Written by Emily
Sheryl Sandberg has rallied a troop of impressive women and men in her campaign to “Ban Bossy”. They have buttons and videos and media attention. They are a force to be reckoned with. Yes!
I used the good old Apple Thesaurus to find synonyms for the words used in a campaign interview, and I cross checked them with the Oxford Dictionary just in case.
Bossy: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, officious, high-handed, authoritarian, dictatorial, controlling; informal high and mighty. ANTONYMS submissive.
Leader: pioneer, front runner, world leader, world-beater, innovator, trailblazer, groundbreaker, trendsetter, torchbearer, pathfinder.
The general argument to “ban bossy” seems to be that parents, teachers, the world needs to stop calling girls bossy because it’s stifling their leadership potential. I hate to think that girls aren’t assuming leadership roles because they’ve been called bossy. That’s an unfortunate result especially since being bossy and being a leader are not the same thing. And if in the business world or the music world or the media world, they are the same thing, then maybe we need a cultural or social shift in the way those environments function.
If my children are being domineering or pushy or dictatorial–whether we’re talking about my son or my daughters–I’m going to correct that behavior because while I want to foster self-assuredness and strong convictions in my kids, I don’t want to foster the notion that they can or should bulldoze over anyone.
All over social media, I see women celebrating their bossiness, shouting in all CAPS: I AM BOSSY! AND I’M PROUD OF IT.
I’m sorry that we’ve created work environments that demand controlling, overbearing behavior to succeed. And I’m sorry we’re pretending that bossiness is a positive quality instead of teaching our children how to be innovators and trailblazers and leaders without being bossy. If work environments cultivated and celebrated other ways of being, that would be truly innovative and forward-thinking. It might even inspire more women to choose to engage in other roles because that’s the ultimate goal of the campaign, right? To create female COOs and CEOs?
I’m on board with the notion that words matter. I believe that 100%. Words matter. Words have power and emotion. Connotation. Bossy has negative connotations, and even the Oxford Dictionary used a female pronoun in its sample sentence. Rude. I’m all for raising semantic awareness. Let’s use words purposefully. Let’s use them correctly.
Let’s not confuse leadership and strong convictions with bossiness. Those are not synonyms and people who use them interchangeably are wrong. People who use bossy to describe girls who speak up or have an opinion, those people are wrong.
In a campaign video to ban bossy, Beyonce shares, “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.” Right. They don’t have to be the same…I hope. And if they do, that’s where the change needs to happen. And Beyonce, in a campaign about the power of words, I guess I’ll ignore the violent narrative you shared with your husband on stage at the Grammy’s when you sang “Drunk in Love”. Your audience probably won’t get the Tina Turner and Ike Turner references, anyway. Are we hoping girls recognize the dominatrix attire as sexually liberating? Or maybe you were just emphasizing your distaste for the word bossy by illustrating it’s antonym: submissive. Well played. Did you also know that Jaime Foxx would publicly apologize to JayZ for oogling you thus reinforcing the notion that you are JayZ’s property? Or was that a coincidence?
I hate to be a hater. I do. I love that there are powerful women working together with a mission to empower young girls. I love that. I don’t love the focus. I get that bossy is tangible. We’ve heard it at play dates and on playgrounds. We’ve heard it in the classroom. Sometimes it’s used correctly. Sometimes not.
Perhaps the biggest problem with bossy is that kids don’t get it. They misinterpret it. They think that when they’re telling their friends on the playground that they have to do it “this way” or “that way” or “do it right now” that it’s their leading that’s the issue. It’s not the leading or the idea they have that’s an issue but how they’re doing it and how it’s making other people feel. The other kids are important, too.
If we’re giving girls or boys a free-pass on bossy behavior, condoning it, pretending it’s leadership, playgrounds and school yards are going to become intolerable for the majority–kind of like the work world, I guess.
I’m not going to judge bossy kids; they’re testing the waters. I do hope that someone in their lives helps them hone their leadership skills (if they have them), so they become successful CEOs, COOs, CFOs, presidents, bosses…but not bossy ones. Because honestly, they’re the worst.