Is it Realistic to #banbossy?

ban bossySheryl Sandberg was successful in introducing a new phrase to the world last spring – “Lean In.” Fast forward and she is now trying to eliminate a word – “bossy.” In fact, she has launched a campaign to #banbossy, stating too many young girls are labeled as such, and by middle school and high school, they shy away from leadership positions.

As stated on her website, when a boy asserts himself, he is called a leader. When a girl does it, she’s called bossy. Sandberg refers to the phrase as “the other B-word.”

When I look at my own little girl, just three years old, I can already see a strong personality emerging. I like to describe her as “part-princess, part-MMA fighter.” She knows what she wants, fights for it, and of course at this age, will let you know she is displeased if she doesn’t get her way. Like many young girls, she is drawn to Disney princesses, pink and draping her wrists in sparkly bracelets. Still, she’s quick to throw a punch at one of her older brothers, construct mini-Lego masterpieces and instruct other little ones at the playground on how to play a game. I love her spirit, even though her ways and will often wear me out.

In society, we like labels. Just think about all of those BuzzFeed quizzes you take. You want to know which city defines you, what Saved By The Bell character resembles your temperament and which era defines your personality. Even in the workplace, we freely toss them out – “she’s a team player, he’s a data geek, she’s ultra-organized.”

As a mom of three kids, I look at each of my children and describe them as unique individuals. But perhaps as a woman, I am most sensitive to the words I elect to use with my daughter.

I’ve read a lot in the parenting space, and in this era of renewed feminism, there’s definitely pressures placed on our young girls. Books advise me to steer clear of the “princess mania,” articles tell me not to focus on words associated with my daughter’s looks, posts caution me on how my own body image can shape my little girl’s relationship with food and exercise and clothing. And of course I’m supposed to steer her toward science and math and engineering. I need to tell her to “lean in” and lead. I must be mindful as to how I describe my own feelings about working outside the home.

Holy crap! I’m exhausted. Can I just let my daughter be?

If she wants to play princesses and demand 95 percent of her wardrobe to be pink with sparkles, I’ll oblige. If she wishes to play house, OK. And if she places her little hands on her hips and instructs the neighborhood kids on how to play some game she’s created, so be it.

Is she bossy? Is she a leader? Does this whole debate simply come down to semantics and style? I don’t know.

In our home, both my husband and I try to model values and morals we wish to instill in our kids – regardless of their sex. We often feel we are fighting a war with the cultural influences they see in the world, but we want them to be respectful of people and diversity. We want them to be kind, but strong. We want them to lead – when it makes sense – and to do so in a way that makes others want to follow.

I don’t think it is realistic to ban a word altogether, but we can certainly be more mindful of the words we choose to use – with our sons and daughters. The title of “leader” needs to be earned, and I’m confident my daughter and sons, depending on their choices, can lead. We simply need to show them great examples of leadership and help them foster a style that proves they are worthy of the label.

What is your opinion on the #banbossy campaign?

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  1. says

    I totally agree we need to be mindful of the words we use with children. I was actually just having this conversation today with a colleague, who thought banning bossy was crazy. I guess I do support getting rid of the word (not that that’s even really possible unless we go to 1984 NewSpeak…), simply because it 1) has a negative connotation, and 2) is rarely used to describe a boy.

    • says

      As I reflected in the use of the word “bossy,” I could not think of a moment when I heard it in reference to a boy. I think I may have used it with one of my sons, but in general we haven’t used that label. I’ll be curious to see how this campaign evolves, and how people respond. Thanks for weighing in.

  2. says

    So is it wrong of me to bring up Parks & Recreation – the episode where Donna tweets about her boss Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as #BitchBoss and #BossBitch? Sorry, I just have to relate everything to TV. Leslie’s feelings were so hurt when she discovered the #BitchBoss tweets, but when she saw the #BitchBoss ones, she was flattered. Change the conversation. That’s what I think this effort is really all about, and I’m all for calling out the BS labels that reinforce gender stereotypes and keep anyone oppressed.

