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?


Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm  Comments (7)  

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm. Such a really interesting take on this word. I agree that I want the girls I work with to be strong, confident, self-assured, independent, assertive, etc. At the same time, I know some women, including my sister, that truly are bossy and not much fun to be around!

  2. Very interesting. All of my students are immigrants; I wonder if my girls would respond the same way? I might have to ask them as you left me pondering this issue. Thank you for a thoughtful post.

  3. I think the best part of this whole movement is the discussion that is taking place around the way we genderify (yeah, that’s not a word) character traits like leadership.

    While we don’t want girls to act “bossy” (OR boys, for that matter), there’s a careful line to walk her. Taking a girl with that desire to lead who is exhibiting poorly developed leadership skills and teaching her to lead effectively is key. NOT squashing that innate leadership by denigrating her.

  4. I, too, was a bossy girl, but now I’ve blossomed into a leader. My “bossiness” has toned down, and I’d now describe myself as self-assured, assertive, and confident. Interesting take on the use of this word.

  5. As someone who started “refining her leadership skills” early, too, I struggle with this campaign. I was (and still am on occassion by my sister) called bossy at a number of points in my younger years. However, as a result, I had a number of leadership doors opened up to me in part because I was/am a go-getter. So I think your final point is spot on. If the message is that we need to be teaching young people, both girls and boys, to be creative, assertive, risk-takers, then I’m on board with this campaign. I worry, however, because not calling a girl bossy, which the campaign seems to be focusing on, is only a superficial fix to a much more complicated problem with why girls hesitate to take on leadership roles. I think Maria’s comment above is right on, too. We need to find ways to support leadership skills in girls and not squash her interest in leading by focusing on name-calling.

  6. Actually, the website has plans for teachers and Scout leaders to use to help develop the right type of leadership skills. It’s a start.

  7. I’m not ready to ban the word bossy yet. I guess that’s because I don’t want to get rid of any words in general. (NOTE: I have been following the campaign on social media.) Rather, I want to reframe the way it’s used. Perhaps if it wasn’t looked as such a detriment.

    That being said, I get the point of the reason behind #BanBossy. So many people look at bossiness in a bad way and too often it’s associated with girls. Let me be honest, I’d much rather my daughter be called assertive than bossy! It has also started conversations, like the one you had with your class, about the word and meaning behind bossy.

    So I guess I’m on the fence with this whole campaign. I realize ban and bossy is lovely alliteration, however I worry about it when we start banning words.

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