An alternative to banning BOSSY

Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, and the Girl Scouts have joined together to ban the word “bossy” because of the theory that it keeps women from becoming leaders.

I was born bossy, I’ve lived bossy and I’m hear to tell you “bossy girls get shit done.” I’m paraphrasing self-described BossyPants Tina Fey, who once said in response to Hilary Clinton being called a bitch:

bitches-get-stuff-done

I think this campaign has its heart in the right place. But banning words doesn’t generally work. I wish instead that we would simply encourage it. I’m incredibly lucky that I never felt put down or diminished because of my natural leadership skills. I liked being in charge and I was good at it.

Instead of banning bossy, why not help your little bossypants be the best she can be?

Teach her the rules to being bossy:

*Try to make things fair for everyone involved (Aaron shouldn’t have had to be the groom in every single wedding I planned under our pear tree)

*Take responsibility, not just authority; it’s your job to make sure everyone is having fun, not just you (If Naomi didn’t want to be the typhoid sufferer who gets thrown off the boat, aka the guest bed, I shouldn’t have made her)

*Look for opportunities to collaborate; let someone else be in charge now and then, you might enjoy the ride (I literally can’t think of an example from childhood where I did this and I fear I may have refused to let some other kid in my neighborhood stretch their own bossy wings…)

Anytime a kid’s natural qualities get squashed by the adults in their life, it breaks my heart. If you decide to ban bossy, that’s up to you. But most importantly, if you have a daughter with leadership inclination, I hope you celebrate it, because you’ve got yourself a future woman who gets stuff done!

– Jen


14 Responses to “An alternative to banning BOSSY”

  • Christy Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My little “bossypants” will be 4 in May. She is often referred to by family members as “Hillary” “Hermonie” or lovingly as “The Dictator” and I couldn’t be prouder. She knows what she wants and communicates to all how to get it done. I can’t wait to see how she leads and shapes the world as she grows up!

  • matt Says:

    “Bossy-ness” in kids is often masking some other insecurity. My niece is bossy because she is dyslexic and its hard for her to read. She excels in other areas, but she still feels inadequate among her peers even though she has loving and encouraging adults in her life. Boys get “small dog” or napoleon syndrome from being short.

    I think the quality that you are actually applauding is a quality work ethic. Telling others what to do is not the same as the inner motivation to get it done yourself.

    • JenAndrews Says:

      I think we’re talking about different things. It seems like you are saying that sometimes bossiness is covering insecurity, which I”m sure can be true. What I’m talking about it is the cases of girls who have genuine leadership ability but get told that no one will like them if they’re bossy. My idea is rather than banning the word, teach good bossiness!

      • matt Says:

        Great leaders aren’t bossy. I’ve never met someone who was bossy that anyone wanted to follow.

        The point is, bossiness, regardless of gender, is a negative quality which is rationalized as a leadership skill, which it is not.

      • matt Says:

        Moreover, I would define bossiness as leadership without authority. A 4 year old (again, regardless of gender) has no authority to tell someone what to do. Because they lack authority, they are not being a leader, they are being bossy.

        The other B word, or a-hole, is applied to those people who have no authority, are angry that they don’t have authority, but still try to get what they want without having first earned the respect and authority necessary to lead.

        • JenAndrews Says:

          Perhaps we’re defining it differently? I think “bossy” simply means acting like a boss, taking charge of a situation, coming up with an idea (or hearing a good idea) and implementing it. I think a 4 year can do any of those things with her peers or siblings in the right situation (although I can’t imagine she would do it very gracefully, most kids do not have the patience or maturity for great leadership…but they might someday!) I don’t agree that bossy is always negative, but I really appreciate your perspective and it’s helped me think about the topic with more depth.

  • Shari---sounds like "sorry" Says:

    I was a bossy older sister but never minded particularly being called bossy on occasion, because, as you say, leadership skills were encouraged in my home. To my delight, I now have a bossy daughter of my own.

    The key to being successfully bossy is simply being a good boss—working as a team and giving credit where credit is due.

