Why We Shouldn't "Ban Bossy" | Teen Ink

Why We Shouldn't "Ban Bossy"

July 5, 2014
By Helena.of.Karatha DIAMOND, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Helena.of.Karatha DIAMOND, Saint Paul, Minnesota
79 articles 0 photos 21 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You're a great wizard, Harry."
"Not as good as you."
"Me?! Books! And cleverness! There are more important things, Harry--friendship, and bravery, and--oh, Harry, just be careful."

There’s a campaign going on at the moment, backed by women as influential and diverse as Condoleezza Rice, Beyoncé, and Sheryl Sandberg. The movement would have us ban the word “bossy” from everyday discourse, and especially prevent the word from being used to describe girls. The basic argument is that girls who assume leadership roles and assert themselves are pejoratively labeled “bossy,” while boys who do the same are praised for their leadership skills.

This is a noble idea, and I think that it has some merit. Certainly, girls and boys ought to be treated equally; girls should be praised for behavior that would earn boys praise, and boys should be censured for behavior that would earn girls censure. Yet the underlying assumption of the “ban bossy” campaign is that there is no such thing as bossiness, and that bossiness is rather a construct created to describe and dismiss assertive girls. I disagree.

As an assertive (and often self-righteous) female, I believe that throughout my life I have at times been bossy and have at times shown leadership ability. Crucially, I believe that these events have been separate. In my view, bossiness and leadership ability involve two distinct patterns of behavior, either of which can be demonstrated by anyone, male or female.

Bossiness, in my opinion, is the assumption that one’s ideas are inherently better than those of others and ought to be imposed upon others indiscriminately and without seeking anyone else’s input. Once, when I was in sixth grade, my class was charged with dividing itself into a cast of characters from Greek mythology. Three other girls and I wanted to portray the goddess Athena. When we assembled to debate who ought to have the honor of acting out the part of the goddess of wisdom, I said to the other girls, “Athena was known for being smart, and I’m the smartest one here, so obviously I should be Athena. You all can go find your second choice.” I was so forceful about it that no one challenged me; the other girls went away, and I got my preferred role. This was the epitome of bossiness. I did not consult with anyone else. I did not consider anyone else’s opinion. I operated alone and with a strong sense of my own superiority.

I contrast this with times when I’ve shown leadership ability—which, in my opinion, incorporates both a consideration of others’ opinions and a willingness to make hard choices when a group is divided or when many people fail to appreciate the nuances of a situation. In eighth grade, a friend and I were appointed joint heads of a group of about sixteen of our classmates. The eighteen of us were to carry out an environmental conservation project of our own devising over the course of about two months. During those two months, my fellow head and I listened a lot to our classmates, divvied up responsibilities, compromised with our teacher, and undertook parts of the project that were too large to fairly ask of anyone else. This was leadership: it was receptive, it was collaborative, and it took on burdens for itself. This was not remotely similar to the bossiness I had exhibited two years earlier.

It is perhaps telling that my vision of bossiness is characterized primarily by arrogance and unilateral action, the behavioral trademarks of CEOs, that overwhelmingly male-dominated and recently much-maligned cabal. If so, it is similarly telling that my vision of true leadership is defined by its willingness to collaborate, a willingness statistically demonstrated more frequently by women than by men. Perhaps my subconscious is saying that it is really the boys, not the girls, who have always been bossy.

Whatever my subconscious is saying, and whatever my argument may imply, I would like to explicitly state that I do believe that bossiness exists as a real phenomenon. That many assertive but non-bossy girls are labeled bossy is unfortunate and deserves both attention and correction. At the same time, however, the misuse of a term does not invalidate the term itself, nor does it indicate that the phenomenon the term describes does not exist. That many people mistakenly call dolphins “fish” (when they are really mammals) and apes “monkeys” (when apes and monkeys are in fact two distinct branches of the primate family) does not invalidate the existence of either fish or monkeys. It is one thing to say that not everything that’s called a monkey actually is one; it’s quite another to say that this means that monkeys do not exist.

In short, I believe that bossiness is a real phenomenon that involves an arrogant, autocratic style of rule. By contrast, true leadership involves taking into account the opinions of others and taking responsibility rather than just doling it out. Rather than banning the term bossy, we should be re-examining its use, especially with regard to the question of whether girls are labeled bossy in an attempt to keep them out of leadership roles. We could even start looking at whether boys who have been called leaders have really just been bossing people around the whole time. In the end, we might realize that everyone is capable of acting in either manner, and we might attempt to find ways to encourage true leadership rather than focusing so much on labeling and condemning bossiness. But let’s not start by denying the existence of the autocrats in our midst and in ourselves.

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