The One with Bossy

There has been a lot of “bossy” talk in the media this week. Sheryl Sandberg would like to have the word banned from use.

As an opposer of censorship, I don’t support encouraging the banning of words, but as I writer, I see her point. Words are powerful — the pen mightier than the sword and all that — which is perhaps why we shouldn’t throw around the term “ban” either, but that’s the topic of another post.  Interesting how the word bossy can have two implied meanings. From the Ban Bossy website:

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.

The site goes on to say that girls are more likely to be interrupted in class than boys, perhaps leading to a precipitous drop in self esteem. Between elementary school and high school a girl’s self esteem is  3.5 times lower than a boy’s.

When I was a senior in high school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), my physics teacher sat all the girls in the back of the classroom and only directed questions to the boys. If a girl did try to answer, the boys simply talked over her, loudly, until she stopped talking. We girls learned quickly to keep our mouths shut, lest we be labeled pushy or arrogant.

The bossy stigma continues into adulthood. Bossy has a much different connotation when used for a woman than for a man. The definition of bossy in the Oxford American Dictionary uses this example of the word in a sentence: She was headlong, bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar. And: We’re hiding from his bossy sister. It’s also very interesting to think that anyone who is “fond of giving orders or domineering” is considered bossy, but when applied to a girl on a playground it takes on negative overtones in our minds. Not so for boys. And when that girl grows up she’ll be called a b**ch, while her male counterpart will be called assertive and confident.

It’s amazing to me that this is still such an issue in 2014. So, this being women’s history month, let’s take a moment to celebrate some “bossy” women. Last year, photographer Jaime Moore was looking for new ideas for her daughter’s  birthday photos. She came across a lot of princesses. Jaime decided to go a different route.

It started me thinking about all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up to, REAL women who, without ever meeting Emma, have changed her life for the better…I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything.

Jaime chose five women in honor of Emma’s fifth birthday. “Let’s set aside the Barbie dolls and the Disney Princesses for just a moment, and let’s show our girls the REAL women they can be.”

You can see the entire “NOT Just a Girl” series on Jaime’s site, (including my personal hero Jane Goodall!) but here’s a peek. How awesome is this? Brings tears to my eyes.

Amelia Earhart and Emma

As a side note, Jaime has plans to expand the NOT Just a Girl series. She has an Indiegogo site to help raise funds to continue spreading the word about the real women girls can become.

Did you experience negative reactions because you spoke up?  If you have (or have had) daughters, did words like bossy influence their self esteem?

Have a great weekend, everyone!



    1. Yeah, I can’t believe he got away with that! I’ve been called bossy and a bitch and plenty of other names in my time 😉 Very few people say them to my face though – they know better 😉


      1. Nah that’s different. Keyboard warriors. Very brave 😉 A guy tonight told me that his entire class hated me – I see that as an achievement 😉


  1. On the basis of that picture you published in your post, I had to check out Jaime Moore’s site. Wow! That’s great and Emma is an extraordinary model. I’ve just shared that link to her post with several friends.

    That blatant sexism you and your fellow girls were subject to in your high school physics class was outrageous, but I like to think if an educator tried to pull that stunt on his female students today, he’d be looking for a new job. I don’t recall my parents or siblings ever giving me grief if I spoke up, but my Italian grandmother was always on my case for not being “lady-like”. Fortunately, I was not raised to be a masochist, so there was no pressure on me from anyone else in my family to conform to her expectations. My mother insisted that I was “unique”, and she made it clear, that was okay. She never made me feel bad about myself. But I’ve never aspired to be a leader, not due to self-esteem issues. Basically, I’m lazy and like to sleep in so someone else can get up early and be responsible. As for banning the word bossy, I’m opposed to censorship, too. But, I am all for turning it into an ugly word that screams negativity about anyone who would use it in reference to a girl. The time is here to end that.


    1. Thanks so much for sharing that link. I hope Jaime is able to expand her Not Just a Girl project. Such a worthwhile endeavor.

      How wonderful that your mother valued your individuality rather than insisting you conform. Things are certainly different these days but I often think that the pressure to be like everyone else is as intense for the parents as it is for their kids.


  2. Gosh, Jackie, the website you shared is SO, SO cool! I love it.

    I was definitely NOT allowed to speak up when I was a kid. My mother was a horrible role model in that regard. Sad, but true.

    Thanks for sharing Jaime Moore’s post. What a darling little girl Emma is.

    Have an awesome weekend!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the site. What a terrific idea to show girls the real possibilities for their future. Emma is so photogenic. I imagine she has a lot more patience at five years old than I do!


  3. I had a similar experience, Jackie. A male high school math teacher put the girls in the back. I couldn’t see, or hear. On top of that, he didn’t speak English very well, being from the Middle East. That was a very bad year. Reading your blog I found myself actually getting pissed off, that girls have had to suffer this stupidity.

    On the bright side, when I went to college I had amazing math professors (of both genders) who would talk math with me all I wanted and were encouraging. I’m not sure what the difference was, but something had changed.

    Disturbing that the OAD gives female examples for bossiness; if that isn’t sexist, I’d like to know what is?


    1. You and I aren’t alone, unfortunately, and these situations seemed to occur most often in math and science classes. I’m happy to hear that you went on to have some wonderful professors. It sounds like they were encouraging and inspiring.
      The good news is that now these kinds of biases are being identified and slowly weeded out of the classroom.


