“She’s so bossy,” my daughter tells me, talking about a girl in our neighborhood I’ll call C.
“What makes C bossy?” I ask.
“She’s always telling everyone what to do!” says Sabrina, who’s nine. “Like she tells people how to play a game!”
I know what a weighted word that is. How girls who know what they want get called “bossy” (read: annoyingly pushy) while boys who demonstrate the same behaviors are considered strong and assertive. And I don’t want Sabrina to grow up thinking that telling others what you want is a bad thing.
Instilling leadership qualities in my daughter is one key reason I started a Girl Scout troop a few years ago; the programming is geared toward empowering girls. Those cookie sales aren’t just about yummy treats — the process teaches goal-setting, decision-making and people skills, all key components in leadership. (And no, sorry, I don’t have any extra boxes of Thin Mints.)
I was psyched to hear that LeanIn has partnered with the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A for Ban Bossy, a public service campaign to encourage leadership and achievement in girls. The word “bossy,” they note, is a precursor to words like “aggressive,” “angry” and “too ambitious” that plague female leaders. It discourages girls from displaying leadership qualities and becoming the leaders our country needs.
Girls are already cautious enough about challenges that lie ahead. A 2012 study of 1,001 girls ages 8 to 17 conducted by the Girl Scouts found that girls clearly see glass ceilings in society. Nine in ten teen girls say there are more women than men in corporate leadership, and three in five think women can rise to the top of an organization — but will rarely be put at the very top. Happily, the vast majority — 88 percent — believed a woman would be elected President of the United States in their lifetime.
I continued my discussion with Sabrina.
“Can boys be bossy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
It was heartening to hear she didn’t think the term only applied to girls.
“You’re bossy too!” she noted.
“Sabrina, I’m your mom and so I get to tell you what to do!” I informed her, then tried to steer the conversation back to kids.
“Honey, maybe there’s a better word to use,” I said. “When C tells people how she’d like to play a game, she is expressing her opinion — and that’s a good thing! So we can call her opinionated.”
“O-pig-ionated?” said Sabrina. “Like, a pig? That’s not nice, Mommy!”
I repressed a smile and tried again: “O-pin-ion-ated,” I said, slowly.
“And that’s good?” Sabrina asked.
“Yes, it’s good to have an opinion and to feel free to share it,” I said.
“But you once told me that it wasn’t nice when I said I didn’t like the outfit you wore to work,” she continued.
I was in deep. But I carried on.
“Well, sometimes you keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you think it might hurt someone’s feelings,” I said. “But it’s good to share your opinions. And it’s also good to ask for other people’s opinions, and to listen to them.”
“So C should do that when we play a game?” she asked.
“Yes, and if she doesn’t you should speak up and be opinionated!” I said.
“OK, Mommy! I am going to be a pig onion ate it! Get it? Ha ha ha ha ha!”
This is definitely going to be an ongoing discussion, but it’s a good start. There’s lots of girl drama lying ahead for Sabrina (the other night, she came home in tears because she felt a classmate was ignoring her). There will be feelings hurt and names called. Giving our girls empowering words to use will help them be the boss of their destinies.
Image source: Flickr/Philms