Sapna Cheryan is quoted in this Men’s Health article about the meaning of being called “Boss”
Why I Hate it When Other Guys Call Me 'Boss'
I tried to find out how a tiny word can cause such a huge divide.
I’m nobody’s boss. Granted, I’m a writer; nobody listens to me. But even when I have, technically, been in charge of other people, not one of them has ever called me “boss.” In fact, in my entire professional career, I’ve only reliably been called “boss” by one person: the guy who worked at the salad place near my old office. Every afternoon he’d greet me with “What’s up, boss?”—a mere prelude to a litany of mini-bosses as we walked the ice tray gauntlet together. “Chickpeas, boss?” he’d ask, coming off like a low-level mafioso asking if I wanted him to rough somebody up. Or maybe Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, seeking my permission to break off from the chain gang for a ladle of water. He was always affable enough, and I never suspected that he meant anything by it. And yet, I always found it experience vaguely humiliating, for reasons I could not fully explain.
As it turns out, I’m not alone. The forums of Reddit, Quora, and Yahoo! Answers are filled with men—it’s always men—asking other men what it means when someone calls them “boss,” and whether they should be honored, amused, or offended. “It’s meant to insult you without you realizing it,” some say. “It’s just slang. Get over it,” others counter...
“I don’t know if it’s a threat, but it’s definitely related to masculinity,” says Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington whose 2015 study, “Manning Up,” looked at men’s tendency to overcompensate. “Stereotypes about leaders are masculine. People think the best types of leadership qualities are masculine, even though research shows that that’s not true. And I would wonder whether this is about the pressure to gender things in a masculine way that men have with each other—like calling each other ‘man.’ It’s almost like, ‘I see your masculinity. I’m acknowledging it so we can move on.’”
Still, Cheryan hesitates to say for certain that anyone reacting poorly to being called “boss” is because they doubt their own manhood. “If you found it condescending, it could just be because you find it inappropriate, or because you’re being reduced to that identity,” she says. “Especially in American culture, that feeling of being boxed in to a certain identity makes people feel uncomfortable. You just feel like you’re being pigeonholed, and you react negatively to that.”
Read the entire article here.