TIME feminism

Dad: I’m Going to Keep Calling My Daughter Bossy

Bossy Child
Getty Images

I'm going to teach Penny the difference between being bossy and being a leader. I'm going to teach my son the same thing.

Sometimes there is a word for a behavior or person that it is so accurate that skirting around it to come up with another descriptor is just dishonest. For a lot of us with 5-year-olds — girls or boys — that word is bossy. When my daughter Penny acts bossy, I’m going to let her know it. No matter what Sheryl Sandberg and Beyoncé say, I am not going to Ban Bossy.

Sometimes my daughter transforms from an adorable delegator to a tiny tyrant. It’s not cute, and it is not acceptable.Penny is one of the leaders in her class and the alpha to her little brother’s omega. Most of the time, my wife and I love it. She’s assertive and she knows what she wants. It cracks us up to see how she can convince Simon, who is 2, to do anything. (She is going to get him in so much trouble down the road.) But sometimes, she crosses a line. She goes from assertive to entitled. She transforms from an adorable delegator to a tiny tyrant. It’s not cute, and it is not acceptable.

The issue being raised in the Ban Bossy campaign alleges that if we call girls bossy often enough, they’ll stop being assertive. They’ll shrink from leadership positions and won’t volunteer in class or speak their mind in or out of school. It would be devastating if that happened to my girl, especially if I was one of the causes. If I thought that was a possibility, I would delete the word from my vocabulary today. But I just don’t see it.

I don’t see the gender difference. Maybe it’s because I’m a man. Maybe it’s because my wife and I have pointed out how bossy Simon gets too. I guess neither of us realized before Ban Bossy that other parents have been admiring the little guy’s leadership ability. (Either he is a precocious tyke or, more likely, that is not actually the case.)

The call to ban bossy comes across as arbitrary. It’s catchy and makes a great hashtag, but is bossy used that often to criticize girls and women? Is the word ever used to describe anyone over the age of 11? It’s just so G-rated! If an adult is bossy, there are much better words to call them. (I don’t think they should be banned either.) If a girl can’t be called bossy, should she be called pushy instead? Of course not, because the message is the same. So how many words are we going to need to ban before this campaign comes to an end?

I’m not saying words don’t matter. They do. I’m not saying that women and girls aren’t demeaned by certain words. They are. But my daughter can, at times, be bossy! And that is not a good thing, regardless of gender.

Penny can’t be a leader if no one will follow her. And no one will follow her if she keeps bossing them around. At a certain point, her friends and even her brother will get sick of it. At a certain point, she will become a bully. As caring and loving parents, my wife and I don’t want to let that happen.

I have seen glimpses of Penny’s potential bullying behavior, and it ain’t pretty. Sometimes it’s overt, like when she literally pushes Simon into doing things. Other times it’s more subtle. For example, one of her friends constantly gets in trouble for saying “boobies” and acting inappropriately around her mother. Penny thinks the whole thing is hilarious (both girls do, really), so she eggs her friend on. It leads to a lot of giggles, but her friend inevitably gets a stern talking to and occasionally has to leave the playdate early.

Being a leader means caring for and empathizing with those you are leading. Being bossy, being a bully, is easier because you only have yourself to think about. In fact, you don’t really have to think at all. You just act for your own immediate self-gratification. As a child, this behavior is understandable, but it is not something that deserves encouragement.

I want my daughter to become the wonderful person that she already is in so many ways. I don’t think I could keep her from growing into a strong woman if I tried. My wife and I want her to speak up and assert herself. We also want her to be respectful and listen to others. She can get so loud, focused and determined that she refuses to consider anyone else’s feelings or opinions. She starts issuing edicts to everyone around her. If it were my son behaving this way, would I pat him on the back and tell him, “Job well done”? No. I would say, “Dude, you’re being bossy. Let’s calm down a little and figure this out together.”

The Ban Bossy campaign got a conversation going, which is awesome … and a little ironic. We need to communicate more, not less. I’m not going to ban the word, but I will think about it whenever I use it. I’m not going to stop calling my daughter bossy. I’m going to teach Penny the difference between being bossy and being a leader. I’m going to teach my son the same thing. If my wife and I have done our job right, Penny will already be showing him the difference.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

TIME feminism

I Order You to Read the 6 Best Things Written About Banning Bossy

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg, billionaire and chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., pauses during a panel session on day four of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25, 2014. Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Everyone's talking about banning 'bossy,' but here are the smartest takes we found

It’s been a good week for LeanIn.org’s Ban Bossy campaign — not only did Sheryl Sandberg get Beyonce to do her bidding, she also managed to get #BanBossy trending on Facebook and Twitter.

