#BanBossy May Have Beyonce, But #BeBossy Has Nicki Minaj

Sheryl Sandberg has done it again: She’s managed to rattle people by her sheer choice of words, and the logical fallacy that one woman’s experience equals all women’s experiences.

I’ve spent some time looking at the #BanBossy campaign and am very impressed that Sandberg corralled Beyonce — whose song “Run the World (Girls)” happens to be my personal anthem — to perpetuate her rhetoric.

As always, I am grateful to Sandberg for opening up these discussions and giving women leverage to call out bad behavior, as well as making people challenge their assumptions starting with the very language they use.

But just as with the Lean In movement, there are slight adjustments to be made. Instead of further creating negative connotations for the word bossy, the boss lady of culture appropriation herself, cultural theorist bell hooks, argues that we should embrace the word. She has set up the #BeBossy campaign to encourage women to own it.

Sandberg is correct in her assertion that our culture chooses toxic labels for women and girls, but I’m not sure the adjective form of “boss” is the right target. When my peers called me bossy as a young girl, I was proud. Every woman’s experience is different, but I think it’s the other B-word that is the actual problem here.

As Nicki Minaj points out in the above video, shot before the world was up in arms about what to do about the word bossy, “There’s no negative connotation behind ‘bossed up’, but lots of negative connotation behind being a ‘bitch’.”

Just the other day I was talking to a bright young woman who was hesitant to speak up for fear of being labeled a bitch, i.e. “emotional,” “shrill” or “hysterical,” a subset of words that the WSJ and this Pantene commercial highlight as being specific to women.

Another biased word is “gravitas.” The only time I hear it is when it’s used to refer to why some women aren’t serious enough — read “enough of a man” — to hold whatever position.

So Sandberg is right that there’s a problem with women being discouraged from leadership, due to the negative labels our culture puts on female leaders. But maybe she’s not so right about the solution. I agree with hooks and others that we should try to reclaim the word and provide girls with strong female role models instead. Perhaps Beyonce should change her motto to, “I am bossy, because I’m a boss”?

What does this have to do with tech? Well, right now most top VC firms are 92 percent male, and female founders only receive 12 percent of all venture capital invested. Only 25% percent of the current class of Y Combinator companies have a female founder, and that is an all-time high.

Don’t you think these numbers would change if we normalized risk-taking and leadership in young women? I do. Boss up.

[Update: Kelis had, well, something on the “bossy” dilemma back in 2006.]