Have you seen the new #banbossy ads going around? I have a confession: I think it’s kind of stupid.
I feel terrible saying that because I think they’ve gathered a ton of amazing women together to make the PSAs. But I hate the whole thing. Instead of trying to #banbossy, I think that we should #embracebossy. Here’s why…
I was a bossy little girl. I heard that word A LOT. My fourth grade teacher nicknamed me “Miss Righteous Indignation,” which I took as a compliment, but she could have just as easily called me Miss Bossy. In fifth grade the gym teacher told me that I wasn’t allowed to discuss a call she made as referee during the floor hockey game, even though the game was over and I was talking about it with my friends as we changed back into our school clothes. Because I felt my First Amendment rights had been violated, I organized a boycott of the class by all the girls in my grade. (As you can imagine, I was an incredibly annoying child)
My mother is a bossy woman. She used that inclination to lead to go from being a labor and delivery nurse to being an administrator at a large university health service center. My mom was my first introduction to ambition and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders, in addition to being an example of turning bossy into boss.
I went on to an all-girls high school where the principal, a strong willed nun who was also dryly funny, was my academic advisor. She helped me start to course correct from bossy to boss. Sister JB never softened blows for me, as I sometimes found my desire to set the world right landed me in trouble, but always asked me how I could have done something better. How could I have made the same point more effectively? She was telling me how to stop giving orders and start being heard.
During high school I also worked at a tea shoppe (extra p and e essential), where my boss was another smart, strong, driven woman. She also understood my opinionated and sometimes rash self, encouraging me to find ways to positively channel my righteous indignation. Sue was the one that told me (paraphrasing John Adams), “your enemies don’t need to know everything you think about them.” There are times when you have to keep your mouth shut, which I needed to learn… and probably an aspect of my personality that still needs polishing. She also taught me about responsibility, treating employees fairly, and that quitting has consequences.
At camp, I got to be in another all-girls environment where leadership was an expectation, not an exception. My camp recognized leadership in hundreds of different ways, which helped teach us all that leadership doesn’t always look the same. You can be a leader without being loud, you can be a leader that everyone sees, you can be a leader in just one subject area… leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all box. We also had our camp director, Fran, whose example demonstrated that it’s usually more effective to have people respect and admire you than fear you. It’s more disappointing to let someone down than it is to piss off someone you don’t respect.
Then I joined the Army. Between the female drill sergeants holding their own in a decidedly male environment to the female soldiers that ran the section of the hospital where I worked (my section had both a female non-commissioned officer-in-charge, NCOIC, and a female officer-in-charge, OIC) it was full of women leading the way for others. The army teaches you both how to lead and how to be part of a team, essential pieces of being in charge.
Dictionaries define the word “bossy” in a number of ways, and yes, there is a negative connotation to the word. But do you know what definition often came first? “Inclined to give orders” All of these women that have taught me valuable lessons on leadership wouldn’t have gotten to where they were if they weren’t at least a little bit “inclined to give orders.” So, bossy women all.
Which makes me think we shouldn’t make bossy into a bad word that can never be said. Because it tells girls that it isn’t okay to be inclined to give orders. YES IT IS! Kids will tend towards bossy instead of just being the boss because they don’t know how to do that yet. They need, like I needed, someone to teach them how to embrace that bossiness and use it in a positive way. Girl need mentors, not knights-in-shining-armor to swoop down and save them from a word that isn’t going to hurt them. If girls feel bad being told that they’re bossy, how much worse will they feel when we turn it into a four-letter word?
I think people should #embracebossy by finding ways to mentor girls. Help them to find the best ways to be a leader. Don’t admonish that instinct to lead, polish it. If you catch a little girl being called bossy, talk to her about the situation: was she trying to be in charge? did she do it in the best way? what are some ways to get people to work together as a team? how can we organize a group? These are the conversations girls need to have, not ones about how one word matters. I know that #banbossy is trying to empower girls and encourage them to lead, but I feel like the only thing gaining power here is that word.
I never cared when I was called bossy and I’m incredibly grateful for the bossy women in my life that embraced that in themselves too. Let’s all embrace the bossy inside of us and use that inclination to lead to change the world.