Let’s Talk About the Way We Talk

When I was in Grade 7, my teacher told me I was bossy. Actually, she told my parents I was bossy, via my mid-year report.

When I was in Grade 7, my teacher told me I was bossy. Actually, she told my parents I was bossy, via my mid-year report.

I was mortified. Bossiness connotes rudeness and disregard for others. Bossiness = your way or no way at all. Not when I was little, nor since, have I thought of myself as someone so menacing. Assertive, yes. But not rude.

Fast-forward two decades and on the back of her successful ‘Lean In’ campaign and book, Facebook COO (and guest editor of our careers special on page XX) Sheryl Sandberg launches the #BanBossy campaign. And I sit up.
The message is this: girls should be able to fulfil their leadership potential without the fear of being called bossy. ‘When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader”. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy”,’ is the initiative’s premise. Beyoncé joined the movement, then Jane Lynch and Dita von Teese, and many other strong-willed women of substance. And I was all, ‘Hell yeah!

I wasn’t a bossy kid! I was simply honing my future management skills.’I’ve refined my thoughts since first fist-bumping that moment of redemption and concluded that I’m not nearly feminist enough to think that Sandberg’s message applies only to girls. We don’t need to invent oppression where it doesn’t really exist – boys get called names too. Labels will continue to be given. After all, can you really police or ban a word? Um, no. But how we react to them and whether we choose to live with them is what we can influence.

It feels as though there’s no way to escape from an accusation of bossiness. And that’s where the word’s power
lies. It takes the power away from the person it’s been attached to – but only if the one labelled lets it. Whenever you can, encourage the younger people in your life (sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, kids) to be less worried about others’ negative opinion. Remind them of their worth and contribution to their space in the world.

Channel Aibileen Clark from The Help: ‘You is smart. You is kind. You is important.’ Motivate them to find a strong mentor, to learn to lead – and to become the boss they would want. You can remind yourself of these lessons regularly too!

I wish you a powerful month.