Girls start to hear it in their early years, and women hear it all their lives. The "b" word. No, not that one, b for bossy, the other equally offensive b word.
Little girls who are assertive are called bossy, little boys, leaders.
Research confirms that between elementary and high school, girls self esteem drops 3.5 times more than boys. Girls seem to worry that asserting themselves will make them seem bossy, even as they are less likely to be called on in class, and more likely to be interrupted. Evidence is they self censor, move themselves out of leadership roles, and eventually silence their voices in an effort to be liked.
Now a high profile campaign,"Ban Bossy" is aimed at changing that. Leading Ban Bossy--Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and founder of the nonprofit organization leanin.org, and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the two recounted being branded bossy early on. In elementary school one of Sandberg’s teachers told her friend to stay away from her because “nobody likes a bossy girl.” Chavez remembers telling her playmates that she wanted to lead their game, and being told, “ you are really bossy, Anna.” Both women point to evidence that shows labeling diminishes how girls and women see themselves as leaders, and equally important, how others dismiss their leadership abilities.
By the time these "bossy" girls become women, they are regularly assaulted by an arsenal of jagged verbal stones, which include stubborn, difficult, angry, pushy, aggressive, and the all-encompassing bad attitude. Verbal assailants also use profanity as a weapon; they attack using the other b word former first lady Barbara Bush famously described as rhyming with witch.
Being called bossy could have shaken my sense of self, but I was lucky to come from a long line of women who were not easily cowed, and taught me to stand up and speak up. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and cousins celebrated women’s leadership, as did my Dad. He married the outspoken woman he wanted his two daughters to be.
High profile women, including three world leaders, two Supreme Court Justices and A list entertainers have helped the ban bossy campaign go viral. Superstar Beyoncé’s empowering message, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”
Add my name to the more than 100,000 who’ve have taken the pledge. These last weeks of women’s history month, let’s honor the girls and women -- now formerly known as bossy, with new words-- audacious, brave, bold, confident. Ban bossy. Pass it on.