    Good post! PS We are all about princess sparkles at our house, and it’s totally fine. :)

    • says

      I’m a fan of that show, but I think I missed that one. And glad there is another household embracing the sparkles! 😉

  3. says

    I actually have a post going live tomorrow on the same topic. I think it’s too much. I was bossy. And that didn’t make me a leader. It made me selfish and demanding…and bossy boys are the same way. Being too bossy is one step away from being a bully, not an executive.

    • says

      When I think “bossy,” I equate it more to a domineering style. Perhaps the definition of leader is still evolving. But I agree with you in that “bossy” does exist – and simply replacing it with the word leadership isn’t right either.

  4. says

    My youngest is ‘bossy’ and we simply refer to her as our future CEO. The only thing that I try to ‘tame’ is the presentation of her demands.. beyond that, I let her roll.

    • says

      You’re right Kristen – I think it is more of a style matter. I’m all for future leaders – boys and girls – but we need to teach both sexes what it means to be a good leader. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Katie says

    I actually asked my hs students about this today and they literally laughed. They explained that they never would have considered it a ‘female’ term. We often talk about the connotations of words and movements in literature and they feel this movement feels forced. They associated it with “just another # hash tag trend”.

    • says

      It does feel a little forced. I feel like this is coming on the heels of her 1-year book anniversary and she is trying keep the “lean in” movement relevant and top-of-mind.

  6. says

    I don’t have an opinion on #banbossy yet. I’ve seen the hastag and now your post is the first I’ve read of it. What does bother me as I parent a boy and a girl is how clearly I connect my son’s personality traits to jobs and/or success in the real world. He’s got a lot of energy, loves money, and math comes easy to him–we talk about engineering as a career, for instance. But my daughter’s personality and skills are different. Granted, she’s only 7, but I don’t know what type of career to talk about with her! It’s not as clear cut as my son. But then I feel bad for talking about *his* future in the work-world, but not hers. I really need to chill I think!

  7. says

    I understand the sentiment behind this campaign, this idea that we shouldn’t be rewarding boys for domineering behavior while simultaneously criticizing girls for it. The best solution, I think, is to reward both boys and girls for thinking independently, being themselves, and treating others with respect – whether that’s in a leadership role or not. I realize that sounds incredibly simplistic!

  8. says

    I don’t like the word and think we need to be mindful. But I also don’t think we encourage the behavior without coaching when and how it’s right- encourage leaders, but not allow bullying.

  9. says

    I really enjoyed Lean In and have seen her new hashtag #BanBossy but I haven’t given much thought about it until now. I do agree 100% with you that we need to be mindful of the words we use with our kids. My youngest is my girlie girl. She mostly lives in dresses and skirts but she is still ready to tumble and get dirty too. I guess what I want is my girls to feel confident enough to be themselves, unapologetically. I never though much about the word “bossy” before but it is a word most often directed at a female and not in flattering way. It is strange that the opposite, “leader”, is seen as a positive trait and directed towards boys. More proof we need to be mindful of the word we use and what they imply.

  10. says

    When I hear of the word bossy my cousin Susie comes to mind. The adults in my family used to laugh and call her bossy. I think it was mostly because she had to have things go her way. When I tried to come up with a male equivalent I thought of a boy cousin who I’d label a bully not a leader. I don’t ever remember someone labeling a boy as bossy.

    I do like the term leader for a girl. Or to at least point out positive leadership qualities. Honestly though I don’t really like “labels” in general. I think we love to put people in a box and define them by that term. When in actuality we are made up of many traits – like your daughter. Both you and your husband seem to be raising her with a healthy attitude. Perhaps be mindful of your labels, but keeping it healthy is probably your best bet.

    And as to your frustration with all the parenting advice – Lisa Bloom advices that we are supposed to tell little girls that they are smart instead of pretty. Ever since I read that I find myself biting my tongue as I tell a little girl that she is pretty. It is almost impossible to change old habits.

  11. says

    I think you hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph:
    “I don’t think it is realistic to ban a word altogether, but we can certainly be more mindful of the words we choose to use – with our sons and daughters. ”

    I agree that it won’t be successfuly banned, but I think making people take notice of the negative gender implications of words is a good thing.

    Without limitations, bossy can definitely move more towards bratty, but with some guidance, it could grow into leadership.

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