Co-authored with Susan Schneider
It's time for everyone to stop using the word "bossy" as a put-down for strong girls and women.
"We call girls bossy on the playground," says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is spearheading the new Ban Bossy campaign. "And we call them too aggressive or other B words in the workplace."
But I think banning bossy is the wrong approach. Why not own the word instead? It's just as much our word as anyone else's, and we can choose to use it in a positive way.
Driven, ambitious, domineering: these words are also used to describe strong women. We can't ban them all, nor should we. Instead of rejecting the word completely, what about teaching girls and boys that bossy is powerful -- that it means you have leadership, spunk and guts? It means that people listen to you and respect you. Let's teach it as part of the repertoire of words that describe the admirable Alpha girl, who will grow up into a badass Alpha woman.
One recent morning, I saw a client named Amy, a former Wall Streeter who is now a young mother and community volunteer -- and oh, yes, a concert pianist in her spare time -- who reflected on the negative meaning of bossy as applied to girls and women.
Strong, decisive and energetic, Amy recounted how she liked to take charge in her managerial job. Her boss rewarded her for her leadership qualities, and in that setting her self-confidence grew. Now that she is married and an at-home mom, she still likes to take charge, organize and delegate. But both her husband and her mother have called her "bossy," making her feel diminished and shamed. Her hard-won self-confidence has taken a major beating.
"Am I bad for being a take-charge person?" she asked me. "Is there something wrong with being the way I am?"
"There is nothing wrong with being bossy," I said. "It's shorthand for being strong and opinionated. Since when is it bad to be those things? Next time anyone calls you bossy, whether it's your husband or your mother, agree with them and say that you're proud of your leadership qualities and glad they noticed how you apply your energy and management skills to get a million things done in one afternoon!"
Amy has promised to try out this new approach to an old put-down. Why don't we all try it and see what happens? After all, if we ban bossy, we would also have to ban all the other words that are used to keep strong women down (ballsy, shrill, pushy). The real issue is not the word itself, but the negative ideas about assertive women that lead people to use it as a put-down. Its new meaning -- as of now, we hope -- should express the desirable qualities of leadership and decisiveness. Let's use it with ballsy and get some cool alliteration. Take it on as a badge of leadership. I'm bossy, ballsy -- and proud.
Sonya Rhodes, PhD is co-author with Susan Schneider of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Today's Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling, April, 2014.