    That all being said (first by you and then repeated by me here!) I think it’s effective to point out that “bossy” can be re-framed into “leadership skills.” We need to see it as a positive quality in females.

  • Kalena Says:

    I love this. My 8 year old is SOOO bossy. I love the idea of turning it in to something she can use to her benefit instead of saying “no one’s going to want to play with you if you’re bossy”.

  • Will Says:

    I see where you’re coming from. Sandberg’s argument (at least in Lean In) was that two individuals could have those characteristics of “natural leadership” skills and the boys will be told they are “assertive” and girls are told they are “bossy.” Sandberg doesn’t want those skills to be brushed away, she wants them to be developed but without the negative connotation of being called bossy.

  • Christy Says:

    I agree that banning the word isn’t the answer. Nor is it a good idea to just use a blanket term like “bossy” to label strong-willed, articulate girls. Good leadership skills need to be developed and fine tuned throughout a lifetime. But I’m determined not to let others stifle her natural leadership skills by telling her she is too bossy.

  • Jo Says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this! I’ve been up the past two nights thinking about this and it’s really upsetting. Have a daughter that’s NOT bossy and often gets bossed around has really shaped my view and my worry on this. Especially because I’ve been coaching her for the past two years TO BE BOSSY. One of the things we talk about is good bossy vs bad bossy. Good bossy gets things done in a way that is positive. Bad bossy gets things done in a way that hurts people and only benefits yourself. PLEASE DON’T BAN GOOD BOSSY!! We should be helping young girls see the difference and helping them grow in such a way that they’re confident and radiant in their super awesome GOOD bossy pants. I’m going to continue to teach my daughter bossy can be good. Bossy gets things done. Bossy can be kind and thoughtful.

  • Jenn Says:

    This is so interesting. I love your points about being a good “boss”y person. I was bossy as a kid, and reprimanded for it, and I wonder if this was what discouraged me from leadership. I think I’m a natural leader, but began avoiding those roles fairly early. It may have been something else, but…maybe not?

  • Claire Says:

    The problem, as Will & Christy say, isn’t the behavior of “bossy.” The problem is (sorry for the academic speak) the connotative diction. In our cultural lexicon, bossy has a negative connotation. Let kids of any gender be bossy, just find a positive way to describe or correct their actions. It’s like Teresa Heinz-Kerry’s 2004 DNC speech about being “opinionated,” rather than “smart and well-informed.”

    I’d recommend reading the book “Schoolgirls” by Peggy Orenstein which delves into how teachers specifically and society broadly treat young women compared to young men & the impact of this treatment.

  • Brendan Says:

    I don’t necessarily think we should ban the word bossy. It’s certainly possible that it could be used for positive reinforcement if it were redefined, or ‘taken back’ in a similar way that queer was for the lgbt community. But if it is somehow taken back and redefinied, it should probably not be gender specific, because that would really just reinforce some kind of divide.

    I think the problem with bossy, as it is, is that it stereotypes a type of little girl that bosses other people around without the understanding of the responsibility of leadership that comes with maturity. Rarely is it used for boys, and I think it can be harmful to use certain generalized terms for girls and not for boys. It’s the subtle way in which we categorize people and unwittingly encourage them to fit stereotypes. Being a gay man I can definitely understand how society’s understanding of what ‘gay’ is and my own understanding of who I am has caused a lot of pressure, confusion and insecurity.

    It’s tough being a kid. I think many of us can remember when we treated people unfairly or were bullies at one time or another, but then learned how to treat people with respect and emphasize with them. I don’t doubt some personality types naturally lend themselves to leadership. But I also think that everyone should learn how to take leadership, even if you’re introverted, because, 1. you might learn something about yourself or what you’re capable of that you didn’t know before, and 2, it certainly helps you understand how other people feel when the roles are reversed. Likewise, people with strong personalities need to learn how to help the leader when they aren’t one, instead of constantly trying to take control of the situation or undermining the leader.

    Basically what I’m saying is that we should all be learning and cultivating a sense of humility and understanding. I really didn’t intend this to get preachy or rambley, but I’m just saying that’s how I feel.