In the spirit of bossiness, we’re telling you to read the six best things written about Ban Bossy this week. Do it. Now.

From TIME:

Don’t Ban Bossy: Ban Bossiness by James Poniewozik

I Don’t Give a $*%& If You Call Me Bossy by Jessica Roy

From around the web:

The Problem With Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Ban Bossy’ Campaign by Ann Friedman, New York Magazine

Don’t ‘Ban Bossy,’ Sheryl Sandberg: Tell Us What to Do Next by Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

Even If ‘Bossy’ Could Be Banned, There Are Far Better Ways to Boost a Girl’s Self Esteem by Hadley Freeman

The Problem Isn’t the Word ‘Bossy’– It’s Leaders Who Abuse Their Power by Noah Berlatsky

I want the report on my desk in an hour.

And in case you missed it, here’s the Ban Bossy video that everyone missed while we were watching the Beyonce one. Watch it.

TIME ban bossy

Don’t Ban ‘Bossy’: Ban Bossiness

Getty Images

We need to fight double standards, but not by encouraging everyone to act like the most obnoxious men.

I’m the father of two boys, which means I’ve had plenty of exposure to the world of other boys. Most of them are delightful. Some are… a challenge. They push. They cut in line. They hog the ball. They know the answer, ooh, teacher, call on them, over here, over here! They want to play the game this way, because it’s the right way. They specifically requested that the peanut butter go on top of the jelly, not the jelly on top of the peanut butter because, ugh, God, disgusting!

They are, in other words, bossy boys. They may become leaders and found companies for which someday I will work and later be downsized. They may be profiled in magazines and be admired for their “executive leadership skills.” But they are also a royal pain in the ass, and I’d rather live in a world that encourages their behavior as little as possible.

Which is why the Ban Bossy campaign, from Lean In and the Girl Scouts, struck a chord with me — but only to a point. As Lean In’s Sheryl Sandberg says, correctly, the problem with the term “bossy” is that we apply it more often to girls, while boys with the same traits are considered “assertive” and “aggressive.” Her solution: stop calling your daughters bossy.

Here’s another idea: Start calling your sons bossy.

The double standard Sandberg identifies is absolutely real. But why is the solution to encourage aggressive, domineering behavior in women, rather than discouraging it in men? I know plenty of obnoxious, bossy men. And maybe society does applaud them. But I don’t want to be around them, I don’t want to work with them, and I certainly don’t want to work for them. Who likes “assertive, strong, dominant leaders”? Other assertive, strong, dominant leaders. That is, pushy jerks.

It’s fantastic that people are examining double standards at home, in the workplace, in relationships. But in every case, we seem only to be able to resolve them on the terms that are most friendly to corporations and shareholders, easiest on the bottom line, least threatening to, well, bosses.

Work-life balance, for instance, is a real problem that holds back women’s careers. So could we address it with more maternity and paternity leave, shorter hours, more telecommuting, more mommy- daddy-tracking with less punitive consequences? Nope! Not in the budget! Instead, we get an offer of greater equality, but only equality that replicates the crappiest behavior of stereotypical men, that idealizes the goal of having everyone be type-A workaholic drones.

So, problem: Working moms are guilt-tripped for spending more time on the job and less time at home. Solution: Everyone should get to spend more time on the job! Problem: Women are shamed for being bossy, and men are praised for it. Solution: Everyone should be proud of being bossy! Problem: Women are defined in terms of their home lives and men in terms of their work lives. Solution: Let’s define everyone in terms of their work lives! Yay, us!

As a man, obviously, I haven’t been on the women’s end of these double standards, and they hurt women far more than they do men. But they also benefit a specific type of man — the human steamroller, the guy who sees his kids maybe on weekends — who we shouldn’t be trying to emulate. The stereotypes that say that a woman who is ambitious at work is a bitch are the same stereotypes that say a man who lets his job take a backseat to his family is a wuss.

By all means, if you feel the urge to call a girl bossy, think about where it comes from, whether it’s merited, whether you’d say the same thing to her brother in the same situation. But if you don’t want to live in a world of, by, and for the bossy, ask yourself why you’re not calling her brother bossy — and whether maybe you should.

