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Do ‘Bossy’ Panties Empower Women?
Posted by richard | June 4, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg‘s campaign against the word ‘bossy’ to describe confident women was primarily meant to benefit young girls.

That’s why the Facebook CEO partnered with the Girl Scouts and enlisted celebrity support from Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and others for her #banbossy project, which promotes a positive image of assertiveness and leadership in girls and women.

But when a lingerie company gets on board with the concept, the #banbossy campaign takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly, the issue of women’s leadership moves from the boardroom to the bedroom, where it’s less about women in charge than women on top.

The young California label Naja Lingerie certainly meant well when it released its limited edition ‘Very Bossy’ panty (above) last month, but its mixed messaging is both confusing and distracts from the real #banbossy purpose.

The black Naja panty is embossed with the word “Boss” on the crotch and embellished with a small gold pendant with the words “Very Bossy”. It’s not clear who’s meant to see the slogan, but presumably it’s a lover, spouse or anyone else close enough to get the message without needing glasses.

But that’s not all. Printed on the inside liner is a second inspirational quote: “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want” — a strangely passive choice of words to describe amorous assertiveness.


Despite the awkwardness of this idea, Naja has real credibility when it preaches female empowerment. It’s the fair trade brand that partnered with an NGO in Colombia to hire and train single mothers to help manufacture its products. There are lots of values-driven lingerie brands that talk about supporting women, but Naja is one of the few that is literally doing it.

With its bossypants, though, Naja founder Catalina Girald seems to have conflated the ideas of women’s social advancement and sexual dominance.

“Naja Lingerie is taking yet another stride to elevate women everywhere!” the company gushes in a press release. “Empowering women who are ambitious in the workplace, confident in the classroom or a boss in the bedroom, Naja makes you feel in control.”

Obviously that’s not quite what Sandberg, author of the corporate-feminist manifesto Lean In, was aiming for when she told 60 Minutes, in the year’s most polarizing quote: “I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead she has leadership skills.”


Her subsequent #banbossy campaign is mostly about creating a workplace and social environment that acknowledges and rewards the accomplishments of women. Banishing the b-word is a very dramatic way of destigmatizing the stereotype of aggressive womanhood and encouraging girls to assert themselves without fear of condemnation or exclusion.

Predictably, though, #banbossy has become a hugely divisive campaign, inspiring as much vitriol as support from every corner of the political spectrum. Critics (there’s even a #dontbanbossy campaign) argue that it’s not a legitimate feminist stance, that it violates First Amendment rights and that, well, it’s just too bossy.

One thing’s for certain: you can’t #banbossy by encouraging women to wear ‘Very Bossy’ underwear — even if it’s just a playful ice-breaker.

The #banbossy message is not one that translates well in the bedroom, where assertiveness and empowerment are one aspect of the highly individualized interplay between two people, and not necessarily part of a feminist script.

“These black cotton panties [are] sure to make any woman feel like the Boss,” Naja says in its press release.

That comment might be very amusing to Mrs. Springsteen. But for everyone else, you shouldn’t need a slogan on your underpants to make your voice heard.

Posted in Lingerie News

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