Confessions of a former “bossy girl”

As a child, I always anticipated parent-teacher interviews with a bit of dread. I wasn’t a bad student – the opposite, really. I consistently performed above average, earning myself the “gifted” label. Why the dread, then? According to teachers, I was a bossy, chatterbox, opinionated, precocious, know-it-all kind of girl. The feedback was consistently that I needed to “be less bossy”.

You’d think as a former “bossy girl” I’d be all over Sheryl Sandberg’s crusade to #banbossy. In theory, it sounds great – stop using a word that applies seemingly only to girls and in a negative fashion and, in turn, girls’ self esteem will rise. It seems like a pretty cut-and-dry mission:

When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead. – #banbossy

I understand where she’s coming from. What I don’t understand is why we’re championing the death of the term instead of encouraging girls to embrace it.


It’s OK to be bossy.

Bossy girls grow up to be assertive.

Bossy girls grow up to be leaders.

Bossy girls never stop speaking their minds.

Instead seeing bossy as a bad thing, parents and educators need to take the stance that bossy is good, desirable, an indicator of success. What needs to change her is not the language but how we react to it.

The definition of bossy: this was not my birthday party.
The definition of bossy: this was not my birthday party.

Bossy girls grow up to be bitchy women

Bossy is the younger cousin of bitchy. Strong, powerful women often get labeled as bitchy, whether they’re nice or not. Getting rid of the word doesn’t change the fact that there are still entrenched gender stereotypes and ideas of how women should be acting.

Stern look = bossy
Stern look = bossy

Instead of focusing on banning these words, let’s focus on supporting, empowering and mentoring future female leaders. Heck, let’s even tell them to Lean In. But let’s stop saying that bossy is a bad thing. Let’s stop telling our girls that when they’re labeled as bossy it’s time to simmer down, stay quiet, shrink away. Nurture your bossy girl instead of trying to get her to change. Don’t be embarrassed by the label. Own it.