And if he doesn’t like it, he can spread his damn peanut butter and jelly himself. He’s not the boss of you.

TIME feminism

11 Ways To Avoid Sounding Like a Sexist Jerk–Even If You’re a Woman

How Not To Sound Sexist (Even If You're A Woman)
Illustration by Leah Goren for TIME

Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban the word bossy, but that's just the tip of the demeaning language iceberg

Whatever your opinion of the campaign by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In foundation to ban the word bossy — which, for the record, I advised on — one thing is indisputable: the power of words is stark.

Call a little girl “bossy” and she starts to avoid leadership roles because she’s afraid of being seen as unlikeable. People are already wary of assertive women at work, but call a woman “aggressive” out loud and they will probably like her less. Call a female politician a ballbuster enough times, and people may actually be less likely to vote for her. Words tell us something about the way our culture perceives women in power, and whether we believe they’re supposed to be there.

So, in an attempt to save you — writers, speakers, humans, journalists — from falling into the gender bias trap unintentionally, we’ve put together this handy guide:

Don’t Call Girls Bossy. Or Grown Women Aggressive.

Seriously, don’t do it. And while you’re at it, don’t call them pushy, angry, brusque, ballbusters, bitchy, careerist, cold, calculating — you get the point. Also: shrill and strident, both of which imply high-pitched and screechy women a la your mother, finger pointed, scolding you to clean your room. Bossy is the subject of the new Sandberg campaign, but it’s something linguists have written about for decades. The reality is that these words are rooted in stereotype, and they are only applied to women. Think about it: girls are bossy, boys have “leadership qualities.” Women are deemed aggressive, while men are simply decisive (or just, um, bosses). From Ruth Bader Ginsburg (called “a bitch” by her law school classmates) to the “ball-busting” Hillary Clinton, historians will tell you: women in power have long been punished for exhibiting qualities of assertiveness, because it veers from the “feminine” mold. And yet, isn’t it precisely those assertive qualities that will help women get ahead? If you wouldn’t call a dude these words, don’t say ‘em of a lady.

Please Avoid the ‘Crazy Woman’ Trope. And While We’re At It: She’s Not ‘Moody,’ ‘Hysterical,’ or ‘Emotional’ Either.

Female hysteria was once the catch-all diagnosis for a woman with problems, and it didn’t disappear entirely from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders until 1980. But the trope of the crazy, emotional, moody, hysterical, PMS-ing, crazy woman — or worse, the crazy, emotional, hysterical romantic stalker — remains in full force. Crazy is the catch-all putdown for any woman you don’t like/makes you uncomfortable/doesn’t fit the mold. (Or as Tina Fey said in her book Bossypants, “the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to f*ck her any more.”) The problem with being a woman is that it’s impossible to avoid this label. So what even is crazy? A woman who expresses opinions? A woman who speaks too loud, or out of turn? Am I crazy if I yell? Am I crazy if I like a guy? Am I crazy if I act like a leader? Whatever it is, it usually doesn’t refer to any kind of real life mental illness. So keep the crazy label in check.

Women! Not Girls! Except in the Case of Girls. Or ladies. Wait, Damn…

Right, it’s a confusing place out there for what to call a grown female person. My girlfriends are “girls,” sometimes I mention having a conversation with a “chick,” there’s a resurgence of “lady,” sometimes I even call girls (oh wait I just did it) “babes.” But if you are a professional writer or journalist or interviewer or anybody else speaking publicly about women and not talking about the HBO series and not ruminating on the use of the word – or, you know, are addressing a woman on the air – please try to call us women. My mom would be super happy, thx.

‘Blond,’ ‘Perky,’ And Other Cutesy Descriptors.

What not to call women in power in print: Petite. Ladylike. Blond. Blue-eyed. Perky. Or perhaps having a “soft, girlie voice,” as was a recent description-of-choice by NPR’s Morning Edition, in a piece about Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s legislation to change the way the military views sexual assault. If these adjectives don’t tell us something a subject beyond identifying her as a woman, it’s safe to assume they are sexist filler. Journalists, this one’s for you: Come up with something better.

Avoid Describing the Sound of My Feminine Voice. Also, the Tone of It.

