The Sheryl Sandberg-driven movement that is #banbossy has its fans and its detractors — and rightly so. There are those who agree that yes, language like “bossy” is often applied to girls in response to behavior that would otherwise be seen as strong and assertive, discouraging them from taking on leadership positions and ambitious roles. Then there are those who point out that “bossy” can also be applied to overbearing, inflexible, rude behaviors that aren’t conducive to leadership and can themselves discourage others from being assertive. Then the first people point out that “bossy” in either case is far more often applied to girls than boys, and then the other people point out that banning a word is kind of silly, and it’s very confusing because everyone is kind of right.
Julie Ross Godar’s complaint with #banbossy is that “bossy” is so vague a term as to be basically useless. It means different things to different people, and it applies a gendered slant to behavior that isn’t discouraged (or is addressed differently) in boys. Godar offers a starter list of ten far more satisfying words for positive behaviors that are derided in girls as “bossy,” a well as a few options for addressing those negative behaviors that also fall under the “bossy” umbrella.
In the end, though, if you really want to know how “bossy” affects girls, do what SheKnows did and just ask them.
[Sounds: Chipper background music, and the shrieking of the damned generally associated with sleepover parties]
What does bossy mean to you?
Glittery shirt. Bossy is…
Striped shirt. Bossy is…
Gabrielle. Bossy is…
Ester. Bossy is like…
SS. Are you listening?!
Elmo shirt. You’re not the boss of me!
Red shirt. Sometimes people take “bossy” the wrong way a lot. Sometimes when you’re leading something, people think that you’re bossy, but you’re actually just trying to lead it, which can end up being bossy.
Gabrielle. If you want everything to yourself and you’re in your own world.
Ester. Taking over for someone.
RS. My gym teacher has to be bossy so we — we get to the fun part.
“Girls Are Rad” t-shirt. You can make people get you ice cream or buy you coffee. Well, when you’re older you want coffee.
GS. It makes a person feel kind of bad. But sometimes it’s just ’cause they have to or else something won’t go how it’s supposed to.
What if someone called you bossy?
GAR. I am the awesomest. I’m not bossy, but I am the boss.
Ester. I would say I’m sorry I’m bossy, but I’m just trying to show people something.
Flowered t-shirt. I would say, “Well, that’s what you think. That’s not exactly what other people think, or I think.”
How is being a leader different from being bossy?
SS. Leaders are the people in charge, and you have to listen to them, but bossy people aren’t necessarily in charge.
Gabrielle. When you’re a leader, you help people, and you get appointed by being a leader because you’re working great with other people, you don’t always want to be the best.
RS. Like, if you had a marching band, there would be a leader. They’re just, like, walking around.
Ester. I look up to Michelle Obama.
GS. She’s pretty important.
Gabrielle. Beyonce I don’t think is bossy, but most time, superstars are sort of bossy.
Beige top. She, like, believes in herself, and she, like, knows who she is and stuff.
Can both girls and boys be bossy?
GAR. Being bossy has nothing to do with being a boy or a girl.
FS. A girl knows that someone is being bossy.
Gabrielle. And boys are always just, like, playing around.
GS. Some people think that boys are more powerful, but I don’t think that.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Bailey. I want to be a doctor or a singer.
FS. I want to be a marine biologist, so I want to have, like, a company of people.
Ester. An artist or a designer.
Bailey. Bossy is…
SS. I told you what to do. Now do it.
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