  4. I think there’s a difference between being a leader and being bossy. I see this with my children’s friends – the one with leadership skills will suggest things to do but be open to other ideas, the bossy friend just wants to do her idea no matter what the others want. It just annoys the other kids!


  5. Great post, Jackie and still so topicla. It’s awful to think it has still not changed. While I was working for a corporate company men who were outspoken were always seen as leaders and the women as either bossy or worse. Depending on the looks they were either called b**** or witch. I noticed then that flirting is used by many men to try to weaken good-looking “bossy” women. (Don’t forget I live in Europe – most of the things I and others had to put up with would be called sexual harassment in the US.)


    1. The double standard is just terrible.
      I imagine there are a lot of cultural differences around leadership and women. There are many areas of the world where it’s accepted (and maybe even expected) to flirt to exert influence over someone. As the workplace gets more casual, I think these things are still present though subtle.


  6. In my mind, “bossy” is a word with connotations definitely separate from “leader.” Bossy implies that someone without any real control over the situation is barking orders at others – kinda like a backseat driver – while a leader is the person behind the steering wheel.

    So it confuses me why Sandberg is creating a big distracting controversy over the semantics. My advice to women interested in leadership is: Who cares what other people call you? You’re either driving or you’re not.

    (Please delete previous comment with typo)


    1. That’s a great point. I was thinking about the difference between bossy and leader as I was writing this post. Sometimes when we make words taboo we actually give them more power. Many parents of young children who have slipped in a cuss word by accident are familiar with what happens next.


  7. My physics teacher hated cats and would always mention that it was okay to try to run them over with your car (I was an animal lover even then and was appalled back then). All the boys in the class thought it was funny. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be tolerated in today’s world (at least I hope not) and I hope teachers like the one you had aren’t teaching anymore either.

    I was terribly shy in class so I never raised my hand, hence didn’t get the label of bossy. But I see this in the workplace now and it amazes me that it’s still an issue in 2014. Can’t we just get along.

    I’m with you, I don’t like the word “ban” either. I see her point, but I agree with you. Not sure how else she can promote the campaign though.


    1. Symbolically, cats represent “the feminine” and dogs represent “the masculine”. Poor physics teacher being out of touch with his (I’m assuming) feminine. I suspect he will be given many life lessons to assist him in acknowledging this part of himself…or not.


  8. Good post. Awesome photographs. I have two daughters. I’ve hopefully raised them to know they can be and do whatever the heck they want… No labels. One is in a predominately male engineering school, kicking butt. Hopefully they both will continue to live that way. It’s sad that double standards persist.


      1. She’s doesn’t say. She’s wishes to pursue the military so she’s really working against the grain. At 5’3″ she’s a hot ticket pushing them around. Smile… I’m quite proud. I think she’s confident in her academic ability and has proven herself an equal.. Quietly with high standards. Boy I’m rambling


  9. I can’t believe your teacher in physics class, unless you are about 175 years old. Un-be-lievable.

    I agree with you about the importance of words, and I also think that none should be banned.

    What a great idea and pictures of REAL women for girls to REALLY admire!


    1. I just love the idea of celebrating real women for girls to admire. I hope Jaime Moore can roll it out to a larger group of girls. Every girl deserves to see all the possibilities available.


    2. It’s the “contrast” of words that seems to get so many people worked up. I just read about a man who died “Fred Phelps” who picketed mourners at funerals and other personal events spewing hatred. An article (blog) that I just read said that his spewing actually helped the cause despite that it wasn’t his intention. Aaaaah. “Contrast”. An interesting perspective.


  10. I’ve had mixed feelings on the campaign, sort of the reasons you implied at the beginning. When we get overworked about certain words, I think they take on MORE power or NEW powers that were never there in the first place. I also think that this new generation of little girls is (thankfully) very distant from some of these issues. They’re already empowered to take charge and speak up. Does a campaign like this add self-consciousness to a situation where there was none there before? That said, perhaps the awareness is more for the parents and teachers who grew up with this language and therefore still harbor worried feelings about women appearing “too bossy” and what not.

    Your teacher sounds like a real . . . you know what.


    1. Great point about this campaign possibly being more for the adults than the girls its meant to help. We’re a product of our generation and it takes a while to see the results of a “course correction.” My physics teacher was a perfect example. He probably thought he was enlightened for even having girls in his class.


    2. Awwwww. The teacher was just doing what s/he was programmed to “be” and “do”. I have adopted the belief that everyone is doing their best with the level of consciousness that they possess. I grew up during the time that girls went to “cooking” class (argh) and boys went to tools class…separating us into the roles that we were expected to follow in life. We’re getting to inclusiveness slowly but surely.


      1. As outrageous as it seems to us now, I believe he was a good person. He was just doing what he’d been taught. This was so long ago that we had to take classes in “shorthand” – if that’s not a dead art, I don’t know what is!


  11. Holy Toledo. What a story. Thank you. Until reading this story I wouldn’t be flattered if called bossy…and yet, now I may be “flattered” if called bossy depending who is saying it. I have been labeled “direct” and “intense” and people have taken offense by my directness. I have modified it somewhat staying in “I” sentences and not using “you” because then it becomes a projection rather than a sharing. I am also one of the first people a friend calls to get a “truth” about an event going on in their life.. They trust me to tell them “my” truth without pulling punches. So, thank you for this illuminating post. Warm hug, Karenbeth


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