Recently my interest was caught a media discussion: the kind where X says this, so Y spouts up with that, often through tweets and social network sites, and giving both X & Y & also Z material for an article or two.
This controversy was about the use of the word “bossy” to describe girls. It does come across as a word drenched in negativity and rejection. For one thing, “bossy” is what girls aren’t supposed to be, but it is hard to refute without sounding – er, bossy.
Last year, researching Mary Wollstonecraft for a short story, I read Clare Tomalin’s excellent biography. By the end, I had decided that Mary, though hugely admirable, was probably not a very comfortable person to be around for long.
Mary had opinions she wanted to share, better beliefs she thought herself- and others - should live by, and much to feel angry about, at both a personal and general level. She organised her family and friends, who were not always grateful or glad, and she spoke and wrote against what she saw as injustice and inequality. In other words, Mary was probably a bit difficult and, yes, sometimes bossy.
Do women ever get anything done without being accused of being bossy, I wonder?
What about the women in the past who fought alongside men – Boudicca and her daughters, or maybe Alfred’s daughter Aethefled? Or Mary Seacole, caring for her soldiers even if Florence Nightingale’s hospital rejected her?
What about the girls and women who negotiated their roles among the dangerous men of power: Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth Stuart, or the remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine?
Or women like anchorite Julian of Norwich, playwright Aphra Ben, or even my Mary – women whose writing explains how they see life and their world? Isn’t writing, as authors and journalists know, a way of raising your voice?
Speaking out has often been seen – or heard – as a problem, the ultimate demonstration of bossiness: the women protestors at Greenham Common became the stereo-types of stridency. In contrast, Emily Davison, facing the king’s horse, used her own body as a way of “speaking“ when people in power wouldn’t listen.
What about those who persisted in their own paths? There is Mary Anning, the self-taught fossil-hunter whose discoveries were subsumed into the collections and reputations of wealthy and aristocratic palaeontologists? Or what about the persistence needed to be Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, and who may have been a British spy? Amazing women, all.
As I’m typing this, Woman’s Weekend Hour is airing an item about female “Game Changers” as part of their Power List 2014 campaign:
You can read fictional tales about all these historical heroines now in the BOOK OF BOSSY GIRLS - more properly and correctly known as the DAUGHTERS OF TIME anthology, edited by Mary Hoffman. (Templar)