Why We Shouldn’t Ban “Bossy”


I usually agree with you, Sheryl, but not this time.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

A couple of years ago, I started to see a lot of backlash against the word “bossy.” Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of it. Sheryl Sandberg is one of its very public proponents, as is Beyoncé. The campaign even has its own website. In case you do live under a rock, let me give you a quick recap. Supposedly, we shouldn’t use the word because it discourages girls from speaking up and taking on leadership roles. Boys are called “leaders,” whereas girls are called “bossy.” I’m a little late to the game on this, as it mostly news in 2014, but since I keep seeing articles and posts about this campaign, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject.

I’m not calling into question the fact that boys are often encouraged to become leaders while girls are not. This is a real and prevalent problem that has consequences that reach well into adulthood. I agree wholeheartedly with programs and campaigns that encourage girls to speak up and improve their leadership skills.

Here’s the thing, though. “Bossy” is a real thing, and it shouldn’t be confused with displaying good leadership skills. Being a good leader means displaying initiative, coming up with plans, and coordinating others to follow through on those plans. Being bossy is pushing others to submit to your ideas, whether they want to or not. Being bossy is not synonymous with being a good leader, nor is it synonymous with being assertive. At best it’s being pushy, and at worse it’s being a bully. Think about it this way: if you had a work colleague who constantly ordered you around with no consideration for your input or feelings on the matter, would you consider that person a “good leader.” Probably not.

Girls should be encouraged to develop leadership skills, but they should also learn to develop good leadership skills. I agree that the word is more often used for girls than boys, and that it is often misused, but I don’t think banning it is the answer. A lot of critics of the campaign have suggested reclaiming the word, but I think it would be better if we just used it correctly for both boys and girls. After all, bossy boys aren’t good leaders, either!

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