Has anyone ever called you ‘bossy’?
For many women, this experience is all too familiar. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg once even proposed they ban the term. It has sexist connotations, as it undermines and discourages female authority. Simply put, society views women as ‘bossy,’ not the boss.
Two weeks ago, a peer who I have never met in person called me bossy. Her comment disoriented me, no one had called me bossy before, let alone by another woman. For a woman to call another woman ‘bossy’ especially speaks to internalized misogyny.
I know she likely internalized this misogyny as all women do: just by living in our male-dominated society, . Still, it is of critical importance for us to reflect and be cognizant of our own biases.
Still the comment disoriented me. ‘Bossy’ was so against how I viewed my own character. But that got me thinking. If ‘bossy’ is a term used in an attempt to quiet strong women, why did I have such an adverse reaction to this comment?
The exact same qualities in men make them regarded as leaders. Why do I not think that ‘bossy’ fits my character?
For some food for thought, some pictures below from @feminist on instagram:
To some degree, I already knew the root of the answer to this question. It was my chiefly my gender as a woman my identity as a person of color, Asian. As an Asian woman, I am very aware of the stereotype that Asians, especially women, are quiet, reserved, submissive, etc.
While I have not always rebelled against this stereotype, I have become better versed in race-related topics. Now I realize that Asian women face a particularly interesting struggle in the workforce.
Particularly in the United States, Asian men and women exhibit higher education levels than any other ethnic group. While this speaks more to the political and social contexts of institutional racism rather than actual intelligence, education among Asians in the United States is proportionally higher statistically speaking.
Yet, Asians are the least likely group to hold be promoted to management positions (Harvard Business Review -2018]. This circles back to the stereotypes around them.
When Asian women speak out, it intensely violates the ‘submissive Asian woman’ stereotype. Thus instead, she is immediately characterized as bossy. These negatively charged semantics are not conducive to gaining leadership roles.
But neither is living down to the stereotype by staying quiet and not voicing your opinions out of fear. In my case, I doubted myself and reanalyzed my past interactions with this person.
I had so many questions: Had I been bossy? When was I? What did I say again? Did I react appropriately to other inputs? But more importantly, I was exceptionally careful in the next meeting we had.
I reverted to being quieter, more reserved, more passive. Thankfully, it didn’t last long as that got boring. But as you can see, there is no clear path to ‘winning’ as an Asian woman in the workforce.
Lastly, this is not to say that Asian women are the only ones to face that double-edged sword. Women of all backgrounds face similar biases. But by extension of stereotypes as passive, Asian women face their own prejudices when speaking up.