Women naturally have higher-pitched voices than men. Do we need to point it out? There’s no male equivalent of “shrill” or “screechy.” And I don’t believe there’s one for “nasal-car honk” tone either. And while we’re at it, let’s avoid descriptors like “whiny,” “nagging” or “complaining” to refer to women. Unless of course you’d use them to refer to a man too.

Leave Looks Out Of It.

That means Hillary Clinton’s cleavage, her cankles, her haircuts, pants suits, or the color of her blouse — all irrelevant to whether she’s going to make a good president! I also don’t need to know about Huma Abedin’s “rich, glowing hair,” Elena Kagan’s “drab D.C. clothes” or that Janet Yellin wore the same outfit twice (she’s the motherf–king head of the Fed). Here’s what the Washington Post’s internal stylebook says about references to personal appearance in print: that they “should generally be omitted unless clearly relevant to the story.” In case that wasn’t clear, a few specifics. TV hosts: Probably a bad idea to comment on how hot a woman is on air. Interviewers: Let’s avoid asking badass ladies in various fields about their looks, diets or favorite fashion designers. (And for more on this topic, check out Lindy West’s great piece over at Jezebel on how to write about female politicians.)

A Note On Shoes.

Unless they spark a full-on feminist shoe movement, shoes are not relevant.

Two Women Running Against Each Other, Or Disagreeing, or Remotely in the Same Competitive Industry, Does Not Equal a ‘Catfight.’

Why are female politicians in a race, or women in an office, or friends, or sisters, are described as catty or bitchy, constantly on the verge of a catfight, while men are seen as worthy rivals? Perhaps Urban Dictionary explains our media obsession with “catfights” best: “the male fantasy of two women ripping each other’s clothes off.” Recent media “catfights” include Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric. Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg. None of which were actual catfights, but managed to inject sexual undertones and generally devalue these women’s accomplishments. Research has shown that the “catfight” stereotype actually carries over into the workplace — giving women a bad reputation and leading to long-term implications.

Please Stop Asking If Women Can ‘Have It All.’

When in doubt, read this column, from the public editor of the New York Times, published last month amid outrage over a magazine cover titled, “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?” “Despite its well-intentioned efforts,” the Times ombudsman wrote, “this piece managed to trip over a double standard with its detailed examination of Ms. Davis’s biography, including her role in raising her two daughters.” And while we’re at it, let’s stop asking how women manage to “do it all.” Tina Fey declared this “the rudest question you can ask a woman.” Because the answer is simple. She’s doing it the same way a dude would, except that he doesn’t have to answer questions about it.

Avoid Gratuitous Gender Qualifiers. (And Don’t Put Baby in a Parenthesis.)

Female comedian, female director, female journalist… journalists covering “women’s issues” (why not just “issues”)? These modifiers are the linguistic version of a parenthetical or insignificant aside — which is exactly how late night comedy host Chelsea Handler was referred to in a recent article in the New York Times. In a rebuttal, Huffington Post, Handler declared: “I don’t want to be singled-out and lauded merely because I am successful ‘for a woman … The success of any woman should never be qualified by her gender.” When we can remove the “female” part of these phrases — because it is assumed that a female can, um, be these things — then our work here will be done.

On Husbands and Marital Status or Being a Mom.

We’re talking about pointing out that a woman is “unmarried” or even that she’s a “mother of two.” As Allyson Jule, the author of “A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender,” puts it: “These representations of women trivialize their lives and place an extra level of personal judgment on them.”

Finally, When In Doubt, Take the Quiz!

Consider it the Bechdel Test for language.

STEP ONE: Reverse the gender of the subject of the article/paper/sentence.

STEP TWO: See if it sounds funny.

STEP THREE: If it does, see the tips above.

(And to get an idea of the incredibly sexist things some female pioneers have been called, check out ‘Bossy Women:’ 16 Leaders Who’ve Overcome That Label and Much, Much Worse.)

TIME feminism

WATCH: Beyoncé Helps Sheryl Sandberg Ban the Word ‘Bossy’

The singer joins Jennifer Garner and Condoleezza Rice in helping Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg promote a campaign banning the word

Beyoncé wants you to be the boss.

The pop superstar and newly declared feminist icon joins Jennifer Garner, Condoleezza Rice and a chorus of powerful female (and a few male) voices in a video promoting LeanIn.org’s new ‘Ban Bossy‘campaign.

