I’ve been called a bitch. I’ve been called a diva. I’ve been called shrill. I’ve been called a slut and a ditz and even a c*nt. But the worst thing I’ve been called was probably bossy. *cue Bossy ft. Too $hort by Kelis*. Okay that isn’t exactly true. There are other names that hurt way more (like my high school nickname, “Will-blow”). But I think it is possible that being called bossy as a young girl is way more damaging than any other string of words that can be thrown at you.
Bossy, although it appears gender neutral, is reserved for girls. It is the antithesis of a leader. Bossy is a dirty word. Bossy is for girls who haven’t learned to follow rules and to be demure and to take the back seat. This isn’t a novel idea. Calling boys leaders and girls bossy when they demonstrate the same behavior is proven to create a confidence gap that permeates personal and work lives. If you are more interested in this idea, I encourage you to check out the Ban Bossy campaign.
What I want to talk about is how the bossy stigma creates a sexual imbalance in the lives of the young women who are exposed to it. We grow up with a passive subservience ingrained in us, one that not only makes women feel like they can’t ask for what they want, but also makes guys feel like they don’t have to ask. I am not placing blame on anyone. This is not about rape and sexual assault — that is a different conversation. This is about the sexual norms women are primed to accept from a young age and how those can manifest as unhealthy and inequitable experiences in the bedroom.
One of the biggest issues that creates skewed power dynamics in sexual relationships is the idea of reciprocation. The blowjob comes into play pretty early on, when girls start wondering “what sexual acts should I do and when should I do them?” It certainly arrives way earlier than the female equivalent. In a quick text survey of my friends, I learned that eight out of 10 of the girls I texted sucked a dick one or more full years before they were eaten out. If both acts are technically “third base,” why do high school girls feel so ready to put a penis in their mouth before they “get theirs?”
Even the names of these sex acts show an important difference. There are so many easy names for sucking dick: blowjob, head, dome, etc. However, “going down on a girl” is a six-syllable mouthful that hardly sounds fun or inviting. The only other euphemism I can think of for that specifically is “munching box” and I don’t need to explain how grotesque that sounds.
It isn’t just that high school boys are not offering. It is the fact that as girls, we are made to feel this is a dirty act that we should, for some reason, be ashamed of. I distinctly remember a sleepover I had sophomore year of high school. Everyone in the room had given a blowjob before, but only one girl (who had an older boyfriend of course), had been eaten out. The reactions were generally ones of disgust: “I would never let a guy do that” and “Okay, but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable.” I am not suggesting that anyone should ever do anything they don’t feel comfortable with, but it is worth pointing out just how many girls are made to feel that the reverse of what they are doing to guys is gross. Not to mention they would probably enjoy this part way more. On the other hand, boys basically graduate elementary school knowing they want a blowjob. They might not even know what a blowjob is, but they know they want it and they won’t feel ashamed or uncomfortable when they get it.
Not only do girls feel weird about receiving oral sex, many feel weird about not giving oral sex to their partner. In so many young people’s relationships, especially before penetrative sex, girls feel that oral is expected of them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt like I “owed” a guy a blowjob for no reason other than that was what I was primed to feel. How many times I felt the foreboding touch of a hand on the back of my head, pushing my face down as he unbuttoned.
“Bossy” can’t be blamed for these phenomena. Rather, the shame girls feel regarding their own bodies and the cultural demands that ask young girls to sit down and listen are both symptoms of a larger issue with society’s general treatment of women. It easy to think it doesn’t affect you. I for one, surely never gave up my bossy tendencies. However, I did feel a sexual subservience that didn’t seem related until recently. Even if you never felt the pressures that I did, I think it is fair to say that almost no girl is given all the tools to have happy, healthy and reciprocal sexual experiences. I wish I had a solution, but I’m more of a complainer than an “idea guy.” I guess my advice would be: girls, go be bossy. And boys: don’t push my fucking head down.
Willow Hubsher is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is Not a Sex Column appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.