Whatever your opinion of the campaign by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean Infoundation 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.