Lean In author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg elaborated on her crusade to ban the five-letter adjective this morning in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, written with Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA:

When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.

Sandberg thinks that creating awareness around the negative female connotations of the word will change perceptions and encourage young girls to be leaders. And while while past efforts to change specific words have proven futile, Sandberg’s influence might just help her succeed.

MORE: ‘Bossy’ Women: 16 Leaders Who’ve Overcome That Label (and Worse)

MORE: Sheryl Sandberg, Confidence Woman

TIME ban bossy

‘Bossy’ Women: 16 Leaders Who’ve Overcome That Label (and Worse)

3 world leaders, 2 Supreme Court Justices, 2 presidential candidates, 2 members of Congress, and a TV host, not to mention a CEO, a First Lady, and Anna Wintour

Updated: March 10, 2014

A year after the publication of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg is back with another initiative to promote female leadership. This time, the Facebook exec takes aim at the language we use to describe women and girls who take charge. Her “Ban Bossy” campaign hopes to change a culture in which men are bosses, but women are “bossy.” Along with her co-sponsors, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Girl Scouts CEO Ana Maria Chávez, Sandberg is asking people to stop referring to women as “bossy,” especially when they’re talking to little girls because of its negative connotations.

“When I was in junior high and running for class vice president,” Sandberg explains in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “one of my teachers pulled my best friend aside to warn her not to follow my example: ‘Nobody likes a bossy girl,’ the teacher warned.” The Facebook exec and billionaire is of course not the only powerful woman to rise above that label. Here are 16 incredibly successful women, from Margaret Thatcher to Marissa Mayer, all of whom were called “bossy” at one point or another, and some of them have been called much worse (poor Angela Merkel).

  • Sonia Sotomayor

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Metro State University in Denver, on May 2, 2013.
    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Metro State University in Denver, on May 2, 2013. Brennan Linsley—AP

    One former Second Circuit clerk for a rival judge called Sotomayor “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” and the New York Times reported that some lawyers call her “difficult” and “nasty” in a piece titled Sotomayor’s Blunt Style Raises Issue of Temperment. RNC Chairman Michael Steele called Sotomayor “abrasive” and said the Supreme Court is “not a place for abrasive personalities.” Right, Antonin Scalia?

  • Janet Yellen

    Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Banking Committee during a hearing on her nomination to become Chair of the Federal Reserve on Nov. 14, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
    Kris Tripplaar—SIPA USA

    When Janet Yellen was confirmed as the first woman Federal Reserve Board Chair, people wrote blog posts with titles like “Janet Yellen: the Bitch of the Fed.”

  • Madeleine Albright

    Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends a combined naturalization and donation ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2012.
    Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attends a combined naturalization and donation ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2012. Jacquelyn Martin—AP

    Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s cousins recall her as “very bright, very bossy” when she was growing up. “As I began to climb the ladder, I had to cope with the different vocabulary used to describe similar qualities in men (confident, take-charge, committed) and women (bossy, aggressive, emotional,) ” she said in her memoir. She also noticed how men behaved in ways that would be dismissed if they had been women. “If women leaders had acted the way Arafat and Barak did during Camp David,” she wrote, “they would have been dismissed as menopausal.”

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Bossy Ginsburg
    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebrated her 20th anniversary on the bench in 2013. Nikki Kahn--The Washington Post/Getty Images

    When the Supreme Court justice found out that her male law school classmates had a habit of calling her “bitch,” Ginsburg said “better bitch than mouse.”

  • Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton
    Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks to the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert—ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Australian feminist Germaine Greer called Hillary Clinton ” bossy and cold and manipulative” during the 2008 Presidential campaign when she ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination. A female supporter of the Republican nominee, John McCain, elicited chuckles from the candidate when she asked “how do we beat the bitch?” And in 2007, Glenn Beck called Hillary a “stereotypical bitch” and said that the “range in her voice” was like “fingernails on a blackboard.”

  • Geraldine Ferraro

    Bossy Ferraro
    Geraldine Ferraro, Vice-Presidential nominee, speaks at the Democratic National Convention, Juy 1984. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

    Barbara Bush once delicately declined to get catty about the late Geraldine Ferraro: “I can’t say it,” she said, “but it rhymes with ‘rich.’” In 1984, Ferraro became the first woman to be nominated for Vice President by a major political party when Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate on the Democratic ticket.

