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The Arguments In Favor Of The Word “Bossy” Are Already Forming

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 10:16 EDT

When I did a stock image search for “bossy”, images of women dominating men were the major theme, also neatly disproving the claim that it’s a gender-neutral word. 

I usually just laugh at Roy Edroso’s amusing mockeries of Jonah Goldberg and move on. Goldberg really is such a fatuous shitheel it’s hard to take him very seriously and there are many hundreds of conservative bloviators who are more successful at framing disingenuous arguments so they take off amongst the crowds of conservative rationalizers, so I prefer to pay more attention to them. But this latest drop from the keyboard of Goldberg might be accidentally effective, if his readers can hold their attention long enough to get through it. (But first, please read Roy’s hilarious take on it.) It’s addressing Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign, and unsurprisingly, Goldberg is highly supportive of the continued use of a word that exists, like “bitch”, largely as a way to police and shame female assertiveness. Indeed, “bossy” is a synonym for “bitch”, I’d say. I’m not here to rehash the tired Sandberg debates (nor do I care to debate the bossy nature of the “Ban Bossy” campaign), but I think it’s actually quite brilliant the way she and her people figured out that “bossy” is the training bra version of the word “bitch” or “bitchy”. It’s a way to call someone a “bitch” when she’s still a little kid and using the harsher word seems unseemly.

Goldberg denies this, of course, saying it’s “patently untrue” that “bossiness is a gender-specific issue for kids”. This was an easy enough fact-check, as Katy Waldman found “bossy” is used four times as often to describe women as men in books. On the playground, where “bitch” is not an option, I’m guessing the ratio is stratospheric.

But that’s typical Goldberg laziness. What made my skin crawl was he actually pulled a fairly nifty rhetorical stunt in tossing out a red herring I can sense conservatives in general will start to latch on to in order to defend this all-important child-synonym for “bitch” they can use to control and shame little girls.

Then there are the issues at the school level. Admittedly, I don’t send my daughter to public school in D.C. (because I live in D.C.), but to one of those hoity-toity schools that affluent liberals who oppose school choice send their kids to (for the record, we love our kid’s school). Most of my friends either send their kids to similar schools or, if they live outside the District, to good public schools in the D.C. suburbs. In short, these are the kinds of schools Sandberg probably sends her kids to. And the idea that the girls are being shunted or shortshrifted strikes me as just plain other-worldly. Don’t get me wrong, my kid has her complaints. For instance, she signed up for girls lacrosse and is miffed the boys get to “tackle” and the girls don’t.

This is a clever use of a strawman, because most people won’t even notice that he was constructing a strawman. People hear the word “girls” and “leadership” put somewhere near each other and it’s easy enough to convince them that the issue being debated is equal access to education. By pretending that the “Ban Bossy” campaign is about equal access to education, Goldberg can recite a few talking points about how girls have that now, so whatcha bitching about, bossy ladies?

But careful readers will notice that isn’t what Sandberg is saying. At all! In fact, the “Ban Bossy” campaign only makes sense if you assume she’s accepted that there’s formal equal access to education. That’s the point! Girls have equal access! They, which Goldberg whines about, even get better grades in school than boys. And yet, release them in the real world and they start falling behind. So clearly there’s external factors that are causing girls who did well in school to fall behind in the workplace. We can debate what those are, though I think we can all agree that they’re complicated. But Sandberg’s argument is that one major factor is girls are socialized to be ashamed of themselves for assertive behavior or taking leadership roles. While you’re in school and you’re largely assessed on your ability to follow orders, girls do just fine. But when you’re in the real world, where standing up for yourself is a critical skill for getting ahead, the gender that is told that they’re emasculating and evil and bitchy and bossy for standing up for themselves is, understandably, going to fall behind as they try to avoid being slapped with those words.

All of which is to say Goldberg is pulling a bait-and-switch. Sandberg says girls struggle to stand up for themselves, and functionally, Goldberg is saying girls do just fine when it comes to taking orders, and that should be enough for you bossy feminists. But he employed enough hand-waving that I suspect this argument will be repeated ad nauseum by other wingnuts.

