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Enough About Bossy

Enough about bossyOn the first or second day of meeting my infant daughter, I observed her in her then native habitat of a Russian orphanage. She was 6 months old, and she was fierce.

She couldn’t crawl, or even sit up unassisted. She was placed on her tummy in a oversized raised playpen at the center of the room. 8-10 babies all lumped together while their caretakers hastily fed a dozen others. Some of the babies were napping, some were crying. My daughter was determinedly dragging herself across the pen. Eyes on the prize. She had to get to the toy she wanted. She crawled over a napping child and foisted herself on top of the other child who was in possession of the toy. Once there, she grinned her toothless grin, batted her long baby lashes, and grabbed that toy from his hand. He never knew what hit him, happily surrendering without a whimper.

I felt like I knew her in an instant. She knew what she wanted and she went for it. She compelled the results she wanted, making her will seem like it was everyone else’s idea all along as well. My daughter is a natural born leader.

Over the years, she’s been challenged, though. She struggles with dyslexia. Standardized tests are not her friend. On paper she doesn’t look so good. People have wanted to label her, and question her intelligence, her future. She’s a beautiful girl and has always gotten attention for this.

It would have been all too easy for her to slip into the role of “dumb blonde,” if only she weren’t so bossy.

In third grade, my daughter staged a sit in because she felt her close friend was unfairly “benched” by their teacher. She got every girl in the grade to join her in protest.

Over the years she’s aced interviews, wangled her way into cranky teacher’s hearts, and organized countless successful group efforts. She’s constantly beating the odds and has even convinced me to do crazy things on her behalf and for her friends. What choice do I have? She’s the kind of kid that never takes no for an answer.

She is persistent, demanding, relentless and yes, at times obnoxious. As annoying as this might sound, I have always considered her “bossy” nature to be one of her very best qualities.

My daughter is bossy, and I am damn proud of it. There is no shame in this house to being bossy. It’s a badge of leadership, honor, and in her particular case, survival.

I’ve been hearing a lot about bossy in the wake of Sheryl Sandberg’s recent writings. I’ve heard a lot of solidarity about the notion that we should “ban bossy” and a bunch of backlash as well. The criticism is that it amounts to a bunch of first world semantics that we have the luxury of getting in a flap over.

I tend to agree with Joanne Bamberger’s take. Being bossy has never been an issue for my daughter. Surviving has. Being bossy may have in fact been the key to her early survival, as a sick infant in a challenging setting.

I made a vow on that first day, that I wasn’t going to beat the bossy out of my kid. I kept that vow when she staged that sit in, when she spat on a bully after telling him off, and even, sometimes, when she annoys the crap out of me.

I’m proud to say my younger daughter is following her big sister’s lead. Ironically, I can’t say I would have been as effective of a role model as my oldest daughter. I wish I was.

Bossy was always a negative term for girls in childhood but it’s no insult now. I  can learn a lot from my own kids. If you call my daughter’s bossy, you’re likely to hear “damn straight!” in reply. They know the power of their own voices, opinions, and leadership.

It’s tough being a girl in the world. Tougher in some places than others. I don’t want to ban bossy. There’s no time for that, and there’s much worse terms than bossy that I’d hate to hear applied to my daughters. Let’s just own bossy and be proud instead.

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