If you’re a woman of any age who has dared to speak up for yourself, to demand the things you want and deserve in life, chances are you’ve been given the the all-too-familiar label of “bossy”. While assertive men are allotted positive traits like “ambitious” and “headstrong”, women with similar attitudes are deemed bitches – sometimes bossy bitches – and are seen as inappropriate and in need of containment. While we all want to be liked and hope to be seen as approachable, it’s often the case that we as women are reduced to that one single word and made to feel badly about owning our power. But really, is being bossy really so bad?
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t think so, and she’s right. She’s joined forces with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Chávez to launch Ban Bossy, an initiative aimed at ending the negative connotation “bossy” carries which often discourages girls from pursuing leadership roles. She’s even got celebrity supporters, from Beyoncé to Jennifer Garner, to back the cause. And really, we should all be backing it.
As someone who’s been in managerial positions for more than five years – also known as “positions of power”, though I’ve never considered them to be such – I’ve certainly faced my share of those who have sought to undermine me (whether because of my gender or otherwise, I can’t be certain) or label me negatively because of my outspoken and direct attitude. When I am working, I work hard and I don’t believe in softening my personality or attitude in order to be more “endearing” to those I lead. If you are a leader, it is your job to lead. Nowhere in your job description will you ever see “belittle yourself in order to make sure everyone likes you and you don’t come off as bossy”.
To me, being called “bossy” isn’t the negative term I think it’s meant as. If I am your boss, I would expect you to see me as “bossy” – just as I see my own bosses. To me, the word implies leadership and direction, not rudeness or inappropriateness. However, intent is important, and given the circumstances, I’d prefer the word not be used when describing myself. Being labeled ‘bossy’ certainly won’t change my leadership style (or my decision to pursue such positions), but I don’t particularly like it. I’m only human.
It’s an unfortunate truth that someone receiving directions from me would most likely react entirely differently if given the same instructions from a male in the same position. As a society, we expect men to lead, to be headstrong and direct. Sadly, we don’t expect the same from women, and when we do experience it, we are put off rather than being pleasantly surprised. Women and girls who are strong and ambitious enough to join a male-dominated workforce and pursue their passions should be described in exactly that way: strong, ambitious, intelligent, talented. “Bossy” should never enter the equation.
It’s important that we redefine our approach to strong women, that we encourage and foster our girls’ desire to do and be more in order to empower them and make the world a better place. Strong women are powerful women, and if we work together, there’s no limit to what we can do. So go ahead, girls, be bossy. Just don’t let people make you feel bad about it.
Featured image via ShutterStock