Now, again, you can argue with Sandberg on whether or not this is the primary issue or argue that her priorities aren’t straight or whether or not this is the right approach or if it feels too bossy. Have at those debates! Knock yourself out. But it’s objectively true that “bossy” is a word used to police female assertiveness and it’s objectively true that it’s effective in that task. Indeed, that’s why you could have guessed with 100% certainty that conservatives would get their back up against the wall about this, because being able to police female assertiveness is important to them. I suspect, strongly, that Goldberg’s strategy—subtly change the topic to imply that since girls are good at taking orders, we shouldn’t complain if they fall behind in asserting themselves—is going to become a popular, probably the popular strategy in pushing back. Something to keep an eye out for.

CPAC Demonstrates The Limits Of The Conservative Brand

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:34 EDT

The idiot who has contempt for everyone smarter than you act is a bit, well, limiting.  CPAC happened last weekend, and apparently there’s been some grousing that it gets so much more media attention than similar progressive events, such as Netroots Nation. Or, at least that’s a question that Josh Marshall got from a reader, and so he decided to answer it and his answer is quite interesting. Basically, CPAC has a lot of structural…


True Detective Finale: Living With Uncertainty

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, March 10, 2014 9:37 EDT

I’m happy to admit I was wrong: In the end, True Detective was a show that invoked the tired old cliche that any woman who had the temerity to grow past the idealized age of innocence ended up on screen as flat, barely characterized stereotype: As Janet Turley put it,…


Religion Doesn’t Require Bigotry, And Don’t Let Anyone Claim Otherwise

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, March 6, 2014 11:50 EDT

“Nuh-uh” is a standard reply conservatives make to accusations of bigotry, and it’s surprisingly effective, for one simple reason: Conservatives want to drag the debate over to the topic of what’s in their hearts instead of what’s in their actions, because they know that no matter how hateful and bigoted…


No, Diet Coke Is Not Encouraging Drug Abuse

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 10:49 EDT

If only he’d heeded our warnings to avoid caffeinated beverages.  You can always tell the difference between genuine concerns about drug use and anti-drug hysteria by how upset someone is at the possibility that someone, somewhere, might feel pleasure at something other than the righteous feeling you get when you…


Yes, Religion Will Become Less Homophobic. No, That’s Not A Bad Thing.

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:12 EDT

I can’t recommend enough Mark Joseph Stern’s dismantling of Ross Douthat’s whiny, dishonest column about the collapse of the latest round of anti-gay bills in various state legislatures. So read it, and come back here, because I have a few thoughts on the broader discourse about religion, bigotry, and homophobia.…


White men, as a group, vote Republican because they vote their resentments

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, March 3, 2014 9:52 EDT

Important disclaimer for the eager-to-be-butthurt: Obviously, not all men or even all married men or all white men or all men of a certain demographic. Republicans get the majority of white men, but they don’t get all of them. Calm the fuck down. Democrats have conquered most demographics in this…


Bill O’Reilly Retains Title Of America’s Biggest Gasbag

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, February 28, 2014 13:17 EDT

Bill O’Reilly really is the Olympic gold medalist of mansplaining. His rock-solid certainty that teen pregnancy (which he appears to believe is rising when it’s declining, due to improved contraception use), unemployment and all other manner of social ills can all be solved with a strongly worded lecture to young…


Conservative Leaders Don’t Want You To Even Look At Healthcare.gov

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 10:59 EDT

Despite the fact that conservatives often fancy themselves the kind of people who define political self-interest as strictly a cold, financial matter, the reality is that they’re far better than liberals at exploiting things like social stigma, bigotry, taboo and other “irrational” emotions to point people in the direction they…


Favorite Anti-Feminist Theory Debunked By Purdue Researchers

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 11:28 EDT

Why you no let me open door myself? As anyone who has ever spent any time talking about feminism online before can tell you, a whole fuckton of men claim that feminism, in all its evil machinations, has made opening a door for a lady a fraught ordeal of doom.…