Men need to let go of “bossy” criticism

Women Connect and the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Navigating the ‘B’ Word” event last week focused attention on a very real issue and offered solid insight into it.

The issue at the core is the different way assertive women, or women in leadership positions, are perceived as opposed to how men with similar qualities or in similar positions are. While traits such as being demanding, pushy or aggressive – when openly taking the lead – are ascribed to women, they are often considered negative. But in men, it’s perceived as just being natural, or being acceptable. “Bossy” seems a lot more likely to applied to a woman than to a man.

Referring to woman as “bossy” for exhibiting the same attributes as a man is a remnant of an unequal society, a society before women bosses were common, before women were regular presences in the boardroom, before a higher percentage of college and university students were women than are men. Furthermore, it’s a way of men winking to each other to diminish the authority and influence of real women today.

Yes, women need to embrace being the authority. But yes, they also need to feel free to break free of norms imposed by men and to balance traits typically associated with being assertive, with those associated with empathy, teamwork, sensitivity. In so doing, they position themselves as better leaders and those who will engender the support of men or women.

Still, the impetus should not fall exclusively on women. On the contrary, it is men who would benefit from discussions such as this very good one last week. It is men who cause the proliferation of the idea that men in authority can conduct themselves one way in positions of influence while expecting differently of women – and being critical of those who are. Women might need to embrace being “bossy” and expand the definition, but men must let go of the idea that gender assigns position or authority.

“Bossy” women include a few names we might know: Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Joan of Arc, Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, etc. Germany’s Angela Dorothea Merkel is arguably the most influential European leader. Think these women weren’t called “bossy” – at the very least.

So while there is work that women need to do to take the sting out of the term, men must play a part too. They must learn to accept that women are more than spouses, partners and daughters. They are also business, civic and political leaders, and those positions require certain degrees of assertiveness.

Real equality doesn’t come from legislation. It comes from acculturation. And it is about time American men get on board that train.