of my mum, laughing and dashing to the door all at the same time, and be proud of all that we achieve together. And also to be grateful. Thank you Mothership for sorting us all out. Thank you for getting us to so many places and giving us so many opportunities. Often times, it wasn’t in easy circumstances, and I’m sorry that I didn’t give you more credit for it all. Thank you for doing it and keeping it all together, 24/7. Let’s be honest, most people would struggle getting out of the door with four children, I can confirm I struggle with a mere half the quota, so hats off to you.
Mumming isn’t something you can dip in and out of, or that you can turn to mute when you’ve got a banging head or there’s something better to watch on TV. When you are MumBossing, it’s usually against a backdrop of limited sleep, and questionable sustenance. That alone should render the “bossiness” respect to the highest levels.
I am going to try to be more pleasant as I boss, but I sure as hell won’t stop bossing, and next time Monsieur FF starts to tell me I’m being bossy, I shall thank him, highlight the wins of the day, which may or may not include exiting house and cleaning poo up, and look forward to a congratulatory glass of bubbles. Go Mamas! Cheers! X