Sheryl Sandberg has sparked a healthy debate with the campaign she started aimed at getting people to stop using the word “bossy’ to describe girls. While it may not seem like a big deal at first, when you think about it and look at the evidence, it’s clear that “bossy” is applied to assertive girls far more often than similarly outgoing boys and is really a euphemism for something else. As Amanda Marcotte puts it:
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.
This #banbossy campaign also reminds me of how some women who are quite aggressive and domineering manage to do very well. I’m speaking, of course, of the many women who have become prominent in the conservative movement, such as Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and the godmother of them all, Phyllis Schlafly. These women find lucrative employment with right wing think tanks and publishing houses, as well as the speaking circuit. They preach traditional gender roles for everyone else while personally enjoying the careers and independence that are the fruits of the feminist movement they constantly deride. It’s unbelievably hypocritical but they get away with it – indeed, they’re rewarded for it – because they’re bossing other women (and low status men) around.
Here’s Ann Coulter in action, providing us a perfect example of what I’m talking about, as she extols the virtues of both slut-shaming and bashing poor people:
“The one thing that has really changed besides, I mean you have the government often subsidizing bad behavior, you have Hollywood rewarding bad behavior, but there’s also an overwhelming cultural sense, I think it is a political correctness, to end shaming,” she said Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “No, shaming is good. It’s almost a cruel and insensitive thing for the upper classes, the educated, the college graduates, to refuse to tell poor people ‘keep your knees together before you get married.’”
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the never-married 52 year old Coulter, who grew up affluent and has inhabited cosmopolitan urban environs her whole life, is probably not saving it for marriage. But the gall with which she demands sexual purity from poor people is pretty impressive. I do want to point out that women like Coulter do not escape being targets of misogyny, as you can clearly see from the comments section at the link, which is a cesspool of misogynistic vitriol directed at her (guys, you’re not helping the cause with this). But Coulter will pay no professional penalty for this kind of “bossiness”, since she’s simply reinforcing and perpetuating the will of the powerful men who pay her, and will continue to enjoy a substantial following of right wingers for whom she’s a plucky heroine. (It’s also important to note that Coulter et al, aren’t any nastier than their male counterparts – Limbaugh or O’Reilly for example – in the things they say. It’s just that the usual rules of demure feminine conduct are somewhat suspended for them.)
A similar dynamic is at work with Arizona’s own Cathi Herrod, President of Center for AZ Policy, who has wielded tremendous power over the GOP caucus in the legislature for years, earning the nickname “31st Senator”. Again, here’s a woman who is proudly confident, assertive, and relentless in her pursuit of her agenda. Is she well-liked? No, but she’s certainly been effective. And she wasn’t just tolerated for years by powerful men in Arizona because she directed her efforts mainly at non-powerful people, she was encouraged by them. Who do you think has been funding CAP all these years?
Herrod wasn’t really doing anything out of her norm with SB1062. It was just a little ol’ CAP bill that would allow upstanding, respectable Christians to discriminate against “undesirables”. No biggie! But SB1062 was quashed by the Important People in AZ because they realized that they, personally, might have suffered some consequences. Herrod, a self-described “former liberal feminist”, seems genuinely stunned by what happened. My guess is that at least one of the reasons she started batting for the anti-feminist team was to gain access to power.