Earlier this week, a campaign came out to #banbossy: backed by female leaders like Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce, it’s been getting plenty of press. Because, you know, they were called bossy when they were girls and it’s somehow ruined their potential for success.
I have no qualms about saying I was bossy as a kid. Heck, I’m bossy now. I’m still the one who likes to take charge of a situation: it went from being in charge of dodgeball teams at recess and corralling neighborhood kids into playing my favorite board game to coordinating an event for work or organizing a girls’ weekend away. Sure, I’m bossy: I’m also a good manager, a good organizer, a good planner. I like things done a certain way (my way!), almost to a fault. And I also try my hardest to be considerate, kind and thoughtful.
I grew up in the era of “girl power,” of listening to pop anthems by the Spice Girls and Christina Aguilera. I vividly remember my favorite soccer T-shirt said a girl’s place is on the field. I was raised by a working mother who encouraged me to stick up for myself, to run for class council, to play sports, to get involved. I was called bossy plenty of times, and I thrived off it: I was determined to be a better soccer player than the boys (some things never change: I played a pick-up game with my boyfriend and his friends last fall, and I hustled them all). I raised my hand in class any time I knew the answer, and plenty of times when I didn’t. I had plenty of friends, I played sports, I earned straight A’s. Being bossy is not equivalent to being a bully, but being bossy can lead to being the boss (examples A and B: Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce).
I also have no qualms saying that I’m a feminist. I fully believe in women having equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunities: in changing the conversation from “women having it all” to “men and women having a work and family balance that works.” My belief in women being able to do whatever they set their mind to is one of the reasons I fully support solo female travel. The conversation around banning bossy echoes of the same reasoning that makes it even necessary to discuss solo female travel: that in some way, men and women are so different that we can’t have the same leadership style or be described by the same words or travel in the same way without it being worthy of a hashtag.
Sure, there are some things that women need to consider when traveling long-term or when traveling alone that likely don’t cross a man’s mind: bringing an adequate supply of birth control or tampons, how to dress modestly but still stylishly, how safe a certain region is for a woman traveling by herself. But beyond that, I’ve never felt like being a woman has made it any more or less difficult to travel independently. I know men who couldn’t bear that much time alone or who couldn’t pull their lives together enough to save the money and book the ticket.
Girls need to learn that it’s OK to be bossy, that it’s acceptable for them to be in charge. They need to be empowered to be bossy, to be encouraged to get involved and speak up for what they believe in. We need them to be bossy, to be comfortable asking for what they want or need and to be able to know when to lead or when to follow. They also need to learn to let criticisms roll off their back. Girls need to know that they can be called bossy–or worse, by other girls and by boys–and keep on keepin’ on. This isn’t condoning bullying: this is recognizing that being bossy and being a leader are
Because when girls grow up and want to do “crazy” things like backpack through Southeast Asia alone or move to Australia on a whim or start their own company or do whatever it is that makes them happy: they need to have the inner confidence to just do it. We need to stop acting like girls aren’t capable of leading, and that they’re so sensitive that one mean comment (from another girl, or a boy, or a teacher) is going to ruin their career trajectory for life.
Just like boys, they need to know the difference between leading and bullying–but they don’t need to stop being bossy.
How do you feel about the #banbossy campaign?