Don’t Take My Words Away

In the last week, Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign has sparked considerable discussion on the internet about the best way to empower young women. I don’t normally weigh in on these type of campaigns and I certainly don’t think my opinion will add anything to the discussion that probably hasn’t already been said, but I can’t shake the feeling of wanting to speak out.

As someone who was probably called bossy a million times as a child, I think the Ban Bossy campaign has missed the mark. The campaign is based on the assumption that the fear of being labelled ‘bossy’ prevents girls from taking on leadership roles. The proposal is to stop using the word ‘bossy’ entirely. However, I think that’s the wrong approach (and not just because it’s inherently ironic).

As a society, we need the word ‘bossy’ to make the distinction between good and bad leadership traits. Fundamentally, ‘bossy’ behavior — ordering others around, not listening, and assuming control unnecessarily — is negative. Whether you’re five years old on the playground or fifty-five in the boardroom, nobody likes a dictator. We need to teach our children how to be good leaders and that starts with identifying and correcting the bad behavior. 

I’ve always been confident, decisive, and commanding. Even in my preschool days, my teacher noticed me organizing the other children and bossing them around. What I am eternally grateful for is the way she and my mom handled it. They recognized my budding leadership skills and gave me outlets to express it in a positive way. I was taught the difference between leading and being bossy from a very early age. I learned that being ‘bossy’ was not a good way to lead others or make friends.

From that point on, the word ‘bossy’ became a way for me to keep myself in check. I didn’t want to be the type of peer and future leader who didn’t consider others. Each time I was called ‘bossy’ I reconsidered my actions and considered the other person’s point of view. Sometimes I realized I was in the wrong and other times the label didn’t hold much weight but the important thing was that I knew how to make the distinction. 

So, to everyone out there who wants to ban “bossy” from our vocabulary, please don’t. Instead, let’s teach our children how to be better leaders by ban bossy behavior in both girls and boys. 

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Take My Words Away

  1. Such an interesting take, Holly! I agree with you that bossiness is not effective leadership, and that both girls and boys need to learn how to lead well. I think part of the concern animating the discussion though is that girls can sometimes be labeled as “bossy” even when they are displaying good leadership skills (i.e.: a woman and a man approach a situation in the same way, but the man is labeled a leader and the woman is labeled bossy…or another b-word). So I think it’s important to at least recognize that girls and boys may not be labeled the same way for the same behavior, and think about how we can change that. I don’t think women and men will ever necessarily be viewed in the same way, but I think it’s important to recognize that women can be powerful, assertive, and effective leaders.

    On another note – so glad to see a new post 🙂 And happy belated anniversary! I miss you!

    • Thanks, Ashley! I completely agree that the actions of women/girls can sometimes be labeled incorrectly as bossy and that it is important to remove the double standard. Many women are effective and assertive leaders and absolutely should be recognized as such. I’m just not convinced that banning “bossy” is the best way to achieve those things. But it is certainly a great way to get people talking about these important topics! 🙂

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