That’s what I’ve been all of my life. Not Beyonce, but Bossy. I bossed my siblings around. Still do or at least I try to. I ran things when I was in high school and college: editor of the paper, class officer, president of clubs. I ran things where I teach – yearbook, student council, my grade level team, various field trips – and still organize others. I’m proud of One Book, One School, the Poetry Slam, and the Faculty-Student Basketball Game. Ditto for activities at my Writing Project site. So I guess you could say I’m still bossy.
But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In organization and the Girl Scouts would rather you didn’t. They announced on Monday that they’re mounting a campaign to ban the word for its negative implications for girls. They cite statistics like middle school girls are twice as likely to shy away from leadership roles for fear of being called bossy. They’d rather be perceived as being nice. Because girls don’t want to be thought of as bossy, they then don’t practice the skills needed to be bossy in the workplace years later, the same skills that boys refine throughout school though they are thought of instead as being leaders. Played out in board rooms across the country, there are far fewer women in leadership roles than men.
So I wondered if my students fall into this trap. I polled them yesterday.While fifty-three percent said they’d rather be called a leader than nice by a slim margin, there was an overwhelmingly negative response to being called bossy. Few saw it as a positive: someone who steps up and gets things done. Most saw it as being synonymous with controlling, arrogant, condescending, mean, and pushy. What’s more forty-nine percent of those I polled said they’d been referred to as bossy a few times in their lives and seven percent said that they were frequently called this term.
With more time, I’d like to explore with my girls if being labeled bossy or the fear of it has impacted their behavior. For example, “Because I want people to like me, I declined being c-captain of the lacrosse team” or instead “Though I’d like people to think I’m nice, I still act as the captain of my lacrosse team. ” If it’s the former, we need to do something to address it.
While some may say that banning a word won’t change the attitudes behind it, the campaign is an important step if we are striving for true equality for the sexes. We’re more likely to stress risk-taking, goal-setting, and assertiveness if it’s on the forefront of our minds. By making leadership a goal for all, we have a much greater chance of leveling the playing field.
So instead of calling myself bossy, let’s just say that I started refining my leadership skills at an early age. Let’s help other girls to do that too.
I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. Won’t you join me?