  • Susan E. Rice

    Bossy Rice
    Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice speaks at the White House in 2011 Jim Young--Reuters

    Fellow diplomats called Susan Rice “bossy” when she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and the French U.N. Ambassador even whined, “we are not the 14 dwarves, and she is not Snow White.” Other U.N. Security Council Ambassadors have called her “the bulldozer” or “the headmistress.”

  • Elizabeth Warren

    Bossy Warren
    Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington D.C. in November, 2013 Alex Wong--Getty Images

    One pundit advised Senator Warren to “stop the finger wagging; it adds to her strict schoolmarm appearance and bossy manner.” After Warren said that if she didn’t create a strong consumer protection agency there would be “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor,” GOP attack adds called her rhetoric “unnecessarily aggressive.”

  • Michelle Obama

    U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 2014.
    U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

    The First Lady says it’s not just her opponents who’ve cast her as “bossy:” even the President says so. “This year, I have to say, the president actually put most of the ornaments on the tree because he says I’m bossy,” she said about the White House Christmas decorations, “So I just sat back and let them do it.” She says she’d like to turn the page on the idea that she’s bossy, angry, or bullying. “That’s been the image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced [his candidacy]– that I’m some angry black woman.”

  • Indira Gandhi

    Bossy Gandhi
    Indira Gandhi (1917 - 1984), Prime Minister of India. Fox Photos/Getty Images

    Richard Nixon called the Indian Prime Minister an “old witch,” and national security advisor Henry Kissinger had some nice words about their diplomatic relationship: “While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted,” he said.

    Correction: The original version of this post misspelled Indira Gandhi’s surname.

  • Angela Merkel

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Trinity College in Dublin on March 7, 2014.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Trinity College in Dublin on March 7, 2014. Kifah Ajamia—AP

    As if anything could be worse than being called the “iron frau,” former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called her an “unf**kable lard-ass.”

  • Anna Wintour

    Anna Wintour at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, on Feb. 12, 2014 in New York City.
    Anna Wintour at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, on Feb. 12, 2014 in New York City. Timur Emek—Getty Images

    In a 60 Minutes segment about the Vogue editor, Morly Safer said Anna Wintour was “a name that strikes terror in some, loathing in others, and transforms some into obsequious toadies.” Safer reminded viewers that Wintour has been “portrayed as Darth Vader in a frock,” and asked her whether she is, in fact, a bitch. “I hope not,” she said, “I try not to be. But I like people who represent the best of what they do, and if that turns you into a perfectionist, then yes, I am.”

  • Shirley Chisolm

    Bossy Chisholm
    Three-quarter profile portrait of American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (1924 - 2005), Washington DC, 1970 Bob Peterson—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

    Shirley Chisolm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and she wrote that black men “were running me down as a bossy female, a would-be matriarch.” Her mantra was “unbought and unbossed,” and she’s famous for saying, “the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl.”

  • Katie Couric

    Katie Couric at The Variety Studio: Sundance Edition Presented By Dawn Levy on Jan. 19, 2014 in Park City, Utah.
    Katie Couric at The Variety Studio: Sundance Edition Presented By Dawn Levy on Jan. 19, 2014 in Park City, Utah. Jonathan Leibson—Getty Images

    The TV anchor has been regularly called a “bitch” in the blogosphere, and stories about her slapping colleagues seem to be greatly exaggerated (she’s accused of slapping a news editor, when really she slapped his arm). And she’s been talking about the “boss/bossy” distinction for a while:

  • Marissa Mayer

    Bossy Mayer
    Marissa Mayer appears on NBC News' "Today" show Peter Kramer—NBC/Getty Images

    A 2012 Business Insider article about the Yahoo CEO described her “bullying managerial style” and quoted a former colleague who said she “doesn’t understand managing any other way than intimidation or humiliation.” Another former colleague said she was “a nightmare of a human being, but she gets things done.”

  • Barbara Walters

    Barbara Walters anchors ABC's 20/20.
    Barbara Walters anchors ABC's 20/20. Lou Rocco—ABC/Getty Images

    When the legendary television journalist was hospitalized after bad fall, blogs said she was “still bossy from bed,” and a spokesman from ABC News said she was “alert (and telling everyone what to to), which we all take as a very positive sign.” As rumors swirl about Walter’s possible retirement, TMZ’s headline read “Barbara Walters Bitches About Retirement Plans.”

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