Why girls need to be bossy

Why girls need to be bossy

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.

Christine Amorose as a bossy little girl on her first day of school

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? 



  • HippieInHeels

    I still remember the first time I heard “I’m Bossy” by Kelis.. I think every girl wanted to be bossy haha.. But I was a lot like you playing soccer and getting scraped up. I have read about this campaign and can’t seem to grasp the point of it. I guess they don’t want the label but being “bossy” can be a positive thing

  • Erica

    I think that given their message (adults should not treat children differently according to their genders, since often, they reacting negatively to strong leadership attributes and qualities exhibited by girls), it’s a good campaign. It’s short, succinct, and like you said, it’s getting a lot of press (though sometimes people get too caught up in the actual word and not the message itself). I think that we are heavily influenced as children, and that there’s no harm in encouraging people to positively reinforce leadership qualities, regardless of the gender of the child. I suppose what I’m saying is that while I will be much more cautious about whether I treat children according to their gender, I will not stop using the word bossy because, afterall, it is only a bad thing if you make it one.

  • Oof, I was called bossy, too, and often. Girl power! I’m not sure what the best solution to empowering them now is though. ‘Bossy’ does tend to have a negative connotation and although there are other words that have been ‘reclaimed’ by the groups and individuals they target, I’m not sure any real change was brought about by doing so. With that said, ignoring the word all together doesn’t inherently encourage leadership skills in children either. Guiding in a constructive and inclusive way should be encouraged and then rewarded so that girls and boys can unapologetically be the leaders they’re meant to be well into adulthood.

  • I agree! I think the problem is not the word, the problem is the meaning behind it. So instead of banning the word, we should ban the stereotype behind it and strip away its power. Words only mean the things we want them too. The campaign is going in the right direction as far as trying to make it easier for girls to move up to leadership position but they shouldn’t do it by banning the word, instead encouraging girls to take control of their lives, hang on to their dreams and go for them — embrace the word and create a different meaning. I’ve always been bossy and I go after what I want. Being bossy is great, let’s show them that.

  • Marie

    Christine, you’ve been knocking it out of the park with your posts lately! I love this line: “Girls need to learn that it’s OK to be bossy, that it’s acceptable for them to be in charge.”

    Thanks for this post, from one bossy girl to another 🙂

  • Mehnaz

    We’re having a conversation about this on my Facebook and I think that if we’re going to talk about leadership, we need to not conflate it with being bossy, which is really a trait more than a competency. Sure, certain personality traits make certain things stand out more.
    What we need to teach girls is not that bossy is a bad word. This sort of movement falls into the same kinds of societal traps that increase the gap between women and men more than help them. Women should have the confidence and competence to take on whatever challenges are thrown to them.
    Muriel has it right – words are incredibly malleable. We can change the meaning of “bossy” (Tina Fey did – by calling her book “Bossypants”). But that’s not the same conversation as teaching girls to be good leaders.

  • I agree with everything you said but why label it as bossy? It is derogatory. Wouldn’t it be more affirming to be called a leader rather than bossy? My dad always called me bossy and that did have an impact. I still run an advertising agency and own a surf shop but still, to this day, if I give direction to somebody I feel a little uncomfortable because I don’t want to sound or come off as “bossy” – If my dad would have always said you’re a great leader, I probably wouldn’t have the same complex about leading. I understand that when I was younger I needed more guidance in becoming an effective leader rather than just telling people what to do but I think the word bossy just puts a label on a woman that needs that guidance; it puts a woman in a box. It allows men to put a label on strong, out-spoken women with an opinion. It allows men to retain positions of leadership and gives women of equal personalities and leadership qualities a place to stay; a place just below men in a category of their own. “Oh, Bethany? She can’t be class president, she’s too bossy. We need a leader. How about the varsity quarterback?”

    I was the captain of the soccer team… what the hell is the difference? The label. The meaning. The mindset that girls are bossy and guys are leaders.

    You have said everything I was feeling about this campaign, but I’m wondering. Why don’t you think labels matter?

  • I’m also a feminist and agree with most of what you’ve said here but I think the point of campaign is not to encourage girls not act “bossy” but to make it so those personality traits aren’t seen as a negative thing. Bossy often has a negative connotation. These women want girls to act powerful and strong and not have it be a negative. If we take bossy out of lexicon then these personality traits can be celebrated.

  • Emily Wenzel

    Obviously, I haven’t been on social media lately, because I didn’t hear about this whole “ban bossy” thing until yesterday.

    I think it’s stupid. Yes, like so many other terms, it can (and often does) have a negative connotation in our society. But that doesn’t mean we should stop using the word. It means we need to change how it’s seen. We need to teach girls that being strong and independent and bossy is a good thing.

    Bossy is an adjective for someone who is acting like a BOSS. Now, not every boss is a leader, just like not everyone who is bossy is a leader. So, no, the words aren’t interchangeable.

  • I agree with Amanda in that from what I’ve seen the campaign is more about getting rid of the negative side of being called bossy. It was started by the Girl Scouts. One of the goals of our organization is to build girls of courage and confidence who can become leaders locally and/or globally but we’re seeing a continuing trend in that girls don’t want to be involved because it’s not cool or it makes them seem “bossy” if they strive to be a leader. My hope is that the campaign will simply show girls that while they may not like the term “bossy” that there is NOTHING wrong with being a leader. As you said, if you saw something you wanted, you went for it. I hope other girls can find that confidence in whatever way possible. I enjoyed this post because you shared the opposing side (and yours) without being offensive. Keep up the great work sister!

  • I love everything you said here and like others have mentioned, maybe the word “bossy” is the problem. It does have a bit of a negative connotation. Either way, girls need to grow up with confidence, independence and drive no matter if it’s called “bossy” or not!

  • SnarkyNomad

    I think it’s ridiculous when billionaires and other privileged people at the top of the social stratification pyramid come down from on high with advice for the little people, and it’s nothing but trite nonsense that won’t actually do anything. If all 7 billion humans simultaneously and permanently abandon the use of the word “bossy” and its equivalents in all other languages, nothing will change. Yet they’re probably spending millions on the effort to do so. Not only will people just switch to using a different word (languages have millions of synonymous options!), but it won’t do much to advance the careers of women anyway. They probably just got annoyed that back when they were coming up in the ranks, people called them bossy, and now they want some sort of retroactive revenge.

    I would imagine that spending the same amount of money on just about anything else would yield a better result. Melinda Gates is pushing for global contraception availability, and it’s quite closely connected to women’s achievement, economic independence, and so on. Too bad other rich people just go for vocabulary lessons.

  • Ayngelina

    I’ve been called bossy tons of times – but just as many times people have told me I am a firecracker, which is the nicer take on being bossy because people say it with admiration.

  • camorose

    Yeah, it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort they’re putting into it. I get that there’s a lot of value in semantics, but I’d rather try to turn negative into a positive than just get rid of a term altogether!

  • camorose

    I definitely agree with the message of encouraging people to judge children of both genders fairly: to encourage assertiveness in girls just as much as we encourage sensitivity in boys. Overall, though–I think that we should probably be encouraging more girls to not be afraid of being bossy and of saying what they think.

  • camorose

    Agreed. I think that girls get more than enough messages to be sensitive, to be caring, to be beautiful–it can’t hurt to tell them to be assertive and unafraid to say what they think in all the varieties of the word.

  • camorose

    Bang. Exactly!

  • camorose

    Thank you! So glad you’re enjoying it 🙂

  • camorose

    Totally agree with empowering women to have the confidence and competence to take on the challenges that are presented to them: sometimes, I think girls need to be extra encouraged to be assertive, since so many of the messages they receive via the media are to just be caring and beautiful.

  • camorose

    Definitely see where you’re coming from and I certainly think that labels matter. The thing is I’ve dealt with bossy guys before, and I have called them just that. I don’t think that bossy guys are necessarily great leaders–and I don’t think that bossy girls always make great leaders either. I just don’t think it’s worthwhile to focus on eliminating one word that has both positive and negative connotations when it often describes people who are assertive in sharing their ideas and aggressive in pursuing their goals: we need all the flavors of those words to describe women in all the complexity each individual embodies.

  • camorose

    I still think that we need to keep all of the words that equate women with power, and work on infusing those with positivity instead of simply sweeping a negative association under the rug.

  • camorose

    Your last paragraph: YES. YES. YES.

  • camorose

    Thanks lady! I was a Girl Scout, and I totally respect the organization. I just think it’s a shame that we still have to have this conversation about women not wanting to get involved because they’re scared of being called bossy. We need to empower girls to EMBRACE being bossy, being involved, being assertive.

  • camorose

    I would rather work on having girls not being scared of being bossy or being called out on their leadership, on encouraging them to be involved and assertive in a variety of ways–rather than just taking away another word and another way to describe the complexity of women.

  • camorose

    So into that Melinda Gates campaign. THAT I can get behind.

  • camorose

    Same! I’ve been called bossy plenty of times in negative ways, and I’ve been called assertive and articulate and determined with a much more positive flair. Either way: I’d like to think that I can handle the good and try to grow from the criticism.

  • Totally! I always tried my hardest when I worked with the Girl Scouts to teach the girls that it’s ok to take the lead, even if you’re the one constantly doing it! Hopefully the campaign can teach girls that it is ok to be called bossy (in a positive way) and show others that bossy doesn’t have to be used in a negative way.

  • camorose

    Love that you’re working with them! Keep on being such an awesome role model 🙂