“She’s Being Bossy”
The first negative phone call we ever received from a teacher came when Caroline was only five years old. “She’s being bossy.”, we were told. At the time I was appalled and immediately over-reacted feeling sure that Caroline would never have another friend. We talked to her about the importance of her friend’s feelings and the need to listen to everyone’s opinions.
After reading Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chavez’s article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, I realize that I should have said and thought something else entirely. I could have thanked the teacher for her time but then said, “She’s not bossy. She has executive leadership skills.”
As I read “Don’t Call Us Bossy”, I was struck again and again by thoughts that I have had or should have had around the common phrase, “She’s so bossy.” Below are a few key quotes from the article;
“When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.”
As I read, I was shocked to realize that I have certainly come to this unconscious conclusion myself. I have never used the word bossy to describe a boy. Why is it that girls are so often called bossy when their male peers are described with phrases like “natural leader”?
“Sixth and seventh grade girls rate being popular and well-liked as more important that being perceived as competent or independent, while boys are more likely to rate competence and independence as more important, according to a report by the American Association of University Women.”
This fact, while sad, did not surprise me at all. We are living this quote in our house. There have been multiple times lately when Caroline has asked me not to tell people about an academic achievement because it was embarrassing. She repeatedly tells me that she wants to be known for being athletic or popular but not for being smart. This saddens me and makes me realize just how strong societal pressures are on young girls. We have worked hard against all these beliefs in our family yet here they are.
“These stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies. Despite earning the majority of college degrees, women make up just 19% of the U.S. Congress, 5% or Fortune 500 CEOs and 10% of heads of state.”
Again, these are facts that I have known on some level but seeing all the statistics lumped together here was really eye opening.
Perhaps, as with so many other things, these stats can be changed with action alone. While I don’t see myself every really describing a young child as having great ‘executive leadership skills’, I certainly can promise to no longer use the phrase ‘bossy’. That is, at least, a start.
Stacey, it’s hard to combat the paradigms society attempts to foist onto our children. Having parents willing to go head to head with them is huge though. I’d like to read that WSJ article. It sounds great. I have a future executive leader who is about to turn 9 and I can’t count how many times she’s been called bossy!
That article sounds really fascinating. I remember that pressure very well as a young girl. I didn’t want to be known as the “smart one”. As the mother of boys I struggle with teaching them that intelligence (in both sexes) is something to be valued not hidden, and it’s amazing how much of that idea is already there in Kindergarten.
This is so interesting. I saw the headlines for that piece (haven’t read yet but certainly will now). I love your take on it–particularly because I’ve recently heard my own daughter and her friends comment on other girls (5-6 years old) as not being ideal to play with because they are “too bossy”. Hmmm…I’m wondering how to a) couch this as a positive trait to them given their age, and b) how to pull forward some leadership skills in my own daughter, or at least some non-complaining skills for when others do want to take the lead even if she doesn’t, and show that it’s not necessarily a negative trait that they’re witnessing. Something to ponder, thank you!
Next time someone calls Scarlet bossy, I think I want to say, “Thank you! We hope that never changes.”
I imagine that some people will not want playdates with us after that!
This is such a hot button issue right now… I’m not sure I 100% agree with the bossy = leadership skills, as I’ve had a few very “bossy” male bosses that I would certainly not want to encourage anyone, male OR female, to emulate. I think more women opt out of leadership because of family responsibilities/choices than because of not wanting to be perceived as “bossy”